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Wireless Broadband Buying Guide
- — 10 September, 2009 16:20
Pricing and quota
Wireless broadband pricing changes quite rapidly so we can't provide a definitive guide as to which company provides the best pricing, but there are a few things you can keep an eye out for when choosing a plan. Fixed wireless broadband providers like Unwired provide good value services that generally have a cheaper monthly cost-per-gigabyte than mobile broadband providers. However, while you can download more for less, the speeds offered are much slower than mobile broadband equivalents.
Mobile broadband pricing has dropped dramatically in recent years, with prices often on par if not cheaper than comparable ADSL or ADSL2+ plans. Speed, coverage and equipment costs should all be taken into account when tossing up between wireless broadband and fixed-line services, but if you want mobile Internet, the pricing is certainly attractive. All the main telcos — Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and 3 Mobile — offer prepaid wireless broadband, which provides extra flexibility.
Some wireless broadband providers charge a premium for better speed and coverage. Speeds of between 3.6Mbps and 7.2Mbps will suffice for regular Web browsing and e-mail, along with some video streaming if required. Check the speed being offered by the provider and the maximum speed of the modem itself; not every USB modem available can handle 21Mbps speeds.
Download quotas aren't as important for wireless broadband plans as they are with fixed-line services. Though you might need 30 or 40GB at home to download movies from iTunes, you are unlikely to do the same while you are out, so 5 or 6GB might be all that you need to watch trailers, download the occasional song and ensure you get all your e-mail. For most people, however, even 1GB of data is enough for light Web browsing and e-mail. It is best to consider how much download quota is necessary for your needs and choose a plan accordingly.
Like fixed broadband services, many mobile broadband services either charge supplementary costs or shape download speeds if you exceed your quota. Though painful, choosing a plan which shapes your speed is the ideal way to avoid a nasty shock when your bill arrives.
The availability of wireless broadband works in a similar fashion to mobile phones. If you're in range of a wireless receiver (equivalent, in this sense, to a mobile cell tower), then you have an Internet connection. If not, then you have nothing. In some cases, you may be just in range but have poor or intermittent reception, which might result in slower than normal speeds. You do not need line-of-sight to get reception.
Mobile towers still service a much greater area than fixed wireless broadband services, and 3G is continually expanding to overlap the majority of GSM coverage. Fixed broadband services require their own infrastructure, coverage still isn't comprehensive — Unwired has some coverage of Sydney and Melbourne's metropolitan areas and the company even provides different coverage maps depending on whether you are using a modem or a notebook expansion card.
Mobile broadband services are still prone to black spots, even in metropolitan areas but, on the whole, provide more extensive coverage than fixed wireless broadband. Reception and reliability is entirely dependent on the carrier, with Telstra's Next G service providing the best coverage by far.
The most important thing to look at when choosing a wireless broadband provider is whether it has coverage in all the areas you might want to use your connection. You need to check with the provider very carefully. If you're in a marginal reception area, such as the outlying areas of major cities, you may find the connection drops out occasionally, as weather patterns and other interference wreak havoc with your wireless connection. You don't want to be caught with an Internet connection that only works half the time.
Wireless broadband providers
There are numerous wireless broadband providers, ranging from mobile telcos to providers like Unwired and service resellers like Internode. Though we recommend you to look at each carrier and their equipment in detail before making a final decision, you can see a brief overview of which wireless broadband providers suit your needs by visiting the broadband site Whirlpool. By going to the "Broadband Choice" page available in the navigation bar and filling out some criteria, you can find a basic list of wireless broadband providers that cater to your needs.
Once this is done, choose three or four that are closer to what you want, and have a look at their equipment, speeds, coverage and any possible hidden costs. It can be confusing, but research is the key to ensuring that you don't screw up your purchase and get stuck in an expensive contract.