Internet access in Australia is some of the slowest and most expensive on the planet (recently ranking 58th in a list of developed countries, behind Mexico and Thailand). Although broadband penetration has been growing exponentially in recent years, fast connections comparable with the rest of the world are still only found in and around major metropolitan areas, such as Melbourne. If you will be living in any of the areas previously discussed in this guide, never fear, you will likely have decent connection speed by Australian standards (around 1-2Mbps). However, if you will be living in more regional surrounds, it may be wise to invest in stamps and carrier pigeons as connections can be slow or non-existent.
Internet cafes are plentiful and most cafes and bars in Melbourne offer free wireless as a customer service. Speeds at free wifi hotspots vary greatly, but standards such as Starbucks and McDonalds give you consistent connections at prices that will set you back about $1 – $3 per hour.
If you are interested in dedicated internet cafes, there are many concentrated around Chinatown and Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD. Most offer some kind of membership or frequent user discounts (e.g. Pay for 10 hours use up front, receive 2 hours free). Popular with international students, these cafes offer very competitive rates, but environments range widely from “new, sleek, clean and fast” to “what am I sitting in and why doesn’t this mouse work?” It is highly recommended you check out a few before committing to any frequent use plans.
Shop 100, Mid City Arcade, 200 Bourke St, Melbourne
03 9639 3220
Newer online gaming lounge popular with Asian students. While this can sometimes be a rowdy environment with video game tournaments, all the machines are very new and fast and the cubicles are kept clean. Prices are $1.50 / hr for internet / online gaming, with discounts if you purchase 10 hours or more in advance.
207 Swanston Street, Melbourne
03 9663 7926
Clean, brightly lit internet café catering to tourists. Machines vary in quality but all are sufficient for browsing and email. Also offers document and photo printing, international calling, and service to burn CDs or DVDs. $2 / hr with discounts for members.
HOME INTERNET CONNECTIONS
Much like home phone and mobile phone plans, Australian internet packages are notoriously confusing and jargon-laden. Different providers will all offer various names and terms for what is essentially the same service. The most common terms used by Australian companies are:
- ADSL / ADSL+ / ADLS2 / ADSLmega+2: All of these mean basically the same thing – Asymmetrical Digital Subscribe Line. Different companies may give special names to convey faster speeds or premium connections, but these essentially amount to a DSL connection (requiring a phone line) that allows for a faster download speed than upload speed.
- NAKED ADSL: Connection with speeds similar to ADSL, but doesn’t require a home phone line rental. Usually a bit more expensive than standard ADSL as companies will not be able to charge you a minimum monthly phone line charge.
- CABLE: A fibre or cable connection that provides faster speeds. Usually only available in limited, immediately metropolitan areas. However, accessibility to cable connections is spreading rapidly.
- MOBILE BROADBAND: Wireless connections achieved over a 3G cellular network through the use of a ‘dongle’ (USB thumb-drive like modem).
Getting a Home Connection
While it can be sometimes be difficult to establish a home internet connection if you are not a permanent resident or citizen*, the influx of international students and the proliferation of bandwidth over the last five years have made it easier to secure a connection for your home. As most companies offer packaged home phone and internet services, they will most likely be willing to connect you if you meet the 100 points identification check (as discussed in the Home Phone section).
Unlike most other developed countries that are heavily connected with the rest of the world, Australian telecoms all operate on ‘capped usage’ plans. This means that providers ration out bandwidth and data allocations. Depending on your plan, your total upload and download capacity will be limited to a predetermined ‘data cap’ (e.g. 3GB per month). If you surpass the capped limit, be prepared to be charged heavily (in some cases as much as $0.50 per Mb!), or have your connection shaped back to dial-up speeds that make simple tasks such as checking your email an all-afternoon affair.
Most companies offer deals or specials for new customers signing to a 24 month packaged home phone and internet plan. These deals usually include a free (or discounted) modem, a reduced ‘installation’ or ‘establishment’ fee, and a limited amount of data at a set price per month.
Setting up your initial connection can be pricey. At a minimum, you can expect to pay for the following in your first month of service:
- $70-90 for installation / connection (which doesn’t actually include a person physically ‘installing’ or ‘connecting’ anything)
- $120-200 Modem / Wireless modem purchase (some companies require you to use their proprietary modems) or $5 per month Modem Rental
- $25 home phone line rental (even if you don’t have a home phone, this is required)
- $30-120 internet plan charge per month
- $75-120 additional if you require someone to actually visit your residence to install or connect anything in person.
You can apply for an internet connection over the phone, or if going with one of the larger companies, visit a retail store. If you plan on getting a bundled communications package (phone and internet) it is highly recommended you visit a retail store and speak with a sales person directly, as plans can be confusing, and a flurry of quoted numbers over the phone can sometimes disguise the details.
Once you’ve successfully signed up for a package, connection and shipping of hardware can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks.$75-120, and will likely extend the time you need to wait to get online by as much as a week. Most people can easily install the hardware and software themselves with instructions provided, but some companies (usually the larger ones like Optus and Telstra) can arrange for a technician to come to your home and do it for you. If you take this option, it will cost an additional
*If you are denied the option to sign on to a packaged plan, you will need to sign up for a prepaid wireless internet plan (see prepaid mobile wireless internet section), or rely on internet cafes (see internet cafes section).
Major companies providing Broadband Internet:
- Telstra: http://www.telstra.com; 13 2200
- Optus: http://www.optus.com.au; 133937
- iiNet: http://www.iinet.net.au; 13 19 17
- iPrimus: http://www.iprimus.com.au; 131 789
- AAPT: http://www.aapt.com.au; 135 005
PREPAID MOBILE WIRELESS INTERNET
Mobile Wireless Modems (which operate off the 3G cellular network) are available on a prepaid basis for those without home connections. Usually capped at about 1-3GB per month, and with speeds far slower than landline connections, these plans appeal to more casual internet users. Starting at around $25 a month for basic plans, these services can be purchased and used immediately from retail outlets. Be forewarned though, if you exceed your data limit you will be charged at incredible rates for overages.
Major companies providing Prepaid Mobile Wireless Internet:
- Telstra: http://www.telstra.com.au/bigpond_internet/wireless_broadband.html; 13 2200
- Optus: http://www.optus.com.au; 133937
- Virginbroadband: http://www.virginbroadband.com.au; 1300 555 100
- 3: http://www.three.com.au; 131 683
- Vodafone: http://store.vodafone.com.au/mobile-broadband-mbb-plans-month-by-month.aspx; 1300 300 404