Telstra offers its BigPond Wireless Broadband service with either a fixed desktop modem or a PC Card roaming modem for notebook users. The notebook option is the more expensive option, both in upfront cost (AU$199 for desktop, AU$299 for PC card) and in the plan cost, which varies depending on the usage plan you select. We tested with the notebook variant, and given Telstra's claimed coverage map for the actual broadband part of the service, it's fair to suggest that most of the users will do likewise; within most of the coverage areas there's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to broadband choice.
Installation of the service involves a relatively pain-free installation - we tested with the Windows software, but it's also available for Mac OS X 10.2.8 and better users -- and then insertion of the PC Card Modem. The PC Card modem for the service is a standard Type II card with a very slender antennae that works best in an upright position. There's only one problem here, and it's particularly pressing for a product that's intended to be mobile. The antenna is fixed on with a very slender little antennae that's somewhat reminiscent of the type of antennae you'd find on mobile phones about eight years ago. This is hardly surprising, as the broadband service does use Telstra's mobile network for operation -- but it's also somewhat worrying, as it feels extremely fragile. We used very light fingers and lots of caution during our testing, but could easily imagine the antennae snapping, at which point you'd be out a further AU$299 for a replacement.
Telstra offers the wireless broadband service on two platforms. Within a coverage area, you'll connect to its 1xEV-DO service, which offers broadband speeds of up to 512kbps, although that's only for downloads -- uploads run at a far more sedate 64kbps. Outside the coverage area, you'll connect to the significantly slower CDMA service. Telstra calls this "high speed" in its marketing material, but also notes that while it's capable of bursts of up to 144kpbs, an average speed of 80-100kbps is more realistic.
Speeds vary by plan as well. On the cheapest desktop modem plan (AU$34.95/month with 200MB allowance) you'll get only a 256/64kbps connection, whereas the highest rate mobile card plan will set you back AU$129.95/month for a 512/64kbps plan and 1GB of download allowances. The desktop plans offer significantly cheaper rates for usage over plan allowance at 15c/MB, while the mobile card plans cost twice that.
We tested the Wireless BigPond service with the mobile card on the highest rate 512/64kbps plan within a coverage zone in far north Sydney, as well as from an area in the Hunter Valley that was most decidedly outside any coverage. Outside the coverage zone, our connection was a touch sketchy -- rather like using a mobile in a country area, which is after all exactly what we were doing -- but it still worked at a better rate than comparative dial up connections. Within the coverage zone we got generally good download speeds from popular sites, and predictably poor uploads. Ping times were resolutely poor, so it's not a product for gamers, but then with these specifications and especially pricing, that's not really a great surprise. It's also worth noting that as it's technically a product that utilises a dial up connection, if you use it in conjunction with other network access services you may find the connection manager popping up when you don't actually need it.
Despite its very beach-centric advertising, BigPond Wireless Broadband has a clear target market, and that's business types who need an additional broadband connection that can drop down to slightly better than dial up outside normal coverage areas. Its pricing makes it a less than compelling option for anyone who's able to procure any type of ADSL or cable connection, and even compared to other wireless providers like unwired or iBurst it's costly. In its favour, it has unrivalled coverage for its total service within its 1xEV-DO coverage areas, and the added bonus of slower coverage outside it.