Setting up an internet connection in Australia

  • International students in Australia need a cheap, reliable internet connection
  • Mobile or fixed-line broadband
  • Best broadband plans for students

An internet connection is a lifeline home for many international students. Electricity and heating are necessary in an abstract sort of way – an internet connection is integral.

It's bad luck that an internet connection can also be the most confusing and complicated thing to set up. Let's run through your options and some of the better deals out there in the Australian market. There are two main types of broadband in Australia – we'll run through them both and find out which plan would suit you.

ADSL2+

In Australia, the main broadband type is ADSL2+, a fixed-line connection that works through the same copper line as a telephone connection does. You'll need a copper line that goes into wherever you're living. Most houses, units, and apartments will already have one, but if you're living in student housing, there might be an internet connection already set up there, in which case you'll need to talk to the people in charge there about how to get online.

When you get an ADSL2+ connection, you'll have one of the fastest and most stable connections available in Australia, and as much data per month as you could possibly want – plans go from 10GB to unlimited. You'll want to look for short contracts – the providers I've recommended below can all do 0-month or six month contracts.

Keep in mind that generally, your internet connection's speed and strength come from two factors: the distance you are from the telephone exchange, and the quality of your copper line. There are other factors that can influence it, but they are too random and complicated to be sure of and basically, every Internet Service Provider (ISP) is going to be offering you around the same speed. It's best, then, to pick your ISP based on price and customer service.

A fixed line connection comes in two flavours: as part of a bundle, or Naked ADSL. A bundle means that you get a telephone connected with your broadband connection; Naked ADSL means that you get a standard ADSL2+ connection but actively tie off the home phone line, so even if you plug a phone into the wall, you're not going to be able to make or receive any calls.

Lots of people don't bother with a landline anymore, relying on their mobile to keep in contact with their friends and make any calls. However, even if you think you don't need a home phone, it's often cheaper to get a bundle deal. Naked ADSL does not mean that you're saving on "line rental" or anything like that, because in fact, the copper line that brings you your phone connection is the same one that carries your internet connection. That means that you'll always pay line rental; it's just that with Naked DSL, the ISP will lump the two fees together.

A better option is to get a bundle deal and just don't use the home phone – then there's no way you can be charged for any calls. TPG charges around $60 per month for a home phone and an unlimited broadband connection; Dodo is similar. If you think you will be using the home phone, try Optus, which will include free calls in the bundle package (although you'll be paying quite a bit more – from $80-110 a month).

If you're sure that you want Naked DSL – maybe because you have roommates you don't trust not to use the phone and get some long distance calls billed to you – Internode offers 200GB a month for $79.95.

The main advantage of an ADSL2+ connection is the speed and reliability coupled with large data allowances each month; however, set-up costs can be pricey, especially for short contracts.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband is a portable internet connection, where you use a portable modem that looks like a USB stick (called a 'dongle') to connect to the internet. As opposed to the copper lines, mobile broadband uses signals from a mobile phone tower to connect you to the internet.

The unfortunate result of this is – just like with your mobile phone – reception can be great in some areas, and really bad in others, meaning that your internet could be slow and unreliable, and might drop in and out. Mobile broadband can be affected by your location, the time of day, and even the weather. Make sure to ask any provider you're considering signing up with what their coverage is like in your area!

The advantage of mobile broadband is that it's generally cheaper – you're looking at anything from $10 to $50 per month – and that it's totally portable. You can take it with you to cafés, on public transport, and on any trips you might make within the country during your stay. There are no real set-up costs (some ISPs might get you to pay extra in the first month for the cost of your dongle), and mobile broadband is perfect for the light user. It's hard to get anything over 20GB for mobile broadband and the real bargains are in the 1-10GB range.

Vodafone offers cheap mobile broadband plans from just $10 a month, while Amaysim has some great prepaid options, giving you ultimate control over your budget and no bill shock.

If you're a light user living in a metropolitan area who values being able to take your internet around in your pocket, mobile broadband is a great choice. Make sure you're aware of the downsides of mobile broadband, though, before signing up for a plan, and consider whether you'll be frustrated by the sometimes irritating speeds and dropout rates of mobile broadband.