Wi-Fi hotspots aren't typically pretty creatures, but Vodafone's Pocket WiFi Extreme (actually a rebadged Huawei product) at least tries hard, with a small LCD screen surrounded by a whole lot of battery capacity. Slots at the side cover microSD storage and SIM card insertion, and a big, friendly power button on the front makes it easy to turn on. It's amongst the heftier of hotspots. It's not quite to the extent of Optus' 4G Hotspot, but it's a close-run thing, and something that might give you pause for thought if you're planning on stuffing the Pocket WiFi Extreme into your pants or blouse pocket, because it's going to bulge quite a bit.
At the time of writing, Vodafone has only commenced testing 4G — and only in Sydney — rather than offering a consumer-end product, and that means the Pocket WiFi Extreme's version of Extreme is constrained by what you can do with 3G networks, with the Pocket WiFi Extreme topping out at HSPA+ speeds, typically expressed at around 42Mbps peak download. Vodafone's current testing figures suggest that when it can get 4G up and running, it may have a solidly fast product, but the Pocket WiFi Extreme's sitting in a last-generation technology space compared to the long-term evolution (LTE) offerings of Telstra and Optus.
One thing that Vodafone has had over its competition for some time is a quality interface for its mobile products, and the Pocket WiFi Extreme is no exception. It's a web-based interface, as you'd expect from a Wi-Fi router, and it's cleanly and logically laid out, with links to Vodafone's own help pages and a simple summary of current connection conditions.
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 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|
Vodafone has made a lot of noise about the amount of work it's put into its network since the whole Vodafail debacle, so we were extremely keen to see how well the network would stand up to our test regime. Our initial results were very pleasing; we kicked testing off at the Hornsby location, where the Pocket WiFi Extreme came in a very respectable third, and only by a slim margin at that. Third might not seem that great, but Vodafone's data pricing is quite inexpensive, making it appear to be good value.
Unfortunately, across most of the rest of our test sites, the Pocket WiFi Extreme couldn't hold up that part of the deal. Aside from our Glenelg and Hornsby tests, it sat in either last or second-last place. In Glenelg, it did manage a very respectable 11.55Mbps down, but that's only just over a quarter of the claimed peak speed, and every other Adelaide test saw it struggle and fail to even manage a 1Mbps downstream connection.
The Pocket WiFi Extreme doesn't offer extreme speeds, then, but what it does offer is excellent battery life. Vodafone reckons that the Pocket WiFi Extreme is good for up to 10 hours of battery life. We didn't quite manage that, but it was close, meaning that if you do happen to be in an area where Vodafone's network was pumping down the data at an acceptable rate, it should last a good long time.
For all the talk that Vodafone has made about improving its network, the sad truth is that we're yet to see it consistently working out in the field. Vodafone's a relatively inexpensive option in terms of data pricing, but that's not much good in value terms if you can't access that data at a decent rate. Hopefully, Vodafone will get cracking on its 4G network to deliver some top-notch speeds and perhaps take the strain off the existing 3G network, resulting in speed gains for existing customers. For now, however, while the hardware underneath the Pocket WiFi Extreme is just fine, the network lets it down badly, and for that reason we can't really recommend it to any new mobile broadband customers.