Smartphones, iPads, and data sticks are incredibly popular, so what does it take to get a SIM card to connect these devices to the internet? Putting aside the multitude of confusing on-account options, we had a look at the prepaid data options from the major players. On the surface it all looks fairly simple, but once you lift the covers things get quite complex.
The main “gotcha” is that even if you pay for data, you might not be able to use it. If you “buy” 512MB from Vodafone or 2Degrees, for example, and don’t use it all within 30 days, you effectively lose the remainder. Telecom does a little better with their optional capped data plans, but you have to know about these to use them, and your prepaid credit still expires after six months. The overall effect is that I can’t be sure that my device will work when I want to use it.
Secondly, if I have multiple devices that use data (a smartphone, a data stick, and an iPad), there’s no way to share the data allowance between these devices. I either need three sim cards, or I have to swap sims between the devices before I use them.
Gripes aside, what can you get from each of the main mobile networks?
|Prepaid Data Options||
|Prepaid Data Conditions||– Unused data expires 30 days from purchase.
– You can buy additional packs if you run out, or you pay $1 for the first additional 10MB, then $1 for every additional 1MB.
|– Data is charged at 10c/MB up to the price cap you choose.
– If you go over your data allowance then you’ll automatically get the same data allowance again for $29.95 (to use in that same calendar month). And after that’s used up, you’ll pay 10c per MB.
– If you use less than your data allowance you’ll be charged for what you use, and your credit balance will roll over to the next calendar month.See Note 1
|– Only available in “Broadband Zones” only (most of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown).
– Unused data expires in 30 days (for 512MB), 60 days (for 2GB), or 90 days (for 10GB)
– Outside of Broadband Zones, data is $6 for 50MB.
Note 1: Even Telecom themselves seem to be confused about how and when their data expires. The official response from Telecom PR was:
[quote]Unused prepaid data expires one month after purchase. So for example, if I purchased some prepaid data today, Wednesday 18 August, I would get one month from today to use that data before it expires on the 18th of September.[/quote]
…which is actually referring to their “Smartphone Extra” plans, and clearly different to the expiry method explained on their Prepaid Mobile Broadband page. The confusion possibly arises because Telecom’s prepaid data “bundles” are much more like their monthly account bretheren (capped, charged as you use it), and not in fact a pre-allocated bundle of pre-purchased data. John explains it a bit better than me over here.
I’m reminded of how Theresa Gattung said telcos use “confusion as [a] marketing tool“.
General Gotchas and Questions to Ask
There’s really no way to say which network is “best” for your data device, but there are some questions you should ask before choosing a network.
- Make sure you ask if your device can use 3G data over the entire network. The Apple iPad, for example, doesn’t get great 3G coverage on Vodafone’s network outside of main centres. It still works, but at a snail’s pace.
- Can you top-up your data from the device if you’ve run out? Devices like the iPad can’t send SMS messages, but 2Degrees have a nifty method for doing this. Otherwise can you call an 0800 number or similar to top-up?
- If you also want to use the device for calls and text messaging, you’ll need to look into add-ons and allowances for these, and check if your friends are on the same network to get cheaper txt packs.
Look, I could go on for days about the shortcomings of individual networks, plans and protocols, but truthfully it’s fantastic that we can turn on a device pretty much anywhere in New Zealand and connect to the internet. You can check-in to your MyFace and twatterbleep from just about anywhere. We’ve come a long way baby.