Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G: Fast 4G In Your Pocket

Telstra's Mobile Wi-Fi 4G can deliver blazing speeds to any Wi-Fi capable device you pair it with — as long as you get 4G signal to work in the first place. Mobile Monday investigates whether it's a hot spot, or just a lot of hot air.

Why It Matters

The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G's clear selling point is that, like any portable hotspot, you can use it to connect up Wi-Fi devices for fast mobile broadband. In the case of the 4G, very fast 1800MHz LTE mobile broadband within Telstra's 4G coverage zones, and dual channel HSPA+ connectivity outside of them — in theory.


What We Like

I'm a noted fan of hotspots, and in all important respects, the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G hits the hotspot key points well. Five devices connected at once? Check. Reasonable battery life? About four hours with a single device, down to about three with multiple devices — Check. Intelligent web UI? Yup. Like the previous "Ultimate" WiFi Hotspot — which clearly wasn't very ultimate, otherwise I wouldn't have the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G to review — the default is for the Wi-Fi password to be displayed on the hotspot's LCD, but it's easy to switch this off.

But that's not why you'd buy a 4G WiFi Hotspot, however. It's the promise of turning any device into a 4G device, be it tablet, smartphone, laptop or even portable games console.

With that in mind, I set out to run another round of speed tests across Sydney to assess the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G's real world performance. My test kit this time around was deliberately simple; the same iPad used to assess the 3rd generation iPad's HSPA+ performance and the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G device. That was a choice of simplicity; all that changed between tests was using 4G via Wi-Fi or using a Micro-SIM with the next best thing we've got to 1800MHZ LTE. As always, tests were run three times and averaged, because mobile broadband is a mobile target.

First stop: My desk.

Device Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 25.33 12.63 0.76
iPad (3rd Generation) 39 9.52 8.43

The 4G hotspot wins, but not by any kind of genuinely significant margin in download speeds, and its upload speeds are... woeful. Then again, my desk is the zone where wireless signal goes to die (tm), so I'm used to slightly aberrant figures there.

So I headed outside to Circular Quay.

Device Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 37.33 10.69 28.5
iPad (3rd Generation) 54.66 7.9 0.3

That's more of a solid gap — and definitely in line with the kinds of figures I've seen on previous devices for upload speeds.

Next stop, a short walk up the road at Martin Place

Device Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 37.66 9.92 24.13
iPad (3rd Generation) 39.66 14.13 10.73

Upload speeds are still solid, but dual channel HSPA+ beats 4G yet again.

And then Sydney's Pitt Street Mall, home of people who will crash into you when you're standing entirely still by a wall. Thanks, Sydneysiders!

Device Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 35.66 11.54 21.52
iPad (3rd Generation) 120.33 1.55 0.24

If you ever wanted proof that mobile broadband can vary quickly, this is it; dual channel HSPA+ speeds were terrible compared to 4G here.

My final bit of CBD testing was at Central.

Device Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 37.33 8.30 6.07
iPad (3rd Generation) 91.33 0.99 0.16

This one was a little more complex; two of the test scores were while the 4G hotspot was registering a 4G network, but it then flickered down into 3G-only territory, and stubbornly refused to change back up. Without the third lower figure, the gap between 4G and iPad would have been much larger.

The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G should drop down into dual channel HSPA+ outside 4G zones, and I was curious to see how it stacked up head to head against the iPad, so I tested that as well in a distinctly non-4G zone.

Device Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G 39 7.64 0.55
iPad (3rd Generation) 107.66 3.81 0.08

Again, mobile broadband speeds can vary, but it's nice to see it performing well given that many users will be sharing the throughput from the hotspot across several devices.

What We Don't Like

Those speed test results don't tell the entire story of my attempts to get some kind of comparative speed figures from the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G.

My original test date was last Wednesday, but I hit what can only be described as a major snag. There was no 4G signal to be had anywhere in Sydney's CBD at all.

I tried at Central. I tried at Town Hall. I tried at Circular Quay. Each time I gave it several minutes to connect up, restarted the hotspot at least twice… and yet nothing.

My initial conclusion was that the 4G Hotspot was to blame, but switching the SIM out to a Telstra 4G USB modem showed the same problem exactly. We've noted in previous 4G device reviews that Telstra's CBD network can be a bit on the patchy side, and, at least anecdotally, it seems to be getting worse. Is it the network, the increasing number of 4G users or some other factor? It's hard to say. The figures above are from testing on a Friday afternoon, where a 4G signal was present in each test case, albeit not always strong one.

It's something of a battle point in the Allure offices regarding Hotspots as to exactly how hot they really get. Lifehacker's Gus' is adamant that they're all nipple burning torture devices, while I've not had that much trouble with their ambient heat to date. The Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G comes the closest to being uncomfortably hot that I've hit so far; with the full five devices paired and data chugging through at a regular rate it certainly gets more than a little bit warm.

Finally, it's a personal pet peeve that Sierra Wireless hotspots chirp like a Game & Watch device by default whenever a system event — such as a device connecting — occurs. It's irritating, but you can silence it unless you like annoying everyone else around you with a constant cacophony of 8-bit bleeps.

Should You Buy One?

As a device, the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G can deliver some excellent speeds both up and downstream, but the key word there is 'can'. That's true of any mobile broadband device; there's no absolute guarantee of throughput quality, and that's my one slight qualification with this particular device, as it appears that Telstra's 4G network is having some connection issues as more users come on board.


Comments

    With Apple being hammered because it's iPad doesn't work on Australian 4G.. I wonder what the ramifications are for Telstra devices that don't even work, within reason, on their own network? I mean.. sure, the device is compatible with the network.. but isn't a bit deceptive to sell these things with the knowledge that the 4G network is not up to the task?

      How are those two issues even remotely related? "Apple got punished for something, so Telstra should be punished too! there!" Very mature

        Yet another instance of telstra being misleading.

      it says it wont work in the fine print of the ad

    Any feedback on battery life at all, Alex?

      Argh... a copying slip between my draft and the final. Notes above, but to save you the time -- around 4 hrs with a single device, around 3 if you're pushing it to multiple devices. Pretty much par for the course for any hotspot, in other words!

    I was on telstra 3g on my iPad three the other day central melbourne bcd and I was getting 20down just with 3g so your speeds are just not that impressive.

    seems overall to be pretty good. as long as you have realistic expectations of a wireless device. just to be clear, when the 4g signal wasn't available anywhere in the cbd, did it work successfully at 3g or was it just a dead device?

    Drvice is not bad got one a week ago. Speed of device is limited by WiFi so you'll only ever get max 30-35 Mbps. Don't bother getting this for your new iPad if you really want 4g speeds as the DC-HSPA modem in that is nearly as fast when taking the WiFi limitations into account.

    I easily get 40-65 Mbit down and 15-20 Mbit up when tethered to a PC over USB. Battery lasts for a good four hours and there are several power saving options in the config page. It drops to DC-HSPA when it fall out of 4G range, but it took some time to revert back when coming into 4G coverage again.

      cheers brad, probably more useful info in your few sentences than in Alex's piece.

    My girlfiend just got one on contract. She's not in a 4G area, but its dual channel HSPA+ speeds are still quite impressive. Wildly varying results within a few minutes of each test using SpeedTest though. These 3 tests were performed on my iPad2 in Hobart - http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6822429/IMG_0071.PNG

    Better ping tests on 4G across the board is the notable thing for me.

    I would mainly use these type of devices on long car trips and train travel...
    Has anyone got any feed back on this type of use ?

    we are in a grey area and using a telstra 4g stick. which is better as we would like to get more devices off the one hotspot

    Got 1 bar of 4g on mine and it's the best Internet I've ever had, the Telstra 4 g wifi modem is an animal. I also use a apple airport express to repeat the signal and I am one happy lil Vegemite.

      I noted your comment re using airport express to repeat signal - can I ask for some guidance as to how to connect the 4G modem to the AirPort Extreme please ?

    I have the 4G device, and when sometimes connected to 4G, I get good speeds, about 30Mbps up and down using the speedtest.net app on the iPad. Only thing that sucks is, it seems to favour 3G/DC more than 4G, even setting the network selection to manual, it sees the 4G network in its scanned network list. Once hard coding the network to 4G, it still wants to connect to 3G/DC.

    Would like to understand its logic, it should connect to 4G if there's signal no matter what in the first instance.

    iv got one of these about a month ago, i live in perth and i cant get 4g anywhere it only gets 3g or dc whatever that is

    the add actually states in the fine print of the ad that the 4g device will not take 4g on untill they pu there new towers into action so just wait some time and the 4g speeds will be up!!!!!

    Can someone please tell me what the DC on the 4g wireless means.

    Is it any good for video calling?

    Hi...I noticed in the above article that upload speeds of up to 28.5mbps are mentioned (with the 4G WI-FI); is that speed even possible? This could be a dumb statement but I thought average max. upload speed via any method (cable 3.0, ADSL2 etc...) is around 2.4mbps? I am having serious problems with my cable 3.0 (which Telstra is unable to fix) so now have a 4G WI-FI device, unfortunately I can only get DC coverage at home and the speed is so poor that I can't even run a test on www.speedtest.net :-(

    What does dual channel mean?!

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