The success of Apple's iPhone in Australia and many other countries will depend on telcos offering mobile internet data plans that are affordable and have generous usage limits. Virgin Mobile's new plan provides just that.
UPDATE 11 July 2008 | Looking for the latest, up-to-date info on Australian iPhone 3G plans? Click here:
UPDATE 16 MAY | It appears Virgin Mobile has withdrawn this plan and replaced it with a considerably less attractive 300MB for $10 one.
|No guaranteed success for iPhone: but Virgin Mobile's new $10 for 1GB plan could help a lot
Apple's upcoming iPhone has mobility fans all over the world on tenterhooks as they wait for the sleek, touch-screen device that promises to meld iPod music playback, Safari web browsing and a fully-functional Apple Mail email client.
But in Australia -- and in many other countries -- the success of the device rests largely on whether Apple can sell the phone through a telco that offers plans with large amounts of data usage at an affordable rate.
Hutchison Three has made some inroads in this area, offering bolt-on "xseries" plans for its 3G customers that offer 500MB for $20, 1GB for $30 and 2GB for $40. But that's on top of the regular voice plan fee, so, while it is dramatically cheaper than anything that had been offered on the market previously, it still adds up to a bit of bill heft at the end of the month.
Now, the Singtel Optus-owned Australian virtual telco, Virgin Mobile, has released a plan that offers practically unlimited internet usage on a mobile phone for a very small extra cost on top of the voice plan.
Virgin's new data plan pricing offers 1GB of internet usage for just $10/mth.
It's on Optus' 3G network, so download speeds are up to 384Kbit/s, albeit with the slow latency that is found on 3G networks. Optus will switch on its HSDPA network upgrade by the end of May, but it remains to be seen whether Virgin will offer services with HSDPA's increased speed and reduced latency via this $10 for 1GB deal.
This kind of plan is ideal for anyone who wants an email-enabled handset such as the Apple iPhone, Nokia e65 or Dopod C800 but couldn't afford the extortionate data charges telcos were charging previously, which cost as much as $22 a megabyte -- 2,200 times more expensive than the $10 per gigabyte Virgin Mobile is now charging.
Users are receiving the news of the plan with enthusiasm. "The way mobile broadband is going, I'll be able to realistically get rid of my ADSL service next week," said "Cyba-cowboy" on the Aussie3G forum.
But as is often the case, there is a catch. Exceed 1GB and Virgin Mobile will sting you ... wait for it ... $15,000 per gigabyte. Other telcos also charge a similar rate for overusage, but then, they also offer plans with higher usage allowances for people who think they'll need more than a gigabyte.
"IF you can stay under 1Gb then this plan is amazing value. Go to 1.001Gb and you have more than doubled the cost," observed Timmo, a user on the Whirlpool broadband forum.
We're waiting to hear back from Virgin Mobile on whether it will provide an online usage meter for customers to check their usage, as well as whether customers who take this deal can hook their phone up to a laptop or PC and use it as a wireless broadband modem.