Telstra's USB 4G Modem is the first mobile broadband device in Australia to run on the company's new "4G" LTE network. The USB 4G Modem promises typical download speeds of between 2 megabits per second (Mbps) and 40Mbps but you'll only achieve these speeds in currently limited areas of 4G coverage.
The Telstra USB 4G Modem is larger than most regular mobile broadband devices, but it looks almost identical to Telstra's previous Ultimate USB Modem. The USB 4G modem has a gloss black finish that's not very kind to fingerprints, and it features "4G" branding on both sides. Two antenna ports are located on the top of the modem hidden by plastic covers, and LED lights on the back flash green or red to denote power and data traffic.
The Sierra Wireless manufactured modem is reasonably slim and has a hinged, rotatable connector that allows it to be positioned at various angles. We tested the USB 4G modem on an Apple MacBook Pro and the connector doesn't hinder access to the adjacent USB port on the left side. However, it's a pretty tight squeeze if you want to plug another USB device in while using the 4G modem.
The Telstra USB 4G Modem has a regular SIM card slot (Telstra's 4G network runs on a regular BigPond SIM) and a microSD card slot to allow the device to double as a flash drive. The software required to run the modem is included on the modem itself; for Windows users, the installer will automatically open, while Mac users simply double-click the file that appears on the desktop the first time the modem is plugged in.
Telstra's Connection Manager software allows you to access session information, including sent and received data, 4G/3G indicators and signal strength. It's also been given a fresh coat of paint to match Telstra's colourful new branding: the logo on the Mac version is a mixture of pale blue.
The Telstra USB 4G Modem is marketed as a 4G device, but it uses both 3G and 4G technology. If you move out of an area with 4G coverage, the USB 4G modem will switch across to the regular Next G 3G network.
Initial "4G" Telstra coverage (denoted by the dark blue patches on Telstra's coverage map) stretches across all eight capital cities and their respective airports in Australia, along with 30 out of a possible 80 regional and metropolitan centres. Telstra says it will continue the LTE rollout into other coverage areas "where demand requires the extra capacity", but the telco has also promised to enable 50 further locations by the end of the year.
Using the Telstra USB 4G modem in an LTE coverage area should result in "typical" download speeds of between 2 megabits per second (Mbps) and 40Mbps and typical upload speeds of between 1Mbps and 10Mbps. These are best case scenarios though, and the results we achieved were far less, albeit still pretty impressive. Like all mobile broadband products, the speed will depend on a number of factors including time, location, network coverage, signal strength and congestion.
The speeds we encountered in our North Sydney office (which is in the 4G coverage zone) were impressive but not as fast as Telstra's quoted "typical" speeds. Using PC World's Broadband speed test, we managed to achieve a top download speed of 29.75Mbps, which is admittedly very impressive for a wireless device. Upload speeds during testing peaked at around 11Mbps (higher than Telstra's quoted 10Mbps), though generally hovered between 6-8Mbps on most occasions.
In a 4G coverage zone, it took us less than a minute and a half to download a 77.4MB iTunes file with the USB 4G modem. Keep in mind, though, that you'll only achieve these faster speeds within 4G coverage zones — the rest of the time you'll switch over the regular Next G network.
Perhaps the best thing about the Telstra USB 4G modem is the fact it’s the same price as the telco's previous Ultimate USB modem. It's available for $0 upfront on four plans ranging from $19.95 per month (1GB data) to $79.95 per month (15GB data). For more information on plans, visit Telstra's Web site.