Have been on the ground now in Canberra for more than 24 hours. It’s agreeing with me quite nicely, it’s still sunny and pretty out (though cold), I’ll talk more about that later. For now, I just want to vent a bit about the trials of getting set up. To be fair, nobody said it would be easy.
I spent about four hours this morning researching the relative merits of different phone companies (Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and Three). To summarize, Telstra has the best, clearest, most cheerful and most expensive coverage; Vodafone has perhaps the best-value coverage with very competitive pricing; Optus has wide coverage but crappy reception and crappier customer service; and Three is really cheap on-network, but has lousy on-network coverage and shores up the holes by roaming to the Telstra network. I thought about going with Telstra to get coverage at Siding Spring, but it seems as though Vodafone goes almost everywhere else I’d ever want to go, and I get a lot more for what I’d be paying. I therefore plan to sign up with Vodafone.
However, it seems that my decision to come a few days early in order to get set up quickly was somewhat misguided, as I can’t actually sign up for any of the services I want until I have an actual address here, as part of their “100 points of identification” system. The system applies to bank accounts, cell phone service, the lot, and is described in some detail here. When I went in to sign up for a cell phone plan I was told I’d definitely need some documentation of my current address, although my American credit card would be totally acceptable as ID. I can’t entirely say I understand that last one. (This is made all the more irritating by the fact that they have iPhones in stock today, but might well not have them tomorrow.)
And originally it seems I wasn’t able to actually occupy the temporary apartment ANU is renting me until Monday, which was to have been my first day on the job. Fortunately, it turns out that Monday is a holiday in the Australian Capital Territory (“ANU Family Day”), so ANU will be more or less shut down. I say “fortunately” because it seems that the ANU housing people want to go ahead and give me my keys on Friday, meaning I’ll have to sign the lease and so forth at that time. A copy of that lease or some kind of letter from the accomodations office should, according to the girl at the phone store, be sufficient documentation to show that I live there.
If I go back to the phone store tomorrow and they’re out of iPhones, I will bang my head hard against a wall and, after assessing brain damage caused by this action, prrrrrobably buy a crappy pre-paid phone. The functionality isn’t so much the issue, since although I would love a shiny new iPhone to guide me around, I’ve gotten by for years with phones that are really just phones and nothing else. And a “just-phone” is pretty cheap, you can get them for less than $50 now. The downside is that these “pre-paid” phones all come with pay-as-you-go service plans, and service would be about $0.90/min.
Let me unpack that last sentence a bit. The pricing for phone plans is also totally different down here, which is another thing I had to research. You don’t get X number of minutes and Y text messages a month. Instead each service is priced out a la carte — 90 cents a minute for domestic voice calls, for example, or 25 cents per text message. On “pay-as-you-go” plans, that’s what you pay. Since obviously this becomes exorbitant for all but the stingiest users, there are also “cap” plans, where you pay some fixed amount of real money per month to acquire some dollar-equivalent amount of service. On the Vodafone cap plan for the iPhone I’ll probably get, for example, I would pay $59/month for $650 worth of services each month — text messages, voice calls, whatever. That plan also comes with 2 GB of data service per month, unlimited in-network calls and 3 free out-of-network calls each day. Not too bad; when I analyzed my usage patterns with Sprint back in the States, I found I’d probably stay under $400 of equivalent services per month (95% confidence upper limit), well beneath the cap. By far the largest number of minutes were used calling home, which I will now do via Skype and mostly not on my mobile phone.
Since, as I mentioned above, it is still pretty outside, it is now time for me to go out and play. I’ll probably go take a short walk to/from ANU just to see the place, then see whether there are any tickets left for the Floriade NightFest in Commonwealth Park — tonight is Aussie indie film night!