Around-Oz: Living the Dream!

Solution to Casual Email and Internet on the Road Using Your Own Laptop
Vodafone System

Until now using this method was an expensive Vodafone option, as it used to be data based (traffic), so you could never estimate your monthly bill in advance. Since heavy competition from the Telstra Sierra Aircard and the MiniMax USB modem etc., Vodafone has modified their plans. Currently (June 2005) you can buy a card outright from Officeworks for $49.00 - used to be $299.00 - advertised in their June Tax Savings promotion on page 3. This sort of reads that you are entitled to the first months access free. This isn't so, nevertheless it's still a good deal as they charge you a one off connection fee of $49.95. You can then continue at $49.95 per month for unlimited hours. The tariff is known as VF570 - best to quote this if you have troubles with Office Works as indicated on the CMCA forum. The really good news for RV'ers on the road occasionally, is that there are ZERO time lock in contracts to sign and you can change the plan at any time without penalty - more info on this Vodafone page. The lowest monthly plan/fee is we believe an industry leading $3.00 per month. This solves a very tricky problem of having too many Internet connections when you are at home and not using them, as can happen for instance with a CDMA Sierra AirCard. You can change your plan - up or down with zero financial penalty. So when not in use you can "park it" for just $3.00 a month. Please note that you still have to go through the normal mobile phone sign your life away rigmarole just to open the account - 100 points ID required PLUS they only seem to work on credit cards. There is a bit more background from actual users on this thread in the excellent MSN Caravaners Forum.

Speed and Fitting
Speed wise the Vodafone card is a couple of "K" higher/lower than your average home dial up (varies with time of day though!) and it uses the Vodafone GPRS network (digital). Now the coverage of this network is nowhere near as good as CDMA, but nevertheless it currently is an excellent option if you stay on the East Coast and keep on the bitumen. There are no penalties if you cancel, and you get to keep the card after the first month. It uses a red SimCard and the card itself plugs into the PCMCIA slot on your laptop. Unlike other cards it goes right in - no protrusions. The inbuilt antenna folds down out of the way when not in use or can be easily pulled out without removing the card. This means it fits into your computer case easily. Now it will bend quite a bit, so it probably wont break if you give it an accidental knock. We leave ours in the card and leave it in the PCMCIA slot. The packaging is excellent. It all comes in a DVD style box containing the card in a lovely aluminium container and a very good manual. The Sim card comes in another package - you simply break it out of a red credit card holder. Now installing this into the card itself can be tricky as the diagram is a little misleading. Our best advice is to make CERTAIN that it fits into the tiny holder. It sits into the recess with the cut off corner to the front of the card. Don't force it in or you could remove the contacts. A good trick is to get your sales person to fit it in before leaving the shop as they do it all the time. Sadly our guy at Milton Qld had never seen one before!

The Fine Print!
Now for the "fine print". You should make yourself familiar with Vodafones "Fair Use Policy". Now this refers to the amount of data down/uploaded. You need to be a bush lawyer to fathom this out - even finding this clause on the web page is a bit of a challenge as it isn't on the "data" page. You will find the link on the home page (bottom left). Basically you are OK up to 500 MB per month - but what happens after that? Scroll down the Fair Use page and all is revealed including a clause about terminating your service if you continue to offend. They also have rules on how much you can download in any one hour. Best to really ask about this when purchasing, BUT we found our Office Works chappie at Garden City Qld, knew zilch about this product!

The Vodafone Advantage
On the $49.00 plan you can have the luxury of full time Internet (provided coverage is available).
This means your Internet connection can be on 24 hours a day using the GPRS network. You really need to research coverage if you are constantly mobile and must have Internet access.

Australian Coverage
The big sticking point with the Vodafone network, is their advertising claim of 92% of Australian places. (source - Office Works offers dated 2/6/05 - page 3). Sounds impressive doesn't it? For the RV'er it means absolutely zilch, as the Australian population lives on the coast on under 15% of the land area, (places) which means that coverage, can in reality, be quite sparse once you are outside cities and larger towns. However, all is not lost, as when you find yourself in a no service area for a while all you have to do is switch to the $3.00 rate and to us this is a huge advantage. We have tested the card on the NSW coast with excellent results. We had the most troubles on the Burnett Highway in Queensland and could get nothing in Eidsvold, Gayndah etc. However, Telstra didn't fair too well either!

Other Clever Uses for the Card
An excellent use for this card is mobile use if you don't have a GPS, is to look up say Whereis (Sensis) or the RACQ Travel Planner (hopelessly sloooooow site and needs lots of work) and get maps for the spot you are trying to navigate through. We have seen this working and it's pretty impressive stuff! (neither sites will auto route, but are the next best things to GPS and zoom and listed directions are great) Other email options are listed in the table below with most of them being covered in detail on this site.

We are pleased to advise that this is totally painless and on Windows XP an absolute breeze. Simply insert the CD and answer the questions. DO NOT INSERT THE CARD FIRST! The card is inserted when after you restart the computer. This type of card can be inserted with the machine running, but you MUST NOT REMOVE IT, unless you do it via the "remove hardware safely" icon in Windows XP. The card by the way is made by Sony - GC 75.

Connecting Up - Access Speed
Left click twice on the square red Vodafone icon you will now find on your desktop. A screen similar to the one above, but on the SMS page, should appear. Please WAIT until you see "Vodafone AU" along the bottom - see the partial screen shot below - left hand side. Once this shows up, as well as the signal strength, then press the RED CONNECT button up in the top left hand corner - see the screen shot above - only click once. If you don't connect in this order you will get an error message saying that your modem isn't connected properly. If you wait a couple of minutes and try again it will connect. There is no flagfall (charge to connect - usually around 25 cents) with this Vodafone plan, so you can log on and off as many times as you please. This page is being uploaded in Brisbane - we are sitting on Margate Beach opposite the airport and we have 4 out of 5 bars. (signal strength). Looking at the screen shot below you will see that the connection speed is a most acceptable 53.6 Kbps. For those new to computing, a normal Telstra landline comes in around 52 Kbps in the Brisbane metro area. In low signal areas please hang in there, as it may take more than 5 minutes to acquire service. If you can't connect, and when you power off your computer, you hear the familiar phone "bip, bip, bip", have another go after a reboot as it oftens works on just one bar. It is a good move to fit an external aerial. Ours is currently on order from the States and data will be added to this page once we get it up and working. In the meantime follow this excellent link.

The Slick Software Provided
The screen dumps above shows the complete software package. You use it to connect as explained in detail above - press the red button top left. Its main use however, is to keep an accurate track of your usage. Remember on the $49.00 plan you must not exceed 500 MB. This page also shows the upload and download speeds and in the bottom left it indicates signal strength. This main screen shot was taken at the Hyperdome about 25 kms south of Brisbane - shows full signal. We have yet to have a failure with this software other than trying to "rush" logon!

Monitoring Usage
We strongly suggest that you really familiarise yourself with these functions. First up you MUST manually change your Usage settings. You need to do this the day you purchase the card, as the start date will be wrong and the Usage set to 50 MB. You will also need to reset the MB allowance everytime you change your plan otherwise you will be flying blind and could end up with a larger than expected bill on returning home. So to alter your Usage Limits and start date, go to Tools (just to the right of the Connect button), then down to Preferences (second from the bottom) and the screen shot shown above should appear. Left click on Usage (second from the right) and then alter your Limits and change your Start Date. NOTE: You also use this page to delete info. This is NOT in our view a good move, as you may need this info if ever there is a billing dispute. When on the road it is a good move to monitor your Telco accounts on-line as it can prevent heart attacks!

SMS and Instant Messaging
This is rather cute if you are heavily into SMS messaging and want to keep all your messages. Please note though that this is NOT included in the tariff. It has huge advantages over the phone system. It works exactly the same as your email program, as it has an inbox, an outbox, drafts, sent and best of all a contacts list. And of course you get to type the messages extremely quickly on a real computer keyboard. It will also receive Voicemail, however you will get charged to retrieve it as per your normal mobile. Your wireless card has its own phone number so you can remove the Sim card and use another phone if you so wish. We have come across a couple doing this.

Using Overseas
Vodafone has roaming available from 21 countries overseas. Imagine being able to send and receive emails on your own laptop whilst overseas. IMPORTANT: You must organise roaming whilst still in Australia and be aware that there are additional charges. In our view this is only a minor problem and all you need to do is minimise your usage.

What's Happening in the Future?
A question EVERYONE should ask when buying new technology, as we all know, "new" can sometimes only last a few months. Quite obviously this card is a model runout, hence the bargain price. In December 2005 Vodafone will be moving into "3G" technology - this is a wireless ADSL system as used with the AirCard. Vodafone would not give us the slightest clue as to the expected costs! However they did advise that the GPRS system will be with us for at least 2 years - Ashley on 1300 301 030 on 22/6/05. In our view the Vodafone solution is a good one for RV'ers travelling around the coast as it is "on" all the time and it has the huge advantage of saving you money when at home as you can lower the plan.

Email Method
Monthly fee
Old technology - no attachments
CDMA Mobile
Maximum 23 cents a minute
Needs a laptop for attachments
Aircard Wireless
Maximum $6.00 hour - Min $2
Expensive when plan hours exceeded
Internet Cafes
Minimum $6 hour
Usually wont allow you to use laptop
Wireless Hotspots
Most McDonalds and Starbucks
Expensive at $14 hour maximum
Friends Landline
Local call with Bigpond etc.
Iffy - Not all places have friends!
Wireless Casino Village
Cheapest Hourly Rate in Oz
Needs laptop and aerial
Vodafone Wireless Card
On All the Time - Cheap $49.00
Worst Signal Area Coverage - GPRS
Receive emails straight to device
Cheapest Telstra Plan $99.00

Summing Up
Provided you own a modest laptop, in our humble opinion this is currently the best possible solution for sending and receiving emails on the road. It is also great if you want to browse the Internet or even upload to personal websites, as there are zero time constraints, and you can stay on all day everyday if you so wish. This costs $49.95 a month or $1.63 per day. For those on a stricter budget with say only email requirements, may we suggest one of the lower cost plans. All you have to do is closely watch the amount of data you send/receive. If you exceed your limit Vodafone have a "cushioned" price structure so you don't have to pay full rate. It is still a good move into Vodafone, even if you have to pay full price for the card ($299.00). However, we suggest you watch out for specials, as in December 2005 WCDMA (the W stands for "wide" and invented in 1999) will be coming in so there could well be a push to get rid of the cards. However, the huge plus for RV'ers, so far unmatched by any other carrier, is being able to reduce your monthly fee at any time with zero penalty. If only Telstra would do this!


Bob & Chrissy Eustace

UPDATE 27/6/05
Hi Guys, Have had a look at your overview and its pretty right. A couple of points, if you make SMS messages from the card on your laptop you are still charged for the SMS. Perhaps you could also point out to people that if they would rather keep using their GSM phone and data cable/Bluetooth connection to their laptop they can get a Sim from Vfone with just a data bundle of their choice for nothing. This is how I was doing it over our last holiday and didn't get a card until we were home and then bought it on Ebay from England for $80 !!!! My observations of Vfone's coverage now is a fair bit different to the last time I had a Voda mobile probably 10 years ago. On our meanderings this year there were very few places that we stopped that didn't have Vfone coverage and having a Telstra GSM and CDMA backup found that quite often Vfone outperformed Telstra one in particular was at Warrumbungle NP. We were online with great signal strength but there was NO Telstra GSM or CDMA. A big omission from the big T. Same deal when we camped at Grampians for a week over Easter. watched as the other campers wandered the streets with their mobiles trying to make a call while I was inside on the net. There was signal on Telstra but you could not maintain it long enough to make as voice call. I have found the GPRS is very forgiving of signal loss and will hang on once a call has been established no matter what the signal does. I guess it comes from using multiple carriers there is 5 times the chance of one working. I think that the technology has more than the 2 years you state left in it as it is just a derivative of GSM whereas the new 3G networks coming at the end of the year use WCDMA and therefore are a completely new system and ALL the customers on GSM will need to be convinced to move to 3G before they switch it off and as a communication service its well entrenched and supported all over the world so I would guess that I'll get the pension before its dumped all together.As well you can guess that it won't be available at bargain basement cost like this. You only have to look at Telstra's poor offer on broadband giving people high speed and 200Mb that you could easily use in a night. Another thing on the Vfone account the 500Mb is not a hard limit and if you can get anywhere near it in a month you need to get a life, the best I was doing was 5-10Mb in a day so never got even close. Vfone use a transparent proxy server and you will notice that its optimised for Internet Explorer the graphics are reduced in quality to save download time and data use, but if you hold your mouse over a photo it gives you the option to reproduce it as it should be, but generally it's acceptable that you don't notice it.

(from a retired tech)

UPDATE 2/7/05
Extracts from MSN Caravanners Forum (June/July 2005), Buying the card for $150.00

Sent: 1/07/2005 5:20 PM
Could not agree more with Roger, we have been on the system for 5 months and pay $49 per month for unlimited access. We paid $150.00 approx for the card which is much cheaper than some many other telephone to computer connection cards. The NSW and Qld coast is no problems however out back Qld and NT has limited coverage. We are currently in the NT and plan our stops to ensure we get coverage. All you need is 1 bar on the cell phone and the computer will connect to the internet. We are prepared to accept the lack of reception in some areas and work around the problem. Its interesting to note I carry another cell phone that roams all the GSM networks. Only twice do I recall that Telsta was available and Vodafone was not. I have never had Optus available and not Vodafone or Telstra.


From: Bob & Chrissy Sent: 1/07/2005 8:16 PM

Hi Kel
Could you possiblly share with us all where you got the card for $150.00 as the RRP $300.00 is beyond the reach of many now that the special has ended?

Take care

Bob & Chrissy

From: KiwiGriffins1
Sent: 1/07/2005 8:28 PM

Hi Bob and Chrissy
I first went to the Vodafone office in the Maquarie Centre at North Ryde Sydney, the guy there was as useless as .........
I then went to Chatswood, the Vodafone centre there which according to the invoice is Digicall Australia. The young gentleman there was really up to speed and sorted it out in no time. The only thing he did not tell me was that the second month was free, with the end result I rang Vodafone looking for the bill. I have the invoice in front of me for product code MCC076 for $149.00 and the monthly plan is coded REDMTH
hope this helps

UPDATE 26/7/05
You might have guessed it - Vodafone have changed the rules and you can now get the card on a $0 Upfront plan. The minimum monthly fee is $12.46. You still have the option of upping your monthly usage without penalty. Similarly when you return home you can lower it back to $12.46. You can still buy the card outright with no plan for $299.00. They call the plan Vodafone Mobile Connect. We still feel that this system is absolutely the best value deal for RVers.



Copyright 2001-2005 -all rights reserved -
For problems, suggestions or questions regarding this web, contact
Last updated: August 20, 2005
Site Policy