Design and features
Forgive us if we gloss quickly over the design of the new Telstra 4G USB modem. Not only does it look like a near replica of the last Telstra modem we reviewed, but there just isn't that much to say about the design of a USB modem anyway. We like that it's black in colour, for what it's worth.
Practically, the design is a winner. Telstra's OEM Sierra does a fine job of delivering a solidly built modem with a swivelling connection to the computer, allowing you to point the modem and its antenna upwards or to redirect it to a sideways orientation. The back of the modem slides off revealing SIM card and microSD card slots, allowing you to stuff in as much as 32GB of memory and use the modem as a portable drive or as a ReadyBoost memory enhancement on newer Windows PC.
Of course, few people buying the Telstra 4G modem will linger for long pondering on the design, with the show-stopper here being the modem 4G connectivity on the 1800MHz frequency of Telstra's network. Telstra is promising real-world download speeds of between 2Mbps and 40Mbps on the 4G network, and uploads of half of the download estimations.
Impressively, the new 4G modem also delivers the same dual-channel HSPA+ connectivity that the previous Telstra Ultimate modem offers, falling back to speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 41Mbps when outside of Telstra's 4G coverage.
Telstra's new network roll-out make exciting promises, and the USB modem does not disappoint. The throughput results we saw during our tests was consistently excellent, with 4G downloads speeds averaging at about 20Mbps, and uploads speeds at about 8Mbps or 9Mbps. Even when the modem reverted to a 3G connection we still saw downloads sitting at around 8Mbps, or about the same download speed most people will experience using ADSL2+ with a wired connection in their homes.
But it's not all about speed, the latency for our 4G connections was also considerably faster than we're used to using on mobile broadband services. Telstra is advertising a latency of between 30-35 milliseconds (ms), and though our test results tended to be between 40ms and 50ms, these are outstanding results nonetheless.
It is important to temper these excellent test results with the knowledge that the 4G network will have significantly fewer people using it now during our tests than it will in the near future, and over time the raw speed of these connections will likely slow down somewhat as the 4G network becomes more congested, especially with the introduction of 4G phones and tablets next year. Even still, we doubt a congested 4G network will ever be, or feel, as slow as the competitions' 3G networks do right now.
Perhaps the best part of Telstra's 4G roll-out is that it hasn't hiked up prices to match the hype, in fact at the time of writing, the new 4G modem is the same price as the Telstra 3G Ultimate USB modem, and is fully subsidised on all 24-month contracts. If you don't feel like committing to two years of mobile broadband you can buy the modem outright for AU$299.
Compared with similar, if slower, offerings from Optus and Vodafone, the 4G USB modem is excellent value if you're willing to sign up to a long-term contract. Vodafone and Optus both offer free modems on 12-month contracts, but they are of lesser quality products and at most price points the difference in data allowances is negligible, especially when comparing the telco's cheaper mobile broadband offerings.
At the end of 2011 and into the first half of 2012, there is simply no better mobile broadband modem or service than that from Telstra and its 4G network. The 24-month contract will turn away some, but those who pick up the new 4G USB modem will not be disappointed.