If this is Telstra's ultimate broadband modem then we have to say it certainly looks the part. The square body of the modem is constructed from a stiff, smooth plastic — a noticeable departure from the feel of flimsy plastic dongles in play in the mobile broadband space at this time.
The modem connects to systems via a rotatable USB connection, capable of turning about 270 degrees and of folding up vertically. This gives you a bit of flexibility in how you position the modem during use, but we also found it to be a bit rickety, as it wobbles gently when touched. We found it possible to disconnect the modem simply by knocking it — not the best idea for a device designed to be used away from desks and office spaces.
Like most mobile broadband modems, the Telstra Ultimate is powered via the USB connection. Under a removable panel you'll find a SIM card slot and a space for a microSD memory card, which is handy if you want the modem to double as a memory stick for backups.
As you probably know, the major drawcard for the Telstra Ultimate is its theoretical maximum throughput of 42Mbps. If this were possible, this would give users a connection to the internet twice as fast as is currently available via a fixed-line ADSL2+ connection. It is, however, almost impossible to achieve this theoretical maximum, with Telstra only advertising a practical (and enormous) range of 1.1Mbps to 20Mbps in select metro areas, and 550Kbps-8Mbps just about everywhere else.
We've tested the performance of this modem in a number of locations around Sydney and achieved results well within this practical range. Our test results varied between 6Mbps and 10Mbps, with a peak result of 12.01Mbps. This is outstanding for a mobile broadband modem, but how does it translate into real-world use?
The other major component of internet performance to watch closely is latency. Latency refers to the speed it takes for the network to send and receive a packet of data to the destination. On a typical, fixed-line ADSL2+ connection we saw latency of about 30ms, which should deliver decent online performance for those with high-traffic internet applications in mind, like fast-paced online gaming.
The Telstra Ultimate struggled somewhat to deliver a comparable result. While the data throughput was on par with or greater than the fixed-line connection we tested against, the latency was double at a minimum, with serious blowouts in the 300-500ms ranges. There are a lot of factors that contribute to these results, but if you were unfortunate enough to suffer similar circumstances while trying to play an online game, you would suffer a serious setback in your frag count.
For everyone else, the Telstra Ultimate will deliver an outstanding internet experience. Speedtest.net estimates this connection will download a 5MB MP3 file in five seconds and a 35MB video file in 31 seconds. Anecdotally, the Telstra Ultimate rips through web pages, pulling down even data-heavy sites in a timely fashion.
Compared with mobile broadband solutions offered by the other major telcos, the Telstra Next G network just got a whole lot more appealing thanks to the availability of this modem. For road warriors, students and anyone else who needs internet on the go, the Telstra Ultimate stands head and shoulders beyond what is available from anyone else in Australia. The performance we've seen from this modem is at least on par with most fixed-line home ADSL connections, though gamers would be wise to test latency at home before committing to this service for a long period of time.