There's precious little variance when it comes to USB modems, because when it comes down to it, there's only a few vendors that Australian telcos tend to use for their modem designs, and there's not that much you can do with a USB stick loaded with electronics anyway. Optus' current 4G LTE 1800Mhz USB Modem is labelled as the "Premium" 4G modem, but that's a meaningless title, given that it's Optus' only 4G USB modem. Still, as USB modems go, it's a reasonable piece of kit.
Optus (and competitor Vodafone) have for a very long time been using rebadged Huawei kits, and the E3276 Premium 4G Modem is no exception. The USB plug flips up from a small switch, and the same side houses a slide-back cover that hides the SIM card slot. One nice aspect here is that the slide back mechanism is solid, but easy enough to activate, whereas many USB modems rely on you having a long enough fingernail to pop the casing open. If you don't want to scuff your nail polish or simply don't have long fingernails, the E3276 Premium 4G Modem's approach is a good one. But apart from that, and the fairly obvious Optus branding, the E3276 Premium 4G Modem isn't really premium — it's just ordinary. As with all USB modems, there's also a slight risk when using them for mobile purposes, simply because it'll stick out of the side of the laptop you're using with it, although the hinge on the premium modem does solve this, as long as you remember to flip it upwards.
Optus' 4G offering, at the time of writing, consists of a number of 4G LTE 1800Mhz sites across Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide. Regionally, it covers an area around Newcastle (where it held its first FD-LTE 1800Mhz trials) and the Gold Coast, but that's it for now. Optus has announced plans for an TD-LTE network in Canberra, based around the spectrum it acquired as part of the Vividwireless deal that's expected sometime this year, but it's not yet clear whether the E3276 Premium 4G Modem will be firmware upgradeable to support that network; it seems wise to suggest that it's unlikely. As such, the E3276 Premium 4G Modem will only work at top 4G speeds across limited metropolitan areas, as distinct from Telstra's LTE rollout, which encompasses a wide number of regional centres. Depending on how you planned to use it, that might not be a problem at all, of course.
Optus has for a long time used the base Huawei connection software with its USB modems, and the E3276 Premium 4G Modem doesn't differ from this pattern. That's not without its challenges. Our test laptop had previously tested an Optus USB modem and still had the software installed, which led to some confusion when it automatically loaded, but couldn't see the connected modem. If you are upgrading from a previous Optus USB modem, it's wise to do a complete uninstall of existing utilities, and then a fresh install, which was how we got the E3276 Premium 4G Modem to work.
There are a few key metrics for any mobile broadband network, but testing them is perilous stuff, simply because there's so many variables that can affect one test in one location. So we hit the road and tested seven different mobile devices across six sites to try to get a more complete picture of mobile broadband performance in two capital cities. Why capital cities and not regional zones? Partly, that's a factor of time, but also so that we could get a picture of 4G zones — and right now, Optus is concentrating mostly on capitals for its 4G — as well as the issues that congestion can introduce into a network.
We've tried to mix up our locations as much as possible, with our six sites covering a family home in Hornsby in Sydney's north (outside any 4G zone), Darling Harbour in the Sydney CBD (for an outdoors 4G test, because the 1800Mhz frequency used by 4G LTE has some in-building issues), in Glenelg Library in Adelaide (because it has thick walls and is a busy public space), in a coffee shop in Adelaide's Rundle Mall (because again the walls are an issue, as well as public congestion) and finally in departure lounges at Sydney and Adelaide airports, as they're awash with travellers checking mobile devices prior to boarding their planes.
All testing was performed with the Speedtest.net app running on Google Chrome on a MacBook Air with no other internet-reliant applications running and no extensions installed. Tests were run three times in each location, and then averaged to find ping, download and upload megabits-per-second (Mbps) averages for each device.
|Sydney CBD results||Ping||Download||Upload|
|Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G||45.33||13.99||13.97|
|Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G||16.66||8.8||14.81|
|Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi||76||7.17||1.18|
|Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem||57.66||5.053||0.486|
|Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem||56.66||2.48||0.57|
|Optus E5331 Mini WiFi Modem||120.6||2.26||0.58|
|Vodafone Pocket Wifi Extreme||122.33||1.5||0.06|
|Sydney Airport results||Ping||Download||Upload|
|Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem||35||41.99||9.55|
|Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem||35||13.51||9.91|
|Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G||46.66||13.35||14.12|
|Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G||50.33||11.73||11.09|
|Optus E5331 Mini WiFi Modem||55.66||7.2||0.53|
|Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi||71.66||6.88||1.19|
|Vodafone Pocket Wifi Extreme||70.33||2.27||0.2|
|Hornsby, NSW, results||Ping||Download||Upload|
|Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem||57||11.55||1.16|
|Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem||80||8.98||1.15|
|Vodafone Pocket WiFi Extreme||61||8.83||3.49|
|Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G||48||7.72||1.85|
|Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G||49.33||7.68||2.31|
|Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi||59.33||6.65||2.5|
|Optus E5331 Mini WiFi Modem||73.66||2.75||0.55|
|Adelaide CBD results||Ping||Download||Upload|
|Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G||10.33||24.46||6.51|
|Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G||52.66||14.21||2.5|
|Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi||72||11.12||1.17|
|Optus E5331 Mini WiFi Modem||98||7.16||1.11|
|Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem||79||1.01||0.12|
|Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem||90.33||0.803||0.106|
|Vodafone Pocket WiFi Extreme||201.33||0.313||0.04|
|Adelaide Airport results||Ping||Download||Upload|
|Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem||85.33||12.47||1.13|
|Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G||41||10.02||7.42|
|Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem||80||8.83||1.14|
|Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G||33.66||8.34||7.2|
|Optus E5331 Mini WiFi Modem||89.33||6.25||1.103|
|Vodafone Pocket WiFi Extreme||95.66||3.33||1.31|
|Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi||236.33||0.593||0.366|
|Glenelg, SA, results||Ping||Download||Upload|
|Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem||71.66||20.44||1.15|
|Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G||52||13.55||0.82|
|Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G||52||13.55||0.82|
|Vodafone Pocket WiFi Extreme||42.66||11.55||1.35|
|Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi||76.33||8.49||1.1|
|Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem||88||8.17||1.15|
|Optus E5331 Mini WiFi Modem||85.66||7.03||1.15|
Optus' 4G coverage maps might not be able to match Telstra's when it comes to overall scale, but from the results of our tests, one thing is clear: they're still pumping something seriously fast into the network, because the E3276 Premium 4G Modem showed itself capable of some seriously speedy connections. It was the fastest modem at Adelaide Airport and in our 3G-only Hornsby test, and gave us the hands-down fastest connection at Sydney airport, clocking in with a seriously impressive 41.99Mbps downstream speed. That's the kind of speed promise that 4G has, but across all of our tests, only the E3276 Premium 4G Modem actually delivered.
Which isn't to say that you'll always get that speed every time you plug it in, as the E3276 Premium 4G Modem also gave us truly woeful speeds in the Adelaide CBD, failing to crack an average 1Mbps down. Optus' 4G network also doesn't seem to hit the same kinds of upload speeds as we've seen on Telstra's, although whether that matters to you will depend on how much data you typically send upstream anyway.
Optus has hit a real sweet spot with the E3276 Premium 4G Modem. It's fast, and that's the primary thing you want out of any mobile broadband service. But the fact that Optus' data charges are more in the competitive space as Vodafone than they are with Telstra, and it doesn't charge any more for data delivered on its 4G network than it does for 3G, means that it's also exceptionally good value — as long as you're within the Optus 4G coverage zones.