Telstra Ultimate Broadband USB review

Update: Our Telstra 4G USB review is up
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As mentioned in our review of the Telstra Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi, iBrothers had initially requested a Wi-Fi unit from Telstra but was instead sent the USB version. It seems to be a pretty easy mistake to make as we found that about a week ago, we had a similar issue talking to Telstra shop store staff and found that they too got confused between the two products.

Of course, we are presently armed with the Ultimate Broadband USB modem so of course we are going to take a look at how it performs on Telstra’s HSPA+ Dual Carrier network.

Our review yesterday of the Telstra Bigpond Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi goes into some depth regarding Telstra’s HSPA+ Dual Carrier network, coverage maps and some speed results. For anyone wanting more information regarding the network, you can find it there.

First impressions

The modem itself is a tad bulky compared to the more common offerings of other carriers which makes some sense considering that this is supporting dual antennas. You will of course lose an adjoining USB port in most notebooks. The USB connection swivels 180 degrees with 5 different positions where it will “lock” into place. iBrothers can see the possibility of the hinge becoming loose as the modem is taken from the folded up position to a plugged in one.

Installation

Installing the modem on most systems is pretty simple. Plug it in and it will launch the “watcher” installer, follow the prompts and away you go. iBrothers had mixed results under OS X Lion with one notebook working with the provided drivers where another notebook didn’t. A quick trip to sierra’s support site for the modem resolved the issue.

Performance

As mentioned in the Telstra Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi review, we saw that even in the same location, the USB modem performed slower than the Wi-Fi router. What we did notice was that the pings seemed better. Raw speeds are all good and fine, but pings are used to measure the round trip time it takes for data to get to a specific server and back again. In the speed tests below, we will demonstrate a working example of where lower ping times are actually preferable to raw speed.

Speed Tests

We conducted a few speed tests using a Mac running OS X Lion and on a PC running Windows 7. We used the latest drivers from Sierra’s website for both.

The results overall with the modem are  … confusing. It could be down to the Operating system and drivers but the results between the Mac and the PC are staggeringly different. We were testing within a Dual Carrier coverage area.

Mac:                D/L: 4.76Mbps, U/L: 2.99 Mbps, Ping: 40

Windows:       D/L: 7.4Mbps, U/L: 1.55 Mbps, Ping: 36

Back at iBrothers HQ, we standardised on a single Mac running OS X Lion and then did the same test running Windows 7 with boot camp. This Mac seemed to be fine with the installer found on the modem itself.

Mac:                D/L: 13.99Mbps, U/L: 1.87 Mbps, Ping: 42

Windows:       D/L: 11.6Mbps, U/L: 1.0 Mbps, Ping: 55

The variance in the results can be attributed to a number of different factors. Updated drivers may work better on Windows than Mac, congestion may have increased to the server we were using to test to between notebook reboots, solar flares …

Ultimately, the hardware you use as well as the operating system can influence the individual results you get. It is also worth checking for the most up to date software however; it’s also worth considering that the older version may play nicer with your system.

When Ping is King

Due to the noticeable discrepancy in ping noted in our Telstra Bigpond Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi review, we decided that it might be of interest to run a real world test with an online game to see if the low “ping” would prove the same in game.

Online gaming in a first person shooter (FPS) prefers a low ping to raw speed. A high ping in game would mean that the person suffering a slow data turnaround from a server would be seen by other players as moving in fits and bursts as opposed to smoothly and the person playing will often believe they have looking at a target is no longer there. The lower your ping, the smoother and better your game will be.

The game of choice for this was Left 4 Dead 2. Firing up the game in the original test location showed a ping that moved between 50 – 60ms which is very acceptable and playable. I managed to finish the round seen in the image above with no problem whatsoever. This is quite extraordinary for mobile broadband to be able to deliver this kind of experience as generally (well at least with the people we play with), those that are forced to play using mobile broadband find the experience too erratic.

We also conducted the same test back at iBrothers HQ on a different system, connecting to a different server and had pretty much the same result; 50 – 60ms pings.

For the sake of being fair and impartial and not at all because we were enjoying ourselves a little too much, we tethered our Telstra Bigpond Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi to the PC and fired up another game. Tethering the modem was fairly simple with the drivers auto loading and configuring a direct network connection without the need of the Telstra Management software. The pings were again the same; 50 – 60ms.

It should be noted that if you were to use the modem for gaming, you would want to ensure you are on a plan that gives you a decent data pack as downloading games as well as playing them online will count against it. Bigpond do offer unmetered access to their Game Arena servers however, you may find yourself not always connecting to them. Playing on these servers may also reduce your ping further as they are located within Bigpond’s network.

Conclusion

If we had to pick between the USB or Wi-Fi version of Telstra’s Ultimate Broadband offerings, the Wi-Fi version would win hands down.

Saying that if we had to choose a USB mobile broadband option, Telstra’s would be the top pick, even if we had to spend some time trying to fine-tune the experience.

2 comments

  1. […] Update: Interested in knowing how the Ultimate Broadband Wi-Fi works with online games? […]

  2. […] If you were considering a USB modem anyway, there is really no point going with the older Ultimate Broadband USB modem as the data plans are exactly the same (see […]

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