Although Optus hasn't upgraded to the High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) network, their Wireless Connect card remains a solid option in the mobile broadband space, thanks to decent speeds and excellent mobile coverage. Using a PCMCIA data card, the Wireless Connect package is easy to set up and includes effective software.
Optus Wireless Connect allows users to access three different networks, WiFi 802.11 b/g, 3G and standard GSM. Within Optus 3G coverage areas, users can experience maximum speeds of 384kbps (both upstream and downstream), while WiFi offers maximum speeds of up to 54Mbps, and standard GSM up to 50kbps. Like most mobile broadband services, Wireless Connect will automatically connect to the best available network in your area. If the 3G signal isn't strong enough, the service will fall back to a standard 2G (GSM) connection, but this is barely usable, even for basic web browsing and email capabilities. Optus also has a number of its own wireless Internet hotspots, which can be viewed here: https://rego.optusnet.com.au/wireless/locations.html.
The card itself has two LED status lights to let users know the level of their current connection at a glance. A blue light indicates that a 3G connection is available, a red light for 2G and a green light indicates that there are available WiFi networks in the area.
We tested the Mobile card in our office (based in St Leonards) as well as around the Sydney and North Sydney CBD zones. Speeds of up to 48KB/sec were achieved, although we averaged speeds of about 35KB/sec. We received a solid 3G signal in our office and around the North Sydney CBD zone. As with all our mobile broadband reviews, we performed a number of tests using small amounts of data like emails and Web browsing, streaming online services and larger files ranging from 1MB to 4MB in size.
For basic Web browsing, the Wireless Connect Card performs well, loading common sites like The Sydney Morning Herald and News.com.au, and had no problem streaming content from You Tube and Pandora. We experienced some slowdown streaming multimedia content, but this was only at times when the service was struggling to maintain a signal. Unfortunately, the Wireless Connect card isn't ideal for multitasking. We experienced some lengthy loading times when streaming a YouTube video while downloading other files in the background.
Downloading small files while in a 3G coverage area (our offices in St Leonards), we were able to achieve speeds of up to 48Kb/s but regularly fluctuating between 31KB/sec and 42KB/sec. A 1MB file took 26 seconds to complete, while the best we could manage for a 4MB file was two minutes. Overall, the Wireless Connect service is ideal for most users, as it is capable of streaming some light multimedia, while also performing well for basic web browsing and email.
Installation was a simple process and took under five minutes. The Wireless Connect software shows you how strong your current signal is and which network you are using (WiFi, 3G or 2G). The software also offers quick tabs to your default Internet browser, email, VPN and more connections. There is even access to a graph of usage for the month, showing total and average data use in a convenient bar graph.
The Wireless Connect card we tested costs $359 to buy outright on a 24-month plan. For a 12 month plan this jumps to $419, while users can purchase the card without a plan for $599. Alternatively, if you own a notebook with inbuilt WiFi, you can purchase a Wireless Connect card without WiFi, for $239 (24 months), $299 (12 months) or $399 (no plan). Four plans are offered ranging from $29.95 per month for 100MB of data, up to $129.95 per month for 2GB of data. Excess usage on all four plans is charged at 30 cents per MB.
Overall, the Optus Wireless Connect card offers excellent coverage, solid speeds and competitively priced plans when compared to other offerings in the mobile broadband space. However, the Wireless Connect service can't match the speeds capable of its HSDPA counterparts, namely Telstra and Vodafone.