From a wireless perspective, it's always a pleasure to go to Austria because this is one of the most competitive markets for wireless Internet access I have yet been to. Here, the problem is not to find one good offer for prepaid wireless Internet access but to actually choose the best one among many offers.
The Status Quo Last Time
When I was last in Austria, I was happy to see that 3G networks are now also available in small rural towns, far away from bigger towns and highway routes. At the time, I could only use the 3G network there with my German Vodafone Websession SIM for 15 euros a day. My Yesss prepaid SIM card, which I had acquired for 50 euros and which gave me 3GB worth of data volume I could use over 12 months, was useless there, as their 3G network did not at the time and still has not expanded into this area. Since I am also staying in bigger cities where the SIM worked great, I was not too bothered.
From 50 Euros For The SIM Down To 15 Within One Year
In the meantime, competition has kicked in and the local incumbent, A1 (Mobilkom Austria) now has a similar offer with their b.free broadband SIM card for 15 euros, valid for one year, with a prepaid data volume of 1GB. Getting the SIM is as simple as walking into an A1 store, putting the cash on the counter and walking out with the SIM card 3 minutes later. Compared to the 50 euros I had to pay only a year earlier for a similar offer (although with 3GB data volume), this offer is much cheaper and A1's 3G network seems to reach much farther than ONE's, which is used by the YESSS SIM card.
The Competition Reacts
Yesss has reacted in the meantime and now offers the SIM card for €19.99 with the additional bonus compared to the b.free SIM to allow cheap voice calls for 6.8 cents a minute to all fixed and wireless destinations. If you don't have a 3G USB stick yet, they'll throw one in for 69 euros. The hardware is not locked to Yesss, so it can be used with other SIMs, too. And, best of all, it's available everywhere in Hofer supermarkets, I personally checked.
T-Mobile has also reacted and now offers a prepaid SIM card called "Free Willy" via Telering, but only together with a 3G USB stick. Technically, the 89 euro offer is cheaper than the others mentioned above but not interesting for those that already have a 3G USB stick.
Another refreshing difference compared to other countries is that calls to the hotline are free. We had some older SIM cards for voice telephony and the price per minute was no longer competitive. I was reluctant to call the hotline, being used to horrendous per minute prices so I went into a shop to ask them to change it. They told me to call the free hotline and indeed, after just a couple of minutes and free of charge, we were in the new cheaper tariffs. Joy!
Great 3G Hardware For Cheap
Apart from a number of SIM cards for prepaid Internet Access, I am astonished about the unlocked 3G hardware available everywhere. Apart from the Huawei E160 3G USB stick for 70 euros that can be bought in Hofer supermarkets everywhere even without the Yesss SIM card (!), '3' has started selling the D100 Wifi/3G bridge for 99 euros. Great to give access to the Internet to more than one computer at a time. According to the web page, the bridge is not locked to a specific operator.
For those living in the country and willing to go for a contract, '3' offers 3GB data volume for Internet access for 8 euros a month, or 15 GB for 16 euros, both prices apply if you bring your own 3G modem. Like all other offers mentioned above, there is no fine print excluding VoIP, IM or other applications and the contract can be terminated at any time. That leaves me breathless.
Another Austrian highlight is the introduction offer of Orange, who recently bought mobile network operator ONE. With their "Europe 0" tariff, any fixed line or mobile destination in Austria AND Europe can be called for 25 euros a month. Time is limited to 1000 minutes, i.e. over 16 hours. The kicker is that the offer is not limited to fixed line numbers!
Austria is clearly a very competitive market but nevertheless, I don't hear anyone screaming that they don't earn money. Beyond the pricing, it's also interesting that nobody is talking about blocking VoIP, P2P, IM or other services. And yet, things work nicely. Gives one something to think about.