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Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G review: Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G

The business-centric, post-paid Telstra Wi-Fi 4G hotspot offers speed across a wide range of areas in Australia, but it's not the best value around.

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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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Design

Telstra's post-paid 4G Wi-Fi hotspot is a rebadged Sierra Wireless hotspot and the second smallest we've tested, only slightly beaten out by Optus' 3G Mini Wi-Fi modem, although, unlike that particular product, you get a full LCD display screen with the Telstra product. It's an information-heavy display with a scrollable screen, and there are certain limited functions that can be controlled from within this display, including WPS connectivity and silencing the Wi-Fi hotspot's incredibly chirpy internal speaker. Unless you like sounding like a classic Nintendo Game and watch every single time a device pairs with the hotspot, that's the first thing we'd suggest you do.

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8.8

Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G

The Good

Decent data speeds. Good informative display. Excellent router configuration page. Good range of accessories.

The Bad

Premium price, but not the best speeds. Gets hot after a while. Annoying chirpy speaker.

The Bottom Line

Telstra's post-paid, business-centric Wi-Fi 4G hotspot offers speed across a wide range of areas in Australia, but it's not the best value you can get in the mobile broadband space.

The 4G Wi-Fi hotspot's router page is cleanly laid out and very easy to follow, with a simple counter for data usage, charge status and storage details if a microSD card is also installed. Most of those details are also present on the display screen, although you can opt to display the SSID onscreen or not from the router page. Depending on how happy you are to share your mobile broadband connection, that may be a very wise move.

Features

The Wi-Fi hotspot connects to Telstra's 4G network on the 1800Mhz band, the same as all current (at the time of writing) 4G devices, as well as on the 850Mhz for HSPA+ "Next G" 3G wireless. The one distinct advantage that the Wi-Fi hotspot has over the cheaper pre-paid ZTE model (and indeed, Optus' 4G Wi-fi Hotspot) is that Sierra Wireless produce a number of add-ons for it, including a larger battery, dedicated antennae and Android and iOS mobile hotspot watcher apps. In pure configuration terms, the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is the easily the most flexible wireless broadband hotspot you can buy.

Testing

There are a few key metrics for any mobile broadband network, but testing them is perilous stuff, simply because there's 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 Airport, 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 (in megabit per second) 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 Wi-Fi Modem 56.66 2.48 0.57
Optus E5331 Mini Wi-Fi Modem 120.6 2.26 0.58
Vodafone Pocket Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi Modem 55.66 7.2 0.53
Telstra Pre-Paid 3G USB + Wi-Fi 71.66 6.88 1.19
Vodafone Pocket Wi-fi 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 Wi-Fi Modem 80 8.98 1.15
Vodafone Pocket Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi Modem 98 7.16 1.11
Optus E589 Mini Wi-Fi Modem 79 1.01 0.12
Optus E3276 Premium 4G Modem 90.33 0.803 0.106
Vodafone Pocket Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi Modem 80 8.83 1.14
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 33.66 8.34 7.2
Optus E5331 Mini Wi-Fi Modem 89.33 6.25 1.103
Vodafone Pocket Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi Modem 85.66 7.03 1.15

Performance

Battery life is always a key concern for a mobile data product, and here, the default 2000mAh battery in the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is a bit of a concern. Battery life will vary a lot depending on how many devices you have connected and the amount of data you're pumping through it, but we typically found that the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G averaged around three hours of use before conking out if used continually. Like most hotspots, there's also a small heat issue to deal with if you've got it stuffed into a pocket while using it. Sierra Wireless does sell a 3600mAh expansion battery that they claim will "double the working battery life" — we're not quite sure how the maths stacks up there — which could be a good bet for those who are on the road a lot, although it does add bulk to the hotspot.

The Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is the most expensive 4G Wi-Fi hotspot you can buy right now, although the price listed above is effectively Telstra's replacement price, as it only offers the hotspot on contract in the first place. Telstra has brought its plan prices down considerably in recent years, but it's still a more expensive option than the Optus alternative; at the time of writing, Vodafone was still only testing 4G, but its 3G was cheaper again than Telstra's 3G. In terms of network coverage, Telstra has its competitors comprehensively whipped, with numerous regional sites offering 4G connectivity, so those who need a lot of very fast mobile data don't have a lot of choice there.

Our tests with the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G showed it to be a solid performer, generally hitting either the top of the pack, as it did in the tough testing environment at Darling Harbour, or at least respectably towards the top. Optus and Telstra's networks traded punches across all of our test zones, and it's hard to say whether Telstra's much larger 4G customer base played a part in its figures. Still, if you were keen on Telstra's network, it's worth noting that the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G was beaten out in several tests by the less functionally and aesthetically pleasant Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G. The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G has marginally better battery life than the Pre-Paid model, but in speed terms, we saw better results overall out of the Pre-Paid unit.

Conclusion

Telstra's Mobile Wi-Fi 4G is a good 4G hotspot in terms of accessing the Telstra network, and its battery life does tip it slightly ahead of the cheaper pre-paid model — and more so if you opt for the expansion battery. If you need lots of very fast data across many sites in Australia and can afford the extra battery, it's the one to buy, but if you just want a little intermittent fast data, either the Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-fi 4G hotspot or Optus' 4G hotspots are better buys.