Telstra claims its pre-paid USB 4G modem is Australia's first pre-paid 4G product. Like its post-paid USB 4G Modem brother, the pre-paid 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.
Telstra's pre-paid USB 4G is the company's first pre-paid device to work on its 4G network.
The Telstra pre-paid USB 4G Modem is essentially not too different from most other USB modems on the market. It's slightly larger than many other USB mobile broadband devices, but smaller than Telstra's own post-paid USB 4G Modem.
The pre-paid USB 4G modem has a gloss white finish and features Telstra's "4G" branding on both sides. Two antenna ports are located on the right side of the modem hidden by plastic covers, while a single LED light on the front flashes red, green or blue to denote offline, 4G or 3G/2G connections.
The Telstra pre-paid USB 4G modem is manufactured by ZTE. We like the hinged, rotatable connector that allows it to be positioned at various angles. However, we tested the USB 4G modem on both an Apple MacBook Pro and a Toshiba Satellite U840 ultrabook and the connector hindered access to adjacent USB ports on both machines.
The front cover of the Telstra pre-paid USB 4G Modem easily slides off to reveal a regular SIM card slot (Telstra's 4G network runs on a regular BigPond SIM) and a microSD card slot that allows the device to double as a USB flash drive. The software required to run the pre-paid USB 4G modem is included on the modem itself; for Windows users the installer automatically opens, while Mac users simply need to 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 a relatively light piece of software and the annoying links to Telstra's services, news and search information can be hidden by adjusting options in the view menu.
The Telstra pre-paid 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 fall back across to the regular Next G 3G network.
Current 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 around 80 regional and metropolitan centres. Telstra says it will continue the LTE rollout into other coverage areas "where demand requires the extra capacity".
Using the Telstra pre-paid 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 29Mbps, which is quite impressive for a modem of this kind. Upload speeds during testing peaked at around 11.2Mbps (higher than Telstra's quoted 10Mbps), though generally hovered between 6Mbps and 8.4Mbps on most occasions. In a 4G coverage zone, it took us just over one minute to download a 71.5MB iTunes file with the pre-paid USB 4G modem. Keep in mind, though, that you'll only achieve these speeds within 4G coverage zones — the rest of the time you'll switch over the regular Next G network.
The Telstra pre-paid USB 4G modem sells for $129 and comes with 3GB of data to use in Australia with 30 days' expiry. Recharge options range from $20 for 250MB of data to use in 21 days, up to $150 for 10GB of data with a 365 day expiry. A full list of Telstra's pre-paid mobile broadband plans can be found on its Web site.