Internet access for the Australian traveler...
January 13, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American internet addict traveling around Australia for a year with my laptop. Wifi access at hostels is often a big ripoff. How to stay connected without breaking the bank? Specifics relevant to any city of a decent size would be appreciated, since I'll probably spend some time in each of them!

There are any number of places that offer internet access around Australia, and I'd like advice about which ones I should be frequenting and giving my business to. I'd like to avoid paying a high price for a bad connection. I'd much rather pay a low price for an excellent connection :)

I have three use cases to consider.

(1) Quick email / Twitter / Facebook / light-to-moderate browsing. This is probably a daily thing, at least in the city.

(2) Bandwidth intensive activities -- pushing lots of high-res photos to Flickr, uploading video to Vimeo, downloading music and television shows from back home. This is probably something that I'd want to do every 7-10 days.

(3) All-day scenarios: I'm a software developer, and have a few freelance clients back in the States. When I'm "at work" I need a stable connection to browse, look up documentation, check Stack Overflow, access version control, and push media back and forth. I'm currently taking a few months off from working. I'll probably put in a few weeks of work in March, when I'm in Melbourne or Perth.

Some other info:

- I brought an unlocked iPhone 3GS with me, and got a prepaid Optus account. 500MB of data transfer per month. This should work fine for some aspects of #1, but I don't like doing too much browsing on the small screen. I know how to tether my laptop to the phone's modem, but it doesn't always work as well as I'd like.

- Yes, I know about the free wifi at McDonalds (I'm posting this over an Egg McMuffin in the Sydney CBD). Seems fine for case #1, since the connection is slow and is limited to 50MB of transfer.

- Assume I'm staying in hostels or cheaper hotels in most areas. However, I plan on staying for long enough in Perth and Melbourne that I may rent an apartment and get wired internet access. Still, I work better when I'm out of the house. There's something about being in public that keeps me on task.

- I prefer free/cheap for #1, but realize that I may have to pay up to satisfy #2 and #3. I'm happy to pay as long as the connection is sufficiently fast and stable. Especially for #3, when a connection is essential for my income to keep rolling in.

- I'm in Sydney now, and will be heading to Hobart and Launceston next. Then to Melbourne for a quick visit (I'll be back later), and off to Perth via Adelaide.

- I know better than to expect much of anything in some parts of the country (e.g. the road from Perth to Broome).

Thanks for your help!
posted by adamk to Travel & Transportation around Australia (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Specifics relevant to any city of a decent size would be appreciated, since I'll probably spend some time in each of them!

Good free wifi at the Workshop bar in Melbourne, though they claim they switch it off at 5pm (but don't actually seem to). Also at Horse Bazaar, though they don't open until 4pm. There are a few more free wifi spots around town, but most are slow and annoying.

Sorting out whatever problems you're having with tethering would be the best thing to do. I'm on 3 (aka hutchinson), with an iphone 3gs and have no problems with it.
posted by pompomtom at 5:10 PM on January 13, 2010

I just spent 5 weeks touring most major cities in Australia for business. I ended up buying a 3G USB modem and a prepaid SIM from Telstra. The modem with a generous data package was US$175. The modem works in other countries as well; I put a Thai SIM in it with no problems.

At first I tried relying on my lodging. But the hotel/hostel wifi wasn't just a ripoff; it often didn't work at all. When it did work, it was often dismal, with the worst being in my Hobart B&B, when I had 242k down and 53k up. I also had trouble quickly finding cafes that had properly functioning wifi at a decent speed.

By the time I had experienced malfunctioning wifi in Sydney, Darwin, Adelaide, and Hobart, I was ready for something that actually worked. So in Perth I bought a USB modem and prepaid access, and the Telstra staff kindly unlocked it for me so I could also use it in other countries, too. So in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, and another trip to Sydney I had solid 3G as a backup and it never failed.

To get the modem, I brought my MacBook into a Telstra store and the technician there installed the software and made sure it was going to work.

Ironically, I was attending tech conferences. At most of the conferences, there was no wifi or only a feeble service that frequently choked. Many attendees relied on 3G modems instead.
posted by PatoPata at 6:16 PM on January 13, 2010

If you're going to be mostly in cities, you'll probably have good coverage from the Optus 3G network, in which case one of Exetel's HSPDA plans should work pretty well for you. If not, about the only way you'll get decent speeds on the move is by paying Telstra's extortionate data rates.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 PM on January 13, 2010

You have to be staying in a city for at least a few months for it to be worth getting a connection at your apartment. I moved to Adelaide for three months in Dec 2008 and all the options were terrible, they may have improved since then as naked dsl was just rolling out.

You probably want to check out a wireless plan that will work all over the country (coverage should be good in any major city with the main phone networks, but check maps).

A good site is Broadband Choice at whirlpool.
posted by jacalata at 6:45 PM on January 13, 2010

I worked for MetaFilter when I was travelling around Australia. I didn't have as intensive needs as yours but here are some observations.

- public libraries in Adelaide that I went to had wireless that was decent and the State Library had good wireless. This was also true in Sydney. Less so in Perth where you'll be in hotel lobbies a lot if your experience is anything like mine. You may have to get a card to use the State Libraries but they are [were?] freely available. Not sure about the public libraries and wireless access varies but it was some of the better access I got.
- I stayed at both YMCA [or YWCA] locations in Sydney and they had decent Internet access though the place North of the city didn't have access in the rooms.
- We did the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to Melbourne and I was surprised how many little rest stops (and some libraries) seemed to have wifi. Okay for checking Twitter, not so much for work.
- When I needed to upload a lot of photos, I'd usually go to one of the basement gamer places that had access for a few bucks an hour and use one of their machines and upload there, edit more slowly later

Sorry I'm not more helpful but I've been on the same quest. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2010

I can't speak for Australia wide, but I know in Townsville some McDonald's had free wifi. Also second on the 3G modem, the reception was pretty good with respectable speed.
posted by aggienfo at 11:15 PM on January 13, 2010

Free macdonads wifi, as you know. Libraries in Adelaide are a good source (public library on North Terrace in the city). But... access is sparse. The Telstra 'next G' is a major ripoff for the prepaid internet, but it's coverage is very good, even in more rural parts. If you're mostly in the city, you may be able to get a better 3G provider (Optus, Vodafone etc.)
posted by defcom1 at 12:04 AM on January 14, 2010

I know this isn't the advice you're looking for, but it might be an idea to try not to be an internet addict when you're there. Australia is a big country with fantastic scenery and a climate that pretty much begs you to be outdoors. I'm guessing some places you go to you'll never get the chance to return to.

I spent a year in Oz, took a laptop with me and, like you, did freelance work from time to time. This was before wifi was ubiquitous, but I used to pull in somewhere once a week or so and hook up the laptop. There's advice above about free stuff, which is all good. I also found that staying in a slightly nicer, but still cheap, hotel often gave me a better room and cheaper internet access.

But: the best bits of Oz by far (IMHO) are the outback places where wifi - and crucially the hordes of backpackers that inevitably make each place feel less special - will be scarce. If you build your trip round finding internet access you're going to wind up missing out some glorious places or sights, which seems a shame. Similarly, if you build your day around having to find a wifi spot at some point you'll miss out on things. I presume you only plan to do this year long trip to Oz once - use it wisely, adamk-san.

Finally, you mention expectations about, say, the road from Perth to Broome. Off topic, but if you're planning to get to Broome, the untarmaced Gibb River Road from Derby (a shortish hop from Broome) to Kununurra contained the best scenery we found in Oz. And yes, internet access is highly unlikely.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:36 AM on January 14, 2010

These links may be of use:

Internode free wireless hotspots
Telstra pre-paid wireless broadband
posted by Emilyisnow at 2:58 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This was before wifi was ubiquitous

In Australia, we are still before wifi was ubiquitous.
posted by pompomtom at 3:59 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Prepaid wireless internet might be an option. For example: Optus or Unwired.
posted by joeyo at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2010

Re: PomPomTom's comment about Horse Bazaar: A day or so ago I received an email from them announcing they're opening a cafe and will be opening in the mornings (the email said 7am but I just checked their website & it says 8am). The email even suggested they'd be giving away free coffee if you ask nicely during their opening week.
posted by goshling at 2:42 AM on January 15, 2010

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