Why don’t we have this? Australians still paying for streaming music

24 June 2014

In the last couple of years Aussies have finally received access to a plethora of music streaming services, but we're still too limited in when, where and how much we can stream. Using it regularly requires a prohibitive amount of data that the average mobile data cap simply can't cover.

Alternatively, countries like the US are starting to see unlimited access to cloud-stored music no matter what the user's monthly data cap may be.

Late bloomers, fast learners

Australia’s recent shift towards music streaming has been fantastic. Services like Spotify, Google Play All Access, iTunes Radio, Pandora and others too numerous to name offer free or affordable alternatives to traditional album purchases. They also provide Australians with simple, legal alternatives to piracy by making the acquisition of our tunes, as well as the exploration of new music, easier than resorting to torrents.

It’s true that we joined the streaming party a little late. Spotify was launched by a Swedish team in 2008, but didn’t make it to Australia until mid-2012. Google Play All Access launched in the US in 2011, but was not available here until 2013.

Despite initial unavailability, Australian adoption of the new medium has been supportive. Aussies are often picked out by manufacturers and developers as being particularly tech-savvy on average, so the news that we have embraced cloud-based systems should come as no surprise.

The problem

Australians are still being held back when it comes to music streaming services. The problem now isn’t with availability, but with carrier support.

Streaming music uses a lot of data. Usage varies between services, but it can be anywhere up to 1MB per minute. That may not sound like much, but just half an hour a day of streaming can lead to almost 1GB across a month. Our own site data shows that the average Australian data cap is around the 1.2GB mark, which leaves very little left over for anything else. It also brings you dangerously close to getting stung by traditional overage fees.

Thanks to this limitation, options are limited to either listening at home, or paying for the top-tier subscriptions from services like Spotify that allow you to download tracks to a small number of devices. This in turn curtails the variety of tracks you can listen to when out and about, all the while filling up your phone’s storage with encrypted music files.

We’re still lagging behind

Some overseas carriers have started offering unmetered access to music streaming services. Unmetered means that any data used through a certain website or services is not counted towards your monthly cap. This is something that Australian carriers used to do with YouTube and Facebook, but have since ceased the practice.

The most-timely example is T-Mobile in the US, which on Thursday announced that it would allow unmetered access to select music streaming services including Pandora, Spotify and iTunes Radio on its Simple Choice phone plans. Google Play All Access was conspicuously absent, but the already-impressive starting list will be added to in part based on customer suggestions.

New Zealand provider Telecom offers free top-tier Spotify Premium subscriptions, valued at NZ$12.99 per month ($11.99 in Australia), with some of its plans that cost as low as NZ$29 per month.

Telecom doesn’t offer unmetered access to the service, but $12.99 each month is money that could be put towards getting a larger cap. That could at least allow for the occasional daily perusal of music not already-stored on your device.

Not all doom and gloom

The Australian carrier scene has been changing of late. Optus has launched its My Plan Plus scheme, which allows users to pay just $10 for an extra 1GB every time they go over their cap. That’s at least an extra half hour of music streaming each month that you can opt for if it takes your fancy.

Vodafone and Virgin have each been offering bonus data on select plans for some time now. These are short-term deals, but their popularity has been so great that both carriers continue to extend their sales with no end in sight. Some of these plans offer double data, which would go a long way towards enabling regular music streaming, if only for a small amount each day.

Hopefully in the future we’ll see something like T-Mobile’s unmetered streaming policy come to one or more Aussie carriers. As always we’re perhaps destined to lag just a little behind, but as history has shown we usually get there in the end.

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