In our opinion, Telstra could have made more of a fuss when it announced it network upgrade recently, taking the theoretical maximum line speed for the Next G network from 14.4Mbps to 21Mbps in Australia's major cities. This is quite a feat for an over-the-air mobile broadband service. While the Guinness Book of Record's notes this one down, we play the waiting game as mobile devices manufacturers play catch up with this latest advancement.
Telstra has again employed OEM Sierra to deliver its Next G broadband hardware. The Telstra Turbo 21 USB modem is the first device capable of delivering on Telstra's new speed promises. It's probably worth pointing out before we go further that this particular promise is a very loose one. Theoretically the network is capable of delivering 21Mbps but only if you parked yourself immediately next to a base station, and accessed an uncongested network. Telstra pastes the caveat "customers will experience typical user download speeds of 550Kbps – 8Mbps" over all its promotional materials. The difference between 550Kbps and 8Mbps is like the difference between a car in first gear and a car in fourth.
The software needed to use the Turbo 21 comes on the bundled CD and installation, and set up are all but automatic processes. The software is compatible with Microsoft operating systems including XP and Vista but, unlike previous BigPond modems, it's not available to Mac users. Once installed you have access to a mini-window interface with a single "connect" button. The interface gives a visual indication of signal strength and of the amount of data sent and received, but doesn't include the detailed traffic info you get with the competition's broadband services, like and Vodafone. From this window you can send SMS messages using the SIM in the modem.
We tested the Turbo 21 at a private residence in Sydney city. Our experience of the network's performance varied a great deal, but landed on the right side of excellent. At its best the network was capable of emulating the performance of an ADSL2+ connection to the same laptop, line speeds of up to nearly 6Mbps and download speeds of about 720Kbps. At these speeds we could download streaming video and comfortably played online game Left 4 Dead using the Turbo 21. But even a day later we saw this performance halved, the line speed at 2.9Mbps. This is still a very respectable data speed and more than adequate for web surfing.