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Maxon Ethermax review: Maxon Ethermax

There aren't many broadband solutions that work as simply and transparently as Maxon's Ethermax router, although you'd be wise to keep a careful eye on your usage patterns.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
3 min read

The Ethermax Router itself is a remarkably simple bit of equipment encased in white and silver plastic. A screw-on antennae attaches to one side -- Maxon claims it's compatible with other CDMA antennae, although we were unable to test this -- and the other side houses the proprietary power cable, a standard 10/100 network port, reset button and a diagnostic port. Ethernet and power cables are provided, although the diagnostic port is presumably for back to base repairs only; the closest you'll get to diagnosing issues with the Ethermax is via its Web interface. Data lights on the top of the router indicate the presence of wireless signal (although there's nothing to indicated if you're in an EVDO or CDMA situation), power to the modem and when you're sending and receiving data. As routers go, the EtherMax stacks up there as one of the simplest networking products we've ever seen.


Maxon Ethermax

The Good

Plug and play functionality. Huge coverage area. Decent wireless broadband speeds. Support for up multiple client PCs.

The Bad

Some plans are very expensive. There's not much you can do if it doesn't work.

The Bottom Line

There aren't many broadband solutions that work as simply and transparently as Maxon's Ethermax router, although you'd be wise to keep a careful eye on your usage patterns.

The service that Maxon is selling is actually Telstra's CDMA/EVDO network, the same as used by Telstra's own Wireless broadband service. Telstra maintains a map of coverage areas for EVDO/CDMA, which you can find here.

Client setup of the Ethermax is done via resellers, most notably Telstra themselves. Our review unit came directly preconfigured, but Maxon representatives tell us you should be able to set up and purchase an Ethermax from a reseller with all the account details preconfigured as well.

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Aside from connecting to the CDMA/EVDO network, the Ethermax itself can act as a router for up to 200 client connections, although you'd need additional hub-style hardware to enable this; the Ethermax itself has a single Ethernet port, after all. We're also not too sure about how well the spectrum would be shared among 200 computers, but that's really just minor quibbling.

There's a slight sting in the tail of all this wireless goodness, however, and that's in the pricing plans. At the time of writing, some of Telstra's pricing plans for the service (see the full list here) were on the reasonable side, especially for the timed plans -- and some of them distinctly less so. As it's a wholly transparent solution with no software that tracks your data usage, it could be all too easy to overspend on a data plan. That's especially true of the Pay As You Go pack, which charges you 20c/10kB. If you want to really scare your bank balance, work out how much that is on a per-GB basis.

Testing speeds are always going to vary depending on where you are relative to the network, not to mention network conditions at the time of testing. We tested within the Sydney metropolitan area for EVDO coverage, and then again in the northern NSW town of Port Macquarie to check CDMA coverage. In both cases, installation and testing were essentially identical; you plug in the power and the Ethernet cable and await authentication. Although we had no connection problems, it does occur to us that if you're in an area of spotty/poor CDMA coverage, you could find yourself with a dead plastic brick -- there's really not much you can do with this hardware to coax a connection out of it if one isn't automatically there.

As you'd expect, EVDO coverage was noticeably quicker than CDMA, although for basic web tasks there wasn't as much of a difference as you might expect. Downloading larger files showed more of an EVDO difference, although again this isn't really a service that's priced for large downloads for the most part. Those keen on PC gaming predictably won't find much joy with the Ethermax, as ping speeds were exceptionally low in both of our test areas.

The lack of a client login, along with its ease of installation make the Ethermax an excellent choice for areas with poor broadband penetration, although paradoxically, they're generally the areas that won't benefit from the best EVDO speeds. As long as you're careful with your downloads -- or use the more wallet-friendly timed plans -- it's a good wireless broadband option.