Mobile data with your NZ phone in Australia

, posted: 7-Oct-2010 09:09

Here's my experience buying a SIM-card only prepaid plan in Australia for my NZ Vodafone mobile for reasonably priced data roaming with voice/text.

Mobile data rates are extortionate when you're roaming overseas with an NZ mobile phone.  They are yet to come into line with the fairly reasonable offerings @VodafoneNZ has for mobile voice and text charges when abroad.

Paying $10 per Mb (recently dropped to $5 per Mb for Australia) results in a $1000 bill for a modest amount of traffic.  Somebody is surely ROFLing all the way to the bank at your expense.  Suckers!

Alternatives for Data Roaming

Recently I took a week's holiday in Brisbane armed with an Android phone, and wanted to at least use google maps to know where I was, locate coffee, and to keep an eye on email and news via the internets.

Prepay SIM
Most Telcos in Australia have SIM only plans with fairly attractive data plans as add-ons.  I ended up picking Telstra as they were the first shop I found.  I walked out with a $30 prepaid SIM and happily swapped out my @VodafoneNZ one.  After activation I could purchase 150Mb for $10 of that $30 I'd just paid, and add on the 50Mb of free data with the package.   The rest could be squandered on calls / texts.

Sure you don't get to receive calls on your NZ 021 number, but hey I was on holiday!

Crazy Pre-Pay Caps
Aussie telcos current buzz word is "prepay caps".  So for a recharge of $30 you get $170 of "bonus credit".  To those of us who aren't marketing experts this makes no sense at all.  If you spend $30 to get $170 credit, surely you only really have $30 of value as they set the call rates to an arbitrary amount anyway.

e.g. If I own a hamburger chain and give you $200 credit to buy hamburgers but on this plan I price my hamburgers at $105 each you can really only buy 1 hamburger can't you?  It's not really $200 credit, it's 1.05 hamburgers of credit.

By the same token the $170 credit on Telstra is actually around 120 minutes of calling (depending on how many individual calls you make, as there's a 39c connection charge for each one) which isn't bad for $30 prepay but come on... it's not 17 shiny blue $10 notes' worth is it.

Beating Internet Charges at the Hotel
Turns out the prepay was a great way to go when the apartments we were staying at wanted to charge $50 a week just for internet access, and data on top of that (check - this is 2010 right?)  Another great reason for grabbing a prepay SIM.  Tether the phone to the laptop and you have a perfect solution.

The $30 outlay was pretty reasonable for a week's mobile internet access.  I still have $10 or so left actually, but I think that disappears after a month.

The downside is not being able to receive calls on your 021 mobile but if you're clever enough to leave a temporary message with an alternate means of contact who really cares.

It's a holiday isn't it?

  • Why doesn't Telstra tell you what its APNs are called?  I had to look it up on somebody's blog!  telstra.internet is the correct answer.

  • Google maps in Australia on Telstra's network works flawlessly continually updating the map with my location.  On Vodafone's network in NZ the "lost data connection - retrying" message happens after a few minutes and requires a restart of the app (tried various APNs with same result).

reposted for the geekzone community from my blog at


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Comment by Dylan, on 7-Oct-2010 10:19

Hi John,
Funny, i'm doing the same exercise as I'm moving there in a month, need data for android but the plans are ridiculously convoluted, had dismissed Telstra on cost but will look closer,cheers! (disclosure, I work for 2degrees mobile NZ, will miss the straightforward NZ market!)

Comment by Adam, on 7-Oct-2010 12:45

I wish NZ/AUS had Google Voice or something similar avalable. IIRC you just add an extra number and calls and texts are forwarded to it.

Comment by Sean, on 7-Oct-2010 13:11

If i was going overseas i would do the same i would get a prepaid sim in that country like new zealand and if someone wants to use there vodafone usb modem that is locked to vodafone australia you have to get it unlocked and if they ask why i would use your new zealand vodafone and i would get the vodafone prepaid sim to get a local mobile phone number and to you guys in new zealand if you want to bring your vodafone usb modems get it unlocked before you leave then get an australian vodafone prepaid broardband sim when you get over here and the same with mobile phones and the vodafone network in australia dosen't have the best reption

Comment by Foo, on 7-Oct-2010 15:29

Great (and useful) post. When I hear stories of people going to Oz (or the UK/Europe) and using data while roaming, it seems ridiculous. So much easier to pick up a sim card on pre pay!

On another note, are there any sim cards which allow roaming in Europe i.e. across multiple countries?

Comment by johnzoet, on 7-Oct-2010 22:01

Europe recently allows mobile calls from any country in the EU.

Comment by Elpie, on 8-Oct-2010 01:20

@Foo - there are several companies offering International SIM cards (thats the search string to use on Google). It pays to read their sites carefully because all of them have at least some "gotchas". Some, like the one recommended by Lonely Planet, have extras, such as a storage vault. Most charge in USD, some in GBP.

All of the international SIM card options I've found so far seem to only be useful if you are only spending short times in each country. You may find that buying local prepay SIMs works out cheaper. For most of Europe there are no incoming call charges. Roaming charges don't work the same way as they do here - depending on which countries you visit you may not get any roaming charges with some local SIMs. French SIMs, for example, can be used in Belgium without any roaming charges (probably elsewhere too, but I am still researching).

Hope this helps.

Thanks for this update John - useful info to have!



Comment by peteremcc, on 8-Oct-2010 02:08

Was in Sydney in July and went without data because the only stuff I could find when I spoke to vodafone and a few others was $2/MB.

They said I couldn't get any data chunks unless i went on plan, or on open term contract, but apparently you had to be a resident to get that.

So, am heading back to Sydney again tomorrow and came on geekzone to see if there were any alternatives. This article was the top front page article. Awesome. <3 Geekzone!

Comment by peteremcc, on 8-Oct-2010 02:10

Wait, isn't Telstra like Telecom here in NZ?

Or do they have enough crossover to make it work with vodafone too?

Using an HTC Desire btw.

Comment by sbiddle, on 8-Oct-2010 07:07

It's worth remembering Telstra aren't the only option. Most other providers all sell SIM's for $19 and it's not uncommon to get at least 1GB of included data with that.

Comment by SteveON, on 8-Oct-2010 10:44

damn! I remember how we all went gaga over 1GB for $49 with VF NZ. NZ mobile operators should get a decent roaming plan soon!

Comment by kevinguyen, on 8-Oct-2010 11:28

This is exactly what I'm going to do

Comment by Linuxluver, on 10-Oct-2010 11:31

Sounds awesome. Pre-pay SIMs with a data certainly work well. AU and NZ may be OK, but beware other countries or jusirsdictions may not allow the sale of a SIM to a non-resident. Do your homework before you leave. You may have to get a SIM 2nd-hand via an auction site.

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John Curtis
New Zealand

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