Best BlackBerry Bold deal: 3, Optus, Telstra and Vodafone plans compared

Almost four months after the Blackberry Bold’s Australian debut 3 has finally added the smartphone to its catalogue. It’s a welcome move not just because 3 typically offers aggressive pricing across the board but because local BlackBerry fans can now survey the deals of all four Australian carriers before signing the necessary contract. That is if you’ve not already tired of waiting for 3 and bought your Bold from one of its competitors.

3 lists the Bold on three plans all over a 24 month lock-in. Common to all plans is a BlackBerry Bold with no additional monthly handset fee the mandatory ‘unlimited email and Web’ and a 3GB data allowance for using the Bold as a tethered modem which taps into 3’s mobile broadband network.

This will deliver speeds up to 1.5Mbps and it’s pretty good value if you have the occasional need for mobile broadband – 3 normally charges $29 per month for 3GB on its regular mobile broadband plans and this is also the cheapest data deal among the four telcos.

The only caveats are that you’re within the limited coverage of 3’s mobile network and that you’re using a Windows notebook as RIM hasn’t yet released the necessary drivers for tethering the Bold to Mac OS X.

But step outside of 3’s network and you’ll be forced onto Telstra’s network even to pick up emails on the Bold itself which attracts a surcharge of $1.65/MB. Each plan includes 2MB of national roaming data which is sufficient for the BlackBerry’s highly compressed emails as long as you don’t spend too much time out of 3’s footprint and as long as you restrain yourself from downloading attachments and using the Web.

3’s entry-level $89 per month plan gives you $350 of calls and text messages plus 300 minutes of free voice calls to other 3 subscribers. Don’t be mislead by indications on the 3 Web site that this plan also requires an additional $10 per month for the handset – we checked with the carrier and the $89 monthly fee includes the Bold.

For $10 per month extra the mid-tier $99 plan ups the ante to $650 of talk and text plus 500 minutes of calls within the 3 network.

The top shelf $129 plan boosts the call cap to $1000 of talk and text and a whopping 2500 minutes of chat to other 3 denizens.

In addition to 3GB of mobile broadband data each plan also extends the ‘unlimited email and Web’ deal to partner 3 networks in the UK Ireland Hong Kong Sweden Italy Denmark and Austria. There’s not even any session set-up fee when your Bold connects to the network to fetch pull-based ISP email which takes place automatically around every 15 minutes.

So now that 3 has jumped on board the Bold bandwagon which carrier has the best deals?

Optus has but a single plan for the Bold at $89 per month (it’s a $79 cap plan plus $10 per month for the Bold both over 24 months). This includes $300 of talk and text. But you can forget about any extras such as free calls to other Optus phones.

On Telstra things are a little less straight-forward – you pay $50 per month over two years for the BlackBerry package comprising of the Bold handset plus unlimited email and Web and then match this to a voice call plan such as Telstra’s $49 cap which delivers $200 worth of calls.

So at $99 per month all up you’re paying $10 per month ($240 over the life of the contract) more than Optus and getting $100 fewer calls per month. But in Telstra’s favour is the extensive coverage speed and especially the low latency of Telstra’s Next G network which makes browsing on the Bold something you can do – see Dan Warne’s tale of a Telstra switcher for more details.

The same $99 per month on Vodafone gets you the Bold unlimited email and Web plus 700 minutes of talk and 300 text messages per month on Vodafone’s ‘Single Business Cap’ plan. Other mobile carriers charge an average 30c per 30 seconds so their plans would need to be $700 of talk time to match Vodafone’s deal (although that’s not including an average 30c flagfall which Vodafone doesn’t charge).

This puts Vodafone well ahead on overall value and that’s before you factor in some additional sweeteners. There’s no charge for callers leaving voicemail or for you picking it up and you can put up to four BlackBerry Bolds on the one account (despite these being ‘business’ plans no ABN is required) and get unlimited free calls between each Bold – a great husband-wife deal for instance.

Note that you can also buy a Bold outright from the BlackBerry Store for $848 (despite the name the BlackBerry Store has no legal or commercial affiliation with BlackBerry maker RIM) or Simply Mobiles for $895.

However as carriers are geared towards supplying the Bold as part of a two-year contract you’ll find it difficult to convince a carrier to let you sign up for one of their plans using a BYO Bold with either a discount on the monthly spend or on a casual month-by-month basis rather than signing a contract.