Once you've had broadband for a while, you almost inevitably start to take it for granted, and start to pick at the problems it has. Depending on your ISP, these can include flagrant overcharging for excess downloads, intermittent loss of service or hideously slow performance. One thing that all fixed broadband services suffer from is their very fixed nature; while you can mitigate this somewhat in your own home with the clever use of a wireless router, once you step outside that domain you're more or less at the mercy of whatever alternate internet services you can find, be they Net cafes, business premises or, if you're the sneaky type, jumping onto an unsecured wireless network.
Ozemail's Metrowide Wireless service removes all the annoyances of these types, using iBurst's wireless broadband network. At the moment the iBurst network is limited to the Eastern seaboard capital cities, as well as Queensland's Gold Coast, and even within those cities, you're limited by geography. If you're in a theoretically well covered area, you could get good service, but, as we discovered, that's not something that you can absolutely take for granted.
Ozemail offers a variety of plans under its Metrowide Wireless banner, depending on whether you want a fixed or roaming modem, and the exact download speeds you'd like to be able to access. We tested with a PCMCIA wireless modem and Ozemail's maximum download/upload plan -- 1 Mbps down/256Kbps up. That plan will set you back AU$99.95 a month. That's not particularly competitive with a fixed plan, but then the market for this type of service is more for those who can't get a fixed service, especially renting tenants, and business types who may want access to their data on the move.
We were keen to see exactly how well iBurst's coverage worked across as wide an area as possible of Sydney, and especially how it would handle switching around on the move, so we loaded up a car with our supplied PCMCIA modem stuck in a notebook, and set to driving down one of the areas identified as having mixed to good coverage, specifically down Sydney's north shore. Starting in a dead spot just north of Hornsby, our coverage didn't exactly tally with the supplied coverage map, but it was reasonably accurate. Certainly, if you're in an area designated with no signal, that's what you'll get, but even in areas that should get some coverage we found that reception could be a touch spotty. It is, however, undeniably very cool to be able to zip down the Pacific Highway while you check the cricket scores, or, for that matter, your corporate email. When we were in a good stationary signal position we found it more than adequate for light to medium data usage, but if you're a downloading freak you should probably look elsewhere.
There's one additional catch with wireless broadband, and it's one that any user of wireless networking will be all too familiar with. Using it for an extended period of time will drain your battery power at an advanced rate compared to normal system usage. We encountered a significant drop in our battery life with the iBurst modem installed, although, to be fair, it was about on par with any other wireless networking use.
Undeniably, if you've got the option for a fixed broadband option in the home space, it'll be able beat the pants off iBurst's offering in the speed stakes, although some cheaper plans might not do so. If you're in a position where it just isn't possible to get broadband any other way, or you can't afford for business purposes to be away from your precious, precious e-mail, then Ozemail's Metrowide Wireless service is a solid enough option, as long as you live and move extensively enough in its coverage areas.