Archive for October 15, 2008

News 15: Wireless Internet Review

News 15: Wireless Internet Review

EDIT: Please note this is an old article, and many of the prices have changed now. Nonetheless, now in May 2009 Exetel is still one of the cheapest; and Telstra continues to charge about four times as much as the competition.

G’day all 🙂

This is a special newsletter dedicated to reviewing a number of Wireless Internet providers and providing extra information.

Wireless Broadband is certainly becoming more and more popular, and keeping up with all the offerings is getting challenging!

I’m now offering Wireless Broadband for $5 per month plus usage – but I’m not the only one; so I thought it’s about time I do a review of who’s offering what. I’ve also been busy driving around checking coverage in areas between Armidale and Glen Innes and report on the findings later in this newsletter…

Newer services can be quite a bit cheaper than the cheapest ADSL plans, and don’t require a phone line at all.

In this review I’ll take 1GB as the monthly usage, as that seems to be about what the average person who doesn’t download music and movies will use in a month. I’ll also use true wireless broadband options, not a unit that requires a power point.

Later, I’ll explain the difference between the Telsta, Optus and Vodafone towers.


BigPond is rather expensive for wireless broadband, but in some cases is the only wireless option available.

Good: Uses the NextG wireless network.
Bad: $59.95 for 1GB
Bad: Minimum 12 month plan. (Some discounts for longer contracts.)
Bad: USB Modem $299
Bad: Lose what you don’t use in a month.
Horrendous: Excess usage is 25 cents per megabyte


Dodo’s pricing is reasonable, and uses the Optus mobile network, but their past history is a concern.

Good: Modem & SIM card delivered for $149
Good: $25 for 1GB with no contract.
Caution: Dodo recently had more complaints at the ACCC than Telstra – quite a feat given their small size. Some customers have had to cancel their credit card to stop Dodo charging them.
Caution: Only works wherever an Optus mobile phone has coverage.
Caution: Excess at 10 cents per megabyte, capped at $99
Bad: Lose what you don’t use in a month.

Exetel (The one I’m selling locally via Auzzie & Cool Country Consulting.)

Exetel’s is a pay for what you use service, and is using the Optus mobile network

Caution: Modem & SIM card delivered for $195
Caution: $5 per month service fee.
Good: $15 for 1GB
Good: Excess usage $25 per 1,000 megabytes.
Caution: Only works wherever an Optus mobile phone has coverage.


Optus has some pretty good deals for heavier wireless usage. They don’t have any plans with 1GB, their smallest is 2GB for $40 Excess usage fees are a problem at 15c per megabyte, modem $199. There may be some quite good deals coming out soon with Optus to help get rid of your landline completely, but at present I can’t find any evidence of this new service on their site.



Telstra and BigPond are supposed to be different businesses believe it or not, but they appear to be slowly merging.

The Telstra plans are normally where you use your mobile phone as a modem.

Good: No modem required if you have a contracted NextG phone
Bad: $59 for 1GB
Horrendous: Excess usage is 25 cents per megabyte
Good: SMS notification when you use your allowance.
Good: Uses NextG network, and most phones have stronger reception than a USB modem.
Good: No Contract.

Side note: They have a $10 150MB plan which can be useful if you need Internet urgently for some reason.

Telstra PrePaid Wireless

Pre-Paid does not really exist for any major telephone company. It’s more a case of ‘use it or lose it’ because of these company’s trend to expire credit. You’d be rather annoyed if your money in the bank magically expired each month wouldn’t you! So why accept the lies of Prepaid? Anyway, rant over. Here’s their offering. (My prepaid dialup credit on Auzzie never expires, some accounts from 1997 are still in credit.)

Good: Modem $149
Good: Looks like you can’t exceed your usage allowance.
Bad: $60 for 750MB. (No 1GB plans)
Caution: Tricks apply to recharging that can cause you to not get what you expect – take careful note of ‘effective rate’


Caution: Uses Vodafone’s mobile network – still dialup speed in many areas.
Good: 1GB for $19.95
Good: Modem $5 per month for 24 months
Bad: 2 Year Contract

I’ve skipped 3 as they don’t cover our areas.

About the Mobile Networks.

There are three different mobile networks. In my service area of Armidale and Guyra, only Optus and Telstra have fast wireless Internet, otherwise known as 3G or NextG available.Vodafone is currently limited to dialup speeds.

Telstra NextG:

NextG is Telstra’s version of 3G. It runs at 850MHz, which allows it to cover up to about 60km from the tower. Of course, hills bugger this up somewhat! Fortunately, they have so many towers that it is rare to find places that NextG doesn’t work. In areas of weak coverage, external aerials are available to help and Telstra may even help you with installation of an aerial! Coverage maps at

Optus 3G

Optus has two 3G networks – one on 2100MHz which covers about 25KM from the tower, and also 900MHz which is able to cover ranges similar to NextG’s 60KM. Coverage maps are available at and

About the Modems

The modems from the different providers are not always compatible with eachother. In particular, the newer Optus 900MHz UTMS network and the Telstra 850MHz UTMS networks tend to be supported only by certain models of modem. Additionally, some modems may be locked to one of the carriers only.

Most modern USB modems support external antenna connection. Alternatively, you can use a USB cable up to 10 metres to suspend the modem from a suitable height.

Using a Mobile Phone as a Modem.

This is particularly easy with the NextG Phones, as almost all of these phones can be connected to a PC to provide broadband. (The iPhone is a notable exception due to Steve Jobs’ desire to please AAPT.)

For the Exetel plan and presumably for any other carrier that uses Optus, you can use a mobile phone as a broadband modem. However, you need to check that your phone supports the frequency in your area. (For example, Guyra is 900HMz UTMS. An older phone might support 900MHz for voice calls, but doesn’t support 900MHz for UTMS data.) A list of smart phones that support this speed are at and I generally recommend as a fair priced provider.

In most cases, if the phone supports ‘bluetooth tethering’ and you have a bluetooth enabled computer, you can use the phone as a modem without having to connect it to the computer with a cable. One or two will even turn the modem into a home wireless router so you can use multiple computers at once.

You may or may not be able to make and receive calls with the mobile depending on what permissions the service has.

VoIP with Wireless Broadband?

VoIP allows you to call landlines for 10c untimed, and mobiles for 22c/min. Or in the case of Skype, you can call other Skype user’s computers for free.

You can use VoIP software on your computer with wireless broadband and get quite reasonable results. (I’m currently doing this while on the road to save on the cost of mobile-originated calls.)

If you have a suitable mobile phone with wireless broadband availability, you can use Skype or Fring to achieve the same VoIP calling directly from the handset. A select few mobiles have VoIP built in without needing extra software.

My Conclusions:

Once you have wireless broadband, the world of phone lines, ADSL modems, etc, suddenly looks old fashioned; and the traditional need to run a phone line from a house to a telephone exchange seems to becoming increasingly endangered. The government’s National Broadband Network almost seems unnecessary since it’s based on wires and fibre in the ground technology.

Optus has done us a great service by upgrading so many regional towers to UTMS, providing much needed competition to Telstra’s superior but far more expensive service. Vodafone is planning to catch up too, but this is some time away.

Apple has also helped in a roundabout way by inventing the iPhone. It’s basically a full computer inside a phone shell, and has a similar thirst for downloads. Optus & Vodafone put huge pressure on Telstra to bring pricing down since they were scooping up the iPhone market with far better pricing.

Dialup is virtually dead. Web pages have grown to about three times the download size in the last few years, which means they take three times as long to download as they used to. I pity anyone on dialup now, and in the near future will be trying many high power antenna setups to see if I can get people with bad coverage up and running. Auzzie Dialup is still ticking over around breakeven and I don’t have any plans to kill it at this stage.

NextG and Optus Coverage.

Generally speaking, where the phone works is where the broadband will work.

NextG works pretty well everywhere in the area I work, except for some valleys on the Old Armidale Road, and places that are too far from town. Valleys tend to be the biggest killer.

Optus coverage is not as strong, but is still pretty reasonable. The problem spots so far are a few valleys on the road to Armidale, near the Speed Trap at Llangothlin; some other valleys between Guyra and Glen Innes; immediately around the Black Mountain railway station (another valley); some areas in South Hill Armidale.

Coverage is good in Glen Innes, Guyra, areas of Black Mountain town and west at peaks, Most of Armidale, Ben Lomond, Lagoon Road. Optus has recently had some trouble with some of their capital city towers getting overloaded, which could be a concern if you travel to those types of places regularly.

External antennas may help in some trouble spots – that’s the next step in researching these services.

My Strategy.

For me, I maintain three services. I have a NextG Browse pack which offers 150MB for $10, and an Auzzie Exetel wireless plan for $5 a month plus usage. I use the Auzzie Exetel one everywhere that it will work, and fall back to the NextG one for problem areas. I make VoIP calls using the laptop since I haven’t yet decided what to do about a smart phone, and have an Exetel $15/month 15c/min mobile as well for now. I also have traditional ADSL at home due to my remote backup and ISP business needs.

Naturally, I’m inclined to peddle the Exetel service since I have a financial interest in it; but I’m happy to admit that some of the other offers may be better for some people. The higher-end Optus plans in particular may suit regular moderate users more than the Exetel service.

Disclaimer: As far as I know the information in this newsletter is valid – but it’s not guaranteed! Best to check the supplied links to get the full details of offers from each company.

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