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Tuesday, 16 September 2008 06:25

Virgin's new pre-paid broadband makes Optus' look lame

It’s funny – Optus owns Virgin, but “lets” Virgin totally outclass it with a pre-paid broadband plan that quite frankly isn’t stupid. What is it, good cop and bad cop? Whatever it is... Virgin’s pre-paid broadband is the best one yet.

When Optus launched its pre-paid broadband plan recently, it had this totally ridiculous stipulation that whenever you connected for the first time, you used up something like 10MB from your download limit right from the word go – even if you were just checking one single email.

Of course, that kind of mega bandwidth cap “flagfall” is just silly... and needlessly complicating. So, Virgin Broadband’s announcement this morning of a pre-paid mobile broadband service “that works like a mobile phone pre-paid plan” is quite refreshing... even though it is effective from the “same” company that brought us the crazy plan in the first place.

Ok, ok – so Virgin and Optus aren’t the same company, but Optus does own Virgin and so is effectively competing with itself.

Anyway enough of ownership structures and onto the plan itself.... Virgin says its new plan offers customers “flexibility, value and freedom for all their broadband needs”, making it “even easier to use your broadband as much or as little as you like without being tied into any contracts or monthly fees.”

Pitched at students, housemates or anyone that doesn’t want to be tied down to a contract just to be able to get a bit of mobile broadband, Virgin says that “it works in the same way a pre-paid mobile phone works – you simply buy a voucher for your desired amount and top up again once you are ready.”

And with over 18,000 stores across Australia where vouchers are available, Virgin applies the marketing and says: “there really is no reason to ever run out of credit or spend more than you budgeted for.”

Peter Bithos, the ‘new’ CEO of Virgin Broadband said: “We are so excited to be able offer our customers an even easier way to use their mobile broadband with the freedom of topping up whenever they like with whatever value they need.

“Here at Virgin Broadband we focus on our customers and what they want. Right now, they want broadband at great value, with flexibility, freedom and ease of use and we believe we have just the product for them,” he continued.

So, what does it all cost? That is the all important question, after all... and the answer is on page 2. Please read on.

Well, you can bring your own broadband modem, if it is compatible, and just get an AUD $10 SIM starter park, which comes with 500MB (or 0.5GB as Virgin say) and 30 days to use it.

But if you don’t have a modem, you’ll need to buy one, and you’ll pay a reasonable AUD $179 for a modem, which also includes a $10 SIM and 500MB of broadband, also with 30 days to use it.

The cost of vouchers, the amount of data they come with and their expiry periods are as follows:

Voucher    Size        Expiry
$15        1GB        30 days
$30        2GB        30 days
$50        5GB        60 days
$100        8GB        90 days

Peter Bithos continued, “And if that wasn’t enough, the launch of our new super stylish super slim dongle means that it’s now even easier to be mobile. The size of an average USB stick, this sexy wireless modem simply slots into your computer and allows you to be up and running within minutes.”

Given that Virgin is owned by Optus, it should come as no surprise that the Virgin service only works in Optus 3G/HSPA areas.

Virgin advises that “data includes uploads & downloads & charged per byte”. In addition, no matter how many vouchers you buy, 10GB of data is the monthly limit – and “excess data” that you have purchased over and above the 10GB limit will roll over to the next month.

If you’re bringing your own modem, Virgin says you must check coverage first, which you can do here at its website.

So... Virgin Broadband’s pre-paid plan definitely looks the biz, and makes Optus’ plan look far too fiddly and annoying.

Vodafone and Three: you two are up next to see if you can beat, or at least match, this plan!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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