Update: Telstra have announced their new 4G LTE mobile WiFi Hotspot
Update: Our Telstra 4G USB review is up
iBrothers likes it’s mobile broadband – no, we REALLY like our mobile broadband. It’s there when we are stuck in traffic and need directions, when we are looking for a decent coffee in an unknown area, conducting emergency remote support on the road, enabling us to share photos instantly at the birth of our children … So when we hear about improvements to speed and performance being offered from Mobile Broadband, you know we are going to be all over it.
Enter Bigpond’s latest offering, the Ultimate Mobile Broadband WI-FI. Using Telstra’s next G network, the device promises download speeds up to 20Mbps and upload speeds up to 3Mbps. These speeds are a considerable jump from the current offerings of any other carrier. The modem itself is a Sierra Aircard 753S and while the website claims theoretical speeds up to 42Mbps, Telstra is stating the speeds to be around half that. The unit supports frequencies of UMTS 850/1900/2100 MHz, comes with wireless N connectivity and an internal GPS. More information can be found in the links at the end of this review.
The speed increase is achieved via HSPA+ Dual Carrier network. This is what Telstra CEO David Thodey had to say about the technology on Telstra’s website:
“HSPA+ Dual Carrier technology allows Telstra to send and receive wireless data using two channels simultaneously providing peak network downlink speeds of 42Mbps. Actual customer download speeds are always lower than the peak network speeds.”
Indeed, the Hotspot actually sports two plugs for external antennas.
All this extra speed sounds great but it does come with some caveats. The first is of course battery life. Telstra claim about 3.5 hours, which is rather poor (iBrothers would often struggle with the 5 hours achieved from the Vodafone pocket wifi) although boot time on the unit is relatively fast (probably the fastest we have seen; 20 second from boot to network connected) meaning that turning it on and off when you need it isn’t a slow affair. Anyone needing better battery life should look at the optional extended battery (see accessories below).
The next thing is that you won’t get these extra speeds everywhere. Major capital cities are covered as well as some surrounding areas. It is worth having a look at the coverage map but make sure you zoom in to see the darker blue areas, which indicate HSPA+ Dual Carrier areas. The coverage map will show three different speed levels:
- Dark Blue – up to 20Mbps
- Light Blue – up to 8Mbps
- Orange which is typical Next G speeds – up to 3Mbps
Again, it’s worth noting that these are theoretical maximum speeds and what you will get in the real world will most likely not touch these.
The price of the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi is listed as $299.00 however Bigpond are currently offering the unit for $49 after rebate if you sign onto a 24 month contract. Plan pricing can be found here. It should be noted that at the time of writing, you cannot actually buy the modem outright from Bigpond and would need to look at the Telstra branded modem instead ($349 outright and unlocked).
To go with Telstra or Bigpond really depends if you are a home user or business. Telstra offer the modem for free on a $49 p/m plan giving you 7GB of data however, this plan is only available to Business customers. Plans, which offer less data, include a $99 up front charge for the modem. The Bigpond plans are generally worse unless you bundle at least two Telstra services which then give you more data than what Telstra offer at the same monthly charge. For example, a land line and a mobile under Telstra means you can get the 3GB data plan for $29 p/m (normally $49 p/m) where Telstra would only give you 1GB on the same $29 p/m plan.
In essence, you will need to do some homework to find the best deal that suits you being offered between both Telstra and Bigpond.
There are a couple of additional benefits being with Bigpond. The first is that you get access to BigPond Unmetered Content which give you 24 hour News/ Music/ V8 etc … which does not count against your download limit. The second benefit is that your speed is capped to 64 Kbps (slow enough to drive you mad) if you exceed your monthly data allowance as opposed to being charged ludicrous amounts of money for going over.
The package contains:
1 x Bigpond Ultimate Mobile Broadband Wi-Fi + Battery
1 x Quick Start Guide
1 x AC Power supply with USB plug
1 x Micro USB cable
The sim was already inserted into the device.
The Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi has a few accessories available for additional purchase.
It should also be noted that sierra are currently offering a free case if you fill out their survey.
The Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi physically unit is fairly impressive.
- Colour LCD display which is very large and very easy to read.
- Mute switch – the unit likes to chirp like R2D2.
- Blue LED – pulsates to let you know the unit is on and connected to the network even if the LCD display is asleep.
- Two external antenna connection points.
Aesthetically, the consensus of iBrothers is that it is probably on the bigger & “uglier” side of the scale, at least compared to Vodafone’s pocket wifi or Optus’ mini wifi modem.
The LCD display is very impressive giving plenty of useful information which is also clear and easy to read. Information such as battery, signal strength, number of connected users and a clear little “DC” symbol to indicate when you are in a dual carrier zone are handy. The Wi-Fi key is also displayed although this can be turned off in the administration panel (see below).
The Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi’s front panel provides an incredible amount of useful information and in a first for iBrothers, displayed the necessary steps for setting up the unit.
Following the on screen prompts, we connected to the device via Wi-Fi entering the Wi-Fi key (displayed on the LCD of the device). Using our Mac, the unit downloaded a DMG file, which contained the Bigpond Sign me up app and ran it. Following the prompts takes you through the terms and conditions and activation process for your account. We ordered ours online via our current Bigpond connection so activation was through our existing account. If you don’t have an account with Bigpond, you will be presented with the option to go through a sign up process.
Once activated, the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi was power cycled (turned it off and back on again) and we were ready to go.
While this process was super easy having a computer, it should be noted that you cannot activate it using an iPad, iPhone or Android device. The manual states:
“The activation process can only be completed on a computer with Windows XP, Vista, 7 or Mac OSX 10.5.8 and above. This means tablets or mobile devices can not initiate the activation process (but can be used with this device once activation is complete).”
Customising the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi
Further settings can now be accessed via the web browser. By default the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi is set to the highest encryption settings for Wi-Fi and has a unique key. You could at this point leave it set to the defaults without needing to do another thing.
There is a basic setup option from the home screen or you can dig into the advanced settings option.
The Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi advanced settings option provides four setting categories:
- Basic: Changing administrator password, standby times, automatic install host driver for USB tethering, backing up and restoring configuration settings.
- Display settings – controlling what your LCD screen displays
- Sound – several options as to how your device beeps at you
- About – all the information about the device including the ability to reset the device to defaults
- Status – Signal strengths, signal quality – probably more information than you could ever need.
- Setup- connection preferences
- SIM – security settings
- Status: Provides Wi-Fi status including a list of connected devices
- Network: Configure SSID, broadcasts, Wi-Fi channel. It’s the usual stuff you would find in most Wi-Fi routers with one nice additional setting which is Wi-Fi performance (short range, medium range, long range).
- Security: Normal Wi-Fi security settings (share key etc …). You can also disable the LCD showing your Wi-Fi security key here.
- Mac Filter
- Port Forwarding/ VPN passthrough (enable/ disable)
- LAN settings: IP range, DNS settings
- Port Forwarding: adding your ports
Clicking the My Account option will take you to the Bigpond Portal which will allow you to see your account details, change your plan, billing settings as well as being able to see your data usage.
Update: Interested in knowing how the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi works with online games?
We took the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi for a quick journey visiting locations within the Dual Carrier areas as well as the “light blue” zones (3G) using an iPad2 for testing purposes. DC stands for areas which fell under the Dual Carrier area.
DC – Westmeadows Shopping Precinct: DL 9.42Mbps, UL 1.37Mbps
Nestled cosily inside a gully in the Westmeadows Shopping Precinct, we honestly didn’t expect much from here as it is a bit of a dead spot for mobile coverage and were suitably blown away by the 9Mbps download speed. Sadly, yours truly who lives not far from here who has ADSL2+ only gets about 3.5Mbps which demonstrates how attractive the speeds are to those living in a DC covered area.
DC – Tullamarine McDonalds: DL 15.81Mbps, UL 2.32Mbps
This one was taken in the McDonalds car park while organising a coffee. Incredible speeds from a wireless carrier. What was also incredible is that McCafe actually managed to live up to their promise and deliver an acceptable coffee.
DC – Gladstone Park Shopping Centre: DL 16.80Mbps, UL 1.32Mbps
Also taken from the car park. We expect the speed to take a hit once inside the shopping centre and will most likely be doing a follow up to our previous speed test within the next few weeks.
Keilor Park Ring Road: DL 7.97Mbps, UL 0.68Mbps
Travelling at an astonishing (for the Ring Road) 80km p/h, we had slipped out of the DC area into the “light blue” zone. Download speed was close to the “8Mbps” maximum speed.
Ardeer Ring Road: DL 5.54Mbps, UL 0.31Mbps
This time travelling at 100km p/h (no, the driver was NOT conducting the speed tests at the time), we see speeds more akin to what we expect from the previous generation mobile hotspots as well as a device such as the iPhone.
Brooklyn: DL 3.54Mbps, UL 0.62Mbps
We were at a client site for this one and it is notorious for being terrible when it comes to mobile broadband. The speed we got is about average. It is worth considering that for the hell of it, we ran a quick speed test on our Optus sim in the iPad and achieved a woeful DL 1.77Mbps, UL (could not complete the test).
Update – additional speed tests
Preston, cnr St Georges Road & Bell Street: DL 4.53Mbps, UL 0.34Mbps
The traffic lights take AGES to change
Kew, Ree Philz Cafe: DL 6.09Mbps, UL 0.31Mbps
A little disappointed and surprised that Kew isn’t in a DC covered area.
DC – Richmond, Victoria Street: DL 7.68Mbps, UL 0.57Mbps
Not that impressive for a DC enabled zone.
DC – Melbourne CBD, Burke st & Exhibition st: DL 11.26Mbps, UL 1.89Mbps
Speeds look ok but the speed test was very jumpy, dropping and spiking.Conclusion
If you travel or live around a DC enabled area, the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi is the fastest mobile broadband option currently on the market. The boot time of the unit is impressive and unless you need to be connected all day represents the best of what is out there. The pricing of the plans associated with the unit could be improved.
I would like to say that iBrothers wishes that Telstra would take a leaf out of Apple’s book and rename their devices something simpler. If it wasn’t for copy and paste typing “Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi” would have possibly driven us insane. In the links section below you will find the “walkthru” video. iBrothers does not recommend playing a drinking game when “Telstra Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi” is mentioned while watching this video.
A final aside
iBrothers had initially requested a Tesltra Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi review unit however, we only learned that one was to be sent after we had signed up for our own. What arrived however was not a Telstra Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi, but a Telstra Ultimate Broadband USB.
Apparently capable of accessing the same DC network and achieving the same speeds, we fired it up and ran a comparative speed test. We expected that running it directly through USB as opposed to a wireless connection would give the USB modem an advantage. The results were interesting.
Telstra Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi – DL 15.64 Mbps, UL 3.62 Mbps (ping 54)
Telstra Ultimate Broadband USB – DL 12.50 Mbps, UL 1.06 Mbps (ping 25)
Other Links and References
BigPond Unmetered Content – 24 News/ Music/ V8 etc …
First Look – Australia’s fastest mobile wifi (Telstra PR video)
Telstra Ultimate Mobile Wi-Fi Walkthru (youtube)
Telstra Ultimate Mobile Broadband Wi-Fi for Vacations (youtube)
Mobile Broadband Coverage (You will need to zoom right down to distinguish between the blue and light blue areas)