Over the last few months, I’ve been trialling Telstra’s Next G mobile broadband as part of an experimental “technology seeding program”. Despite my initial doubts, I’ve been impressed.
Previously I’d been using Vodafone 3G, tethering my MacBook Pro via Bluetooth to a Nokia N80. It worked just fine. I subsequently moved to a Nokia N96 and Virgin Mobile, which uses the Optus network under the hood. It’s terrible. I made a big mistake.
But that’s a story for another time…
Sure, Next G is the most expensive mobile broadband out there. But it’s also the best. Clearly.
On our road trip, we could use Next G almost all the way from Cowra back through Bathurst to Sydney. Yes, the signal dropped out as we drove through hilly areas, as you’d expect. But the data link automatically reconnected once it found a new cell — with the same IP address!
Seriously. Here I was in a moving car, running a ping and watching YouTube videos. The link dropped out. It reconnected. And when it did, perhaps six minutes later when the terrain sorted itself out, the video started playing from where it left off. Pings resumed with the very next packet number in the sequence — albeit with ping times of over 370 thousand milliseconds.
In another test, the data link kept the same IP address while I caught a train from Newtown across Sydney Harbour to Pymble. In CityRail’s loop under the Sydney CBD, there was no signal in the tunnels, but the link came back up within seconds of arriving at a station.
Somebody did some great network engineering. They deserve a pat on the back.
But what else?
- Next G is fast. My card was set to use HSUPA, i.e. increased upload speed at the expense of downloads. In central and inner west Sydney, I consistently got 6Mb/s download and sustained 1M/s upload. The network was nominally rated at 14Mb/s
- Coverage is good. As an example, we got a clean data link while 7km out of Cowra in a location where Vodafone was marginal and Hutchison/3 was dead.
- Dropouts were minimal. I could rely on being able to do sustained uploads or downloads.
- It takes two attempts to connect. PPP authentication usually times out on the first attempt. It’s usually fine on the second. But it is irritating.
- The Mac user interface is pig ugly and lacks vital features. This isn’t directly Telstra’s fault. Sierra Wireless, who make the card, need a good hard slap. There’s simply no excuse for not providing a full-featured Mac interface for a mobile product. Telstra, please make that a selection criterion!
- Occasionally, you’ll roam to 3’s network. There’s a peering agreement whereby 3 Mobile users roam to Next G cells when their own aren’t available — great outside the major cities. But the downside is that you can also roam off Next G to 3 if you’re closer to a 3 cell — as shown in the picture. Apparently you can turn off this feature by setting the card to only use Next G’s 850MHz frequencies — but that option isn’t available in the Mac interface, only Windows. The card is now stuck on 3 and I can’t change it back. Fail.
- What’s the customer service like? I dealt directly with a Telstra market development manager, so I was spoilt. If you use Next G, do you also get Telstra’s traditionally-shitful customer service? I have no idea.
Yes, Next G is one of those cases where you get what you pay for. But if you want to actually use mobile broadband instead of swearing at it, it’s probably worth the cost.
Dear Optus, Vodafone and 3, if you’d like me to re-visit my opinions of your own products, I’m more than happy to give them a trial too. You know where to find me.