Telstra USB 4G Review

Well it finally happened. iBrothers managed to get it’s hands on Telstra’s latest mobile broadband offering, the Telstra USB 4G. With it’s ability to access Telstra’s 4G LTE network, the first in Australia, the device promises broadband speeds ranging from 2Mbps to 40Mbps, a massive increase over mobile broadband offerings from Vodafone and Optus where the theoretical maximum is around 7Mbps.

To access these speeds you will need to be in a 4G area. Have a look at Telstra’s coverage maps to determine if 4G is available in your area. The modem will still work in Telstra’s HSPA+ coverage areas as well as 3G enabled areas should you find yourself not in a 4G covered area. The modem has two LEDs which, depending on colour, indicates if you are in a 4G or 3G area – two blue LEDs mean 3G where blue and green indicates 4G.

Hardware

Telstra continues their relationship with Sierra Wireless as their mobile manufacturer of choice by renaming the Sierra Wireless Aircard 320U to the Telstra USB 4G.

The modem itself resembles Telstra’s Ultimate USB modem in it’s square shape and pivoting hinge with the main point of external distinction being that it’s black (the Ultimate USB is blue) and of course the 4G labelling. This means it is still a bit of a space hog if directly connecting it to a USB port on your computer and can block neighbouring USB ports. The modem does come with a USB extender but of course, it will be laying flat on a table rather than sitting nicely in your computer.

 

Installation and connection

The USB 4G contains all the drivers you need. Simply plug it into your computer and follow the bouncing ball.

If something does go wrong, you can find drivers directly from Sierra Wireless’ website.

Once installed, connection is made through the Telstra Mobile Manager which gives you the necessary statistics as well as some potentially unwanted direct service access to Telstra provided services.

Telstra is getting a little spammy with their connection manager

Coverage

From Telstra’s 4G landing page:

“4G coverage is initially available in all capital CBD’s, associated airports and selected regional locations …”

While this provides approximately a 5km radius from the CBD and 3km from regional centres, Telstra are expanding the new 4G network and it’s worth keeping an eye on the Telstra Coverage Maps.

Performance

We took the USB 4G out for a spin and can honestly say, the speeds are truly amazing. We were impressed by the speeds of our Bigpond Ultimate Wifi however, the speeds achieved by the USB 4G completely wipe the floor with the last king of mobile broadband.

We tested in two 4G locations, Fitzroy and West Brunswick.

Fitzroy

Modem

Connection Type

Download (Mbps)

Upload (Mbps)

Ping (ms)

Telstra USB 4G

4G

38.14

14.09

26

Bigpond Ultimate Wifi

DC

14.46

2.01

73

 

West Brunswick

Modem

Connection Type

Download (Mbps)

Upload (Mbps)

Ping (ms)

Telstra USB 4G

4G

29.96

14.30

32

Bigpond Ultimate Wifi

DC

12.7

3.61

33

Testing in a HSPA+ (or DC) enabled area, we see the speeds pretty evenly matched.

Modem

Connection Type

Download (Mbps)

Upload (Mbps)

Ping (ms)

Telstra USB 4G

DC

12.15

1.06

52

Bigpond Ultimate Wifi

DC

13.16

0.98

75

Putting it simply, this is the fastest mobile broadband currently being domestically offered in Australia.

It’s worth keeping in mind here just how much faster the 4G, even the HSPA+ network is over other providers. Our earlier mobile speedtest and rural speed test should provide some indication. Personally, I die a little inside when testing these knowing that the best I can get on my home ADSL2+ connection is just shy of 5Mbps downstream.

Drawbacks

As fantastic as the prospect of the 4G network is, there are some drawbacks.

The first being the obvious one – it is currently only offered in a USB modem. This leaves your options to pretty much only a notebook or computer. There is currently no personal hotspot option (like the Ultimate Broadband Wifi) which would allow you to connect devices such as iPads or mobile phones with wireless chipsets. Presently, the small amount of mobile phones which support 4G LTE networks in the US are reporting that battery life is suffering at the expense of the faster network and could be the reason why we haven’t seen a portable hotspot as yet.

The second drawback is similar to the first. The current mobile hotspots and 3G routers which connect to USB modems (you plug in a USB modem to share it’s connection) currently in Australia don’t support the Telstra USB 4G modem. Anyone thinking about trying it should check out the current thread on the whirlpool forums. We have personally tested the TP-Link 3420 and it does connect however, the throughput in speed seemed to suffer however it’s something we will most likely keep investigating.

The only other thing we have encountered was a major problem trying to access a Pennytel VoIP service as it wouldn’t connect to the VoIP service. This proved more an issue with Telstra’s network issuing private network addresses and our resolution was found in a post relating to someone having similar NAT issues with a VPN connection. For anyone considering attempting this route, it is more difficult than explained in the link. Calling Telstra’s 125111 number will result in getting transferred anywhere other than someone who can help you and even Facebook’s live chat will only get you transferred elsewhere but at least you get to type rather than speak. It was twitter that came to our aid in the end although that was a two day exercise. We will be discussing social network support in an upcoming article.

The issue we see here is that with the fantastic speed increase, mobile workers will find Telstra’s latest 4G offering compelling and being able to connect to a company VPN or services such as VoIP will be important if not mandatory. Presently, Bigpond customers appear to be issued public IP addresses and it may be worth considering a Bigpond account as opposed to a Telstra account.

Conclusion

The Telstra USB 4G provides access to the fastest mobile broadband currently available in Australia. For those who are covered by the ever expanding 4G network footprint and require fast mobile broadband access on their computer or notebook, it’s worth consideration. 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 below).

If you need to access services such as corporate VPNs or VoIP services (other services which have problem with double NAT issues should be taken into consideration too) you should consider getting your modem through Bigpond instead of Telstra directly.

Other links

Telstra 4G Coverage Maps

Telstra Wireless Plans (Bigpond, Consumer)

Telstra Wireless Plans (Telstra, Business)

Sierra Wireless Drivers and Support

 

3 comments

  1. […] Accessing the 4G network without having to commit to either a pricey upfront cost or a lengthy contract is of course every iBrother’s dream. It’s especially apparent when you only need mobile broadband some of the time making a recharge a better option than a rolling contract. We picked one up this morning to see if the cheaper hardware keeps up with the more expensive sierra wireless option. […]

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