Review: Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G

Telstra's Wi-Fi 4G modem offers fast 4G speeds, when you can get them.

The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G offers fast speeds, but 4G coverage remains limited.

Telstra launches 4G Wi-Fi hotspot

The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G modem is a battery operated modem that allows Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect to it wirelessly for shared mobile Internet access. The device is about the size of a deck of cards and just about the same thickness. The modem has a soft rubber finish on the back, shiny, silver edges and a gloss black bezel surrounding the display. The screen is predictably flanked by the Telstra logo on the left and "4G" on the right, just in case you needed reminding that you're dealing with the fastest data speeds possible.

A power button and a "-" button sit below the screen, while the battery is removable via a slide off plastic cover on the rear. Two antenna sockets on the bottom allow users to boost reception in flaky coverage areas if needed. The unit charges via a micro-USB connection at the bottom. If the battery is flat the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G modem can be connected via the included USB cable and used as a wired modem.

The best feature of the Wi-Fi 4G's design is the large LED screen that shows a wealth of information including signal strength, the number of devices connected, battery level, network type and the default SSID network name. Conveniently, the LED screen also displays the network password so you don't have to remember it every time you want to connect a new device. For security reasons, this can be hidden by configuring the web interface.

This Web interface is both straightforward and functional. Options include editing the SSID name and password, turning off the power LED, choosing the screen backlight time and a host of other advanced networking options. You can also disable the very annoying sleep mode, which by default requires a very long press of the - key below the screen to unlock the unit.

The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G modem promises "typical" download speeds ranging from 2 megabits per second (Mbps) to 40Mbps when in a 4G coverage zone, while typical upload speeds range from 1Mbps to 10Mbps. Telstra's 4G coverage is currently available in all eight capital cities (5km from GPO) and their respective airports in Australia, along with 80 regional and metropolitan centres (3km from city centre).

If you're wondering how fast the Wi-Fi 4G modem is, the answer is very fast. Using our Broadband Speed Test in a 4G coverage zone in North Sydney, we regularly achieved speeds of up to 35Mbps, though mostly hovering around 20Mbps. Upload speeds were also impressive, regularly around 18Mbps.

When not in a 4G coverage zone, the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G falls back onto the company's regular Next G network, supporting typical HSPA+ dual channel speeds of 1.1Mbps-20Mbps. In a full 3G coverage zone we regularly managed speeds of between 12Mbps and 18Mbps on most occasions. Like all mobile broadband products, the performance and speed will depend on a variety of factors out of your control including network congestion, time and location.

Curiously, Telstra advertises the modem as only allowing a maximum of five devices to connect to it at a time but the manufacturer's Web site states 10 as the maximum. We had no trouble connecting more than five devices at a time, though speed does deteriorate with extra devices, which is why Telstra may have taken the safe option marketing only five. That being said we didn't notice too much slowdown with two smartphones, a tablet and a notebook connected to the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G simultaneously. As with many other Wi-Fi modems, when in constant use the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G modem does get rather hot.

Telstra claims the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G modem has a battery life of up to four hours, but during our tests it lasted just under three and a half hours before it ran out of juice. Manufacturer Sierra Wireless sells an optional long-life battery that promises up to eight hours of use, though it will add significant bulk to the modem. Other accessories listed include a desktop charging cradle and an aircard "hub" that will allow the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G to connect up to 20 devices for home or office network use.

The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is available in two variants: a business model and a second, re-branded consumer variant with BigPond branding. The modem can also be purchased outright for $299 and is locked to the Telstra network. The telco will charge customers $27.50 to unlock the modem.

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