It’s easy to get online virtually everywhere you travel in Australia, but it is cheaper in the bigger cities and more popular tourist destinations. Unfortunately free Wi-Fi access is not as ubiquitous as you will find in Europe or North America and you may need to use a mobile broadband device to get online reliably while travelling in Australia.
Internet cafés and internet access in hostels
It is easy to find internet cafés in big cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and popular tourist destinations like Airlie Beach, Byron Bay and Cairns, however these are less common than they used to be due to most people travelling with wireless broadband dongles and Mifi devices. You can get online cheaply at internet cafes (around $2 an hour) in Sydney but more remote places (like Ayers Rock) are a lot more expensive and in small towns and less touristy areas you may have to use slow and expensive coin-operated terminals.
Many internet cafés are fitted with webcams and headsets to make Skype calls and many also let you download photos from your digital camera.
Using your own computer
More and more travellers are chosing to travel with either their own notebook computer or a tablet like an Apple iPad.
Australia isn’t as well set up with wireless hotspots as you would expect and when you do find them they tend to be expensive. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are starting to catch on, but Australia is a long way from having the level of Wi-Fi coverage that you’ll find in North America or Europe.
You will find public Wi-Fi hotspots in many restaurants and cafes including McDonalds and Starbucks, although this Wi-Fi access is often slow or it comes with restrictions such as being limited to 30 minutes of access per drink at Starbucks. Public libraries are generally the most reliable places for free Wi-Fi and there are some cafes that boast above average Wi-Fi speeds, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Many hostels in Australia don’t have free Wi-Fi and you can blame a company called Global Gossip for this. Global Gossip set up pay-per-use computer terminals in hostels throughout Australia almost 20 years ago adding pay-per-use Wi-Fi hotspots in those hostels when that technology became available. Global Gossip provides Wi-Fi access at many large hostel chains including Base Backpackers, Nomads and YHA so you may want to avoid those hostels if you need free Wi-Fi. Fortunately some smaller independent hostels do provide free Wi-Fi and this is noted in our hostel reviews on hostelcritic.com.
Mobile broadband access
All Australia’s mobile phone networks operate their own wireless broadband service using 3G and LTE (4G) technology, which gives you internet access whereever there is mobile phone coverage. This is becoming a more popular option with backpackers with medium to high usage plans costing around $40 a month, although mobile broadband plans start around $10 per month. It is worth considering if you’re on a working holiday and will be travelling for a while.
The three main networks (Optus, Telstra and Vodafone) all provide mobile broadband access for Mobile Wi-Fi devices (also known as Mifi devices), USB mobile broadband dongles and tablets such as the Apple iPad.
Optus have good prices and coverage with broadband speed across their entire network; Telstra have the widest coverage but are the most expensive and Vodafone offer a good value service but coverage isn’t so good. All three of these networks offer mobile broadband on pay as you go plans and some smaller companies (using the network infrastructure of the big telcos) also offer pay as you go mobile broadband. Both amaysim and Globalgig offer good value mobile broadband service using the Optus network.