The joys of (prepaid) mobile broadband

In a week where Telecom was roasted by the Commerce Commission for ripping off hundreds of thousands of customers for the greater part of the last decade, its worth noting one of the few things the company does well – mobile broadband.

telecom tstickJust before Chritmas, Telecom did something most people thought it had become incapable of – offered a pretty good deal. For $30, Telecom broadband customers could buy a Telecom T-Stick, which is a tiny modem that plugs into your computer and lets you surf the internet at a decent speed via Telecoms’ XT mobile phone network.

The T-Stick comes with 500MB of data allowance which isn’t much for a even a moderate internet user, but certainly allows a good deal of internet surfing and email traffic, as long as you stay away from big downloads and chunky email attachments. The innovative part of the deal is that you don’t have to commit to a monthly mobile data plan, but pay on a use-as-you-go basis.

I’ve been a mobile broadband subscriber before, using a Vodafone data card for much of last year to try and stay connected on the road. But it was a frustrating experience. Not only was the service pretty patchy, I’d often go weeks without needing mobile broadband, but still having to pay the $49.99 per-month subscription fee.

I should note that Vodafone also offers a pre-aid mobile broadband package with pretty much the same deal – though you do have to pay $99 upfront for the device. It appears you don’t have to be an existing Vodafone customer to sign up for this, so its perfect for visitors to the country who want to stay connected reasonably cheaply during their travels here.

Better than wifi, hotel broadband

I’ve just spent a few days out of the office and the T-Stick has been fantastic – the network reliability has been great, the transfer feeds similar to what I get on DSL in the office. The T-Stick has the software for Macs and PCs built into it, so installs itself automatically – no drama with Windows 7 either.

Normally when I go to a hotel I search out the closest wifi hotspot (hopefully an Esquires that offers free wifi access through Tomizone when you buy a coffee or something). But finding a good wifi connection and a quiet spot within coverage can be tricky. Premium wifi access can cost up to $10 a day, so its not really an affordable option if you want access over the course of a few days. Hotel broadband in New Zealand is expensive – to to $30 a day. We don’t seem to have embraced the free broadband offers US, Asian and European hotels commonly offer.

So prepaid mobile broadband is a good option for casual internet use on the road. If you have a mobile phone or smartphone that can act as a modem, you should also look into the options for tethering your computer to your phone for internet access. Both Telecom and Vodafone now have  reasonable casual mobile data access rates, so this could save you the need to pick up a T-Stick or Vodem.


  1. Peter Griffin

    Monthly exiry of unused data is annoying – I’m sitting on 250MB of data so have half my allownace ot use up before the end of the month and no trips planned. Still, the lower cost than using hotel broadband and the convenience of being able to sit under a tree in Albert Park and write some emails made it worthwhile for the period I was in Auckland. I’ll probably go a couple of months before I top up again. Having said that, I think it will ultimately move to a longer period that your credit remains, in the same way prepaid mobile phone credit hangs around longer. Competition will drive that.

    I haven’t tried Zenbu (I don’t think). A dollar for 10MB? Hmm, sounds pretty expensive. Tomizone are doing a fairly decent job and are all over the place. But I used to use Telecom’s free hotspot service at Starbucks cafes – it was free because I was an Xtra customer. That was the only thing that kept me on Telecom at home. Once they dropped that deal I moved to Orcon. It’s a shame as it was a very valuable extra that kept me loyal to them.

  2. talsin

    Hi Peter,

    I first thought prepay on Telecom’s XT network was great – good speeds and great coverage (Vodafone’s high speed network seems like a joke in comparison)! BUT the fact that the 500MB expires each month is annoying. If you only check your email and a couple of websites each day (on average only a couple of megabytes of data) it means you end up paying a LOT whether you are on the $30 per month plan or stick with the casual plan. Your remaining credit is gone at the end of the month and you’re back to square one starting the new month having to buy more credit (and feeling ripped off because you still had 80% of the credit you paid for the previous month remaining).

    I don’t know if you know of it, but the Zenbu WiFi network is available in most places around New Zealand ( and only costs 10 cents per megabyte for credit that doesn’t expire (as long as you login somewhere at least once every 12 months!) and can be used at any Zenbu hotspot. Lots of places choose to provide free access to their customers/guests and some are even free for anyone to use.

    I think the problem with totally “free” (with no data restriction) WiFi/internet access is that people “waste” bandwidth downloading movies etc thereby making the already slow internet connections we get in NZ that much slower for everyone else. For example trying to use a “free” connection at the libraries is a horrible experience! A free 200MB access voucher when you check in or buy a coffee is great – plenty for “normal” web use, but still a disincentive for people to waste bandwidth.

    Good job Telecom on the prepay mobile broadband option (and the XT network!), now just drop the monthly expiry of remaining credit and I’ll be happy! Sell me 500MB for $30 or whatever and let me use it until I’ve finished, not until you decide to “steal” my remaining credit at the end of the month and make me buy more!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s