Telstra doubles Next G plan data allowance

By danwarne, February 18 2011
Telstra doubles Next G plan data allowance

If you're a business customer of Telstra's Next G network, a surprise is heading your way — a doubling of your data allowance.

Existing Telstra customers have been receiving SMSes similar to:

"To thank you for being with Telstra, we have doubled your $19 Mobile Datapack allowance from 1Gb to 2GB. This has automatically been applied on your recent bill."

Telstra confirmed the offer to Australian Business Traveller and said it was being offered for "a number of our business customers - to remain competitive and reward them for being with Telstra."

However, Telstra users on the Whirlpool online forum said that after hearing about other people getting the offer, they'd rung Telstra customer service and had no trouble getting their plan upgraded to the new doubled-up allowance.

It is particularly good news for business travellers who use their laptop out of the office frequently, and either pay extra for a 3G modem plan, or use their phone as a modem. A 2GB allowance is enough data to cover a month's usage (not including heavier downloads like operating system updates, TV episodes, movies etc.)

However, the offer is not being extended to Telstra's consumer mobile plans.

Until recently, Telstra charged a high premium for its Next G network, which is one of the largest and fastest mobile networks in the world, with 2.1 million square kilometres of coverage, and a theoretical maximum speed of 42Mbit/s, which translates to real throughput speeds of about 6Mbit/s in most places.

Telstra's controversial former CEO, Sol Trujillo, spent over a billion dollars building the network, and made plain that he expected Australians to pay top dollar for it. As recently as 2007, Telstra was charging $115 for 1GB of data on the Next G network, with a Telstra spokesman justifying the pricing by saying, "If you want to travel first class, you'll be prepared to pay more."

However, with aggressive discounting by competing networks, Telstra simply could not sell its advanced network at such high prices. Trujillo eventually ended his contract early after a tumultuous period of intense media and government criticism and a new CEO was appointed — the former CEO of IBM Australia, David Thodey. Since his appointment, prices have been brought back in line with the rest of the market, with Telstra regularly leapfrogging the traditional price-leaders, Vodafone, Optus and 3.

This week's doubling of data allowances suggests Telstra has no intention of slowing down its efforts to win back customers after many years of attrition, making it an excellent time for business travellers to secure the rare combination of good coverage, good data speeds and low pricing.

Death to the global roaming rort?

This week also saw the announcement of a new SIM card that does away with global roaming fees altogether, including the ridiculous data fees involved with global roaming, which have, until now been practically impossible to avoid.

It connects to a new mobile network that spans country boundaries and allows customers to continue calling at local rates. Currently, the network, called Tru, covers Australia, the UK and the USA. It will shortly add Hong Kong, Spain and the Netherlands.

The 'anti global-roaming' concept could be a significant opportunity for Vodafone to use its multi-country brand to offer something single-country competitors like Telstra can't.

Although it already offers reduced global roaming rates for business travellers who opt-in to its special Vodafone Traveller plan, the telco could go further by nixing global roaming fees altogether when roaming to Vodafone networks.

In Australia, Vodafone has recently been in trouble with the ACCC for failing to adequately disclose coverage and performance problems with its network to customers. It has been releasing any customer that requests it from their contract, in a move that is likely costing the company millions in lost revenue, while at the same time having to accelerate multi-million dollar network upgrades needed as data traffic from smartphones rises rapidly.

Slashing global roaming fees could be one way for Vodafone Australia to reclaim a unique cachet among the lucrative business customer audience.

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