Pocket WiFi router a ‘must have’ | Wifi Walker, J B Chaparal Properties

Pocket WiFi router a ‘must have’

Pocket WiFi

Pocket WiFi routers from Optus, Telstra and Vodafone
Source: Supplied

THE reasons for owning a pocket-sized mobile 3G WiFi router are becoming compelling, and Australia’s telcos are not missing the chance to flog them.

These little credit-card sized devices beam out a WiFi hotspot wherever you are.

With a SIM card, they glean the internet from Australia’s mobile networks just as your phone does, and rebroadcast it to your iPads, tablets, netbooks, laptops and internet-enabled cameras as WiFi, wherever you are.

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, 3 Mobile and Virgin Mobile are among those offering 3G WiFi routers from $129 to $200 outright, or cheaper on a data plan.

With data plans, always read the fine print and note any flagfall and minimum charges a session.

Telstra and Vodafone, for example, charge 1MB for a session if you download/upload 1MB, and Optus will charge 10MB.

You can, of course, buy these devices from regular modem manufacturers such as Netcomm and D-Link, but you will need to add your own SIM card. Still, you can share the one signal between three to five devices, sometimes more.

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Pocket-sized 3G WiFi routers have a distinct advantage over other forms of mobile internet connection, such as public WiFi, tethering, or having your devices on separate 3G plans.

It can become expensive to buy a 3G-enabled version of each device and maintain a separate data plan for it. It’s cheaper to buy one plan and share the connection between your iPad, tablet, notebook and laptop.

With public WiFi, you could strike a “honey pot”: a WiFi hotspot set up primarily to glean private and financial information from any device it connects to.

With mobile WiFi, you’re safe from this. You can protect your mobile device through passwords, encryption and specifying which devices you attach, as with most modern WiFi routers.

Providing a WiFi connection to other devices through your smart phone, known as tethering, works but it will suck the juice from your smartphone and will eat up your monthly SIM-card data allowance.

There’s another compelling reason: upgradability. If your telco offers a fourth-generation data network, you’ll need to upgrade all 3G devices, but if you connect through a pocket WiFi router, you’ll need to upgrade it only.

The Australian tested devices sent to us by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Other telcos inevitably use these networks for their phone and data plans.

Telstra sent us its pre-paid ZTE Model MF60, and Optus and Vodafone sent us a Huawei E583C and Huawei E585 respectively.

They were 9cm to 10cm long, and 4cm to 5.5cm wide, with the Optus device more a small smartphone in size.

All had an on-off switch and a small LED screen for monitoring connectivity, and all had slots for regular SIM cards and Micro-SD cards that let you share data between connected devices. In Optus’s case, you had to slide the back off to insert the Micro-SD card.

Look out for connectivity, because without internet connectivity you have nothing. Everything else follows: LED screen legibility, battery life and ease of use.

We used speedtest.net to test speeds at three locations: an office building in Surry Hills near Sydney‘s CBD, a unit complex in Sydney‘s inner-west where there were many competing WiFi signals from neighbours, and in the vast open spaces of a Sydney park, free from local interference and building electronic echoes and shadows.

These sites gave us an idea of the relative merit of the networks.

Telstra told us its Elite device would perform twice as quickly as its rivals because of HSPA+ (evolved high-speed packet access) network technology.

The device did outperform its rivals, but not at twice the speed.

In Sydney‘s CBD, we recorded average download and upload speeds of 8.93Mbps and 0.59Mbps, respectively.

In the apartment, downloads and uploads were at 6.68Mbps and 1.03Mbps, and in the park 1.52Mbps and 2.65Mbps.

For Optus, the readings for the CBD office, apartment and park for uploads and downloads were 6.03/1.55Mbps, 0.92/1.04Mbps, and 1.59/0.39Mbps; and for Vodafone 2.39/0.26Mbps, 0.46/0.05Mbps and 0.42/ 0.31Mbps.

Tests were in five-bar coverage locations and repeated for consistency.

While speeds vary, they do show the relative merits of each network and location.

In the end, the Telstra Elite Mobile WiFi offered consistent and fast performance, and all performed best in the CBD, but you will get widely varying performance depending on location.

Outdoors, in bright sunlight, it was impossible to read the Vodafone and Optus OLED screens. Telstra’s was a little better, but not much.

That’s essential if you want to check connectivity and signal strength on the go.

And Telstra’s Elite Mobile modem, while performing well, took its time to connect to the network.


Telstra Elite Pre-Paid Mobile WiFi (ZTE MF60)
$129 outright with 5GB data or on a plan

Optus Prepaid Mobile Mini Broadband WiFi (Huawei E583C)
$129 outright with 8GB data or on a plan

Vodafone Pocket WiFi (Huawei E585),
$99 outright with 3GB data or on a plan


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