There couldn't be much more of a stark contrast between the post-paid Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G and the significantly cheaper Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G hotspots. The post-paid product is small and elegantly built, and the prepaid product is clad in extremely cheap-looking white plastic.
The post-paid hotspot, which, like many Telstra-branded budget products, is a rebadged ZTE MF91 — has a sharp monochrome LCD display, while the prepaid hotspot has a garish, low-resolution colour display that relies on scrolling information on the screen, something that's highly annoying. The white plastic back of the Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G is rigid and tough to remove for inserting a SIM; if you were sharing a SIM between the hotspot and other devices — as we were during testing — there's the very real worry that the brittle plastic will simply shatter one day.
Telstra's 4G network is the backbone of the Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G, which means, like the post-paid Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G, it's got access to the (at the time of writing) largest 4G long-term evolution (LTE) deployment in Australia. If you live outside a capital city (or Newcastle/Gold Coast), Telstra is your only 4G choice, and the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is the cheapest way for you to access the network in terms of straight computing devices. Given that most smartphones support some form of tethering/hotspot functionality, it'd be feasible to get an even cheaper solution with one of Telstra's prepaid ZTE 4G smartphones, such as the 4G Frontier, but you'd have to carefully balance overall battery life so as to not end up with a flat phone.
The Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G's inbuilt router configuration page is, like the device itself, on the rudimentary side. It shows the basics well, but there's no elegance to its UI design. That may not matter beyond perhaps changing the default SSID or password settings, but if you're a tinkerer, it's quite bare bones.
There are a few key metrics for any mobile broadband network, but testing them is perilous, simply because there are 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 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|
The Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G is undeniably a cheap device, but its performance was surprising to us, if only because we figured the more costly Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G would run rings around it. This didn't happen in most of our test sites, with the prepaid model a little faster in our Hornsby test, the fastest by quite a margin in our Adelaide CBD test and generally in the top tier in most sites.
ZTE packs a 2300mAh battery into the Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G. In our tests, we found it ran for around three hours on a full charge, although you could eke that out a little longer with only a single paired device, or much shorter with its full complement of five connected devices.
You're getting what you pay for with the Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G. The data costs — as with all things Telstra — are a little more expensive than those of the opposing telcos, but the 4G coverage maps are quite a bit wider, as are the 3G maps that the hotspot drops down to if it can't find a 4G connection. There are some factors that you won't much like when configuring the Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G or if you have to change the SIM, but once those tasks are out of the way, this is a top-notch hotspot choice.