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Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem review: Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem

If you're within Optus' 4G coverage zones, it's possible to achieve some blinding speeds at quite reasonable prices, although the coverage maps aren't as extensive as we'd like.

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Alex Kidman
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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.

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6 min read

Design

Somebody at Optus has a sense of humour. Not because the E589 Mini WiFi Modem comes with a whoopee cushion and one of those not-quite-hilarious cans of exploding snake-like objects, but simply because they chose to call the E589 Mini WiFi Modem — a re-badged Huawei long-term evolution (LTE) modem, if you're fussed — a "Mini" Wi-Fi modem. Out of all the hotspots we've tested recently, guess which one is the largest, and by a wide margin? There are few Wi-Fi hotspots you could conceivably mistake for your smartphone, but the E589 Mini WiFi Modem could easily be picked up by accident when you're busy. Not that this happened to us while testing ... much.

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8.8

Optus E589 Mini WiFi Modem

The Good

Capable of great data speeds. Excellent battery life.

The Bad

Some inconsistency in data speeds. Optus 4G coverage isn't widespread yet. Bulky device.

The Bottom Line

If you're within an Optus 4G coverage zone, it's possible to achieve some blinding speeds at quite reasonable prices.

One unusual factor with the E589 Mini WiFi Modem is that despite its rather large size, it only features a relatively small LCD display screen. It's nice and crisp in the same way that Telstra's Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is, but on a unit this large, it almost feels like wasted space.

Features

The E589 Mini WiFi Modem ticks all the usual boxes for a wireless hotspot product. It'll support up to five devices concurrently connected and sharing, however much data it can slurp down from the air, and supports microSD for a little shared expansion storage, if that's your thing.

Optus' 4G offering at the time of writing consists of a number of 4G LTE 1800Mhz sites across Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide. Regionally, it covers an area around Newcastle (where it held its first FD-LTE 1800Mhz trials) and the Gold Coast, but that's it for now. Optus has announced plans for a TD-LTE network in Canberra based around the spectrum it acquired as part of the Vividwireless deal that's expected sometime this year, but it's not yet clear whether the E589 Mini WiFi Modem will be firmware upgradeable to support that network; it seems wise to suggest that it's unlikely. As such, the E589 Mini WiFi Modem will only work at top 4G speeds across limited metropolitan areas, as distinct from Telstra's LTE rollout, which encompasses a wide number of regional centres. Depending on how you planned to use the E589 Mini WiFi Modem, that might not be a problem at all, of course.

The E589 Mini WiFi Modem's router web page is relatively basic, aside from the inclusion of links to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, eBay, LinkedIn and Foursquare, presumably because Optus used to offer those sites quota free — but that's no longer so on the post-paid plans that the hotspot is offered on.

Testing

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

Performance

The E589 Mini WiFi Modem generally tested very well, although we typically found that it lagged behind the kinds of connections that we could get with the same laptop set-up and Optus' 4G USB modem. The exception to that was our indoor Glenelg test, where, despite only detecting a 3G network — because Optus is still switching on parts of its Adelaide 4G network — it managed a highly respectable download speed of 20.44Mbps. Conversely, however, in the Adelaide CBD, where it registered a 4G connection, it struggled to get over the 1Mbps mark.

Optus and Telstra essentially traded places across our test sites, although it's worth noting that Telstra's upload speeds were generally much better than those of Optus, so if sending large data files is what you want 4G for, there's still some work for Optus to do. The battery on the E589 Mini WiFi Modem is entirely sealed in, but a number of external sites suggest that under the hood lurks a 3000mAh battery. Being sealed — similar to the Huawei-produced R208 that makes up the Vodafone Pocket WiFi Extreme — it could be interesting in a couple of years' time if you did want to replace the battery, but in practical, real-world usage, it clocks in an easy five-plus hours of testing time.

Conclusion

The E589 Mini WiFi Modem is a nice, albeit not little, wireless hotspot, but it is at its best if you're not going to be travelling outside existing Optus 4G coverage zones. Optus' 4G network is still something of a work in progress, and it's not entirely clear how well it'll hold up as more users come onto the network, but in pure speed terms, if you want a wireless hotspot with good value data plans, this is a good option.

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