Optus Wireless Broadband USB Slimline Modem

Optus introduces a prepaid billing system for its latest mobile broadband package.

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Optus Wireless Broadband USB Slimline Modem
  • Optus Wireless Broadband USB Slimline Modem
  • Optus Wireless Broadband USB Slimline Modem
  • Optus Wireless Broadband USB Slimline Modem

Pros

  • Prepaid billing system, competitive price, USB doubles as a microSD card reader, software installed on USB modem itself

Cons

  • Data charged in 10MB increments, fluctuation in speeds, slower than competitor offerings

Bottom Line

Although prepaid wireless broadband will definitely appeal to some, the fact that Optus charges data use in 10MB increments is a setback. This package may be suited for occasional use, but erratic network speeds will make many turn to other offerings.

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Vodafone and Telstra have recently launched new mobile broadband solutions, and now Optus has followed suit. Although the USB Slimline modem is almost identical to its competitors' offerings, Optus is offering prepaid pricing packages, which it claims is an industry first. While the pricing is competitive, performance is inconsistent overall and data use is charged in 10-megabyte increments.

Optus’ USB Slimline Modem is rated at a theoretical maximum speed of 7.2 megabits per second (Mbps) over the telco's HSDPA network. The network is currently being upgraded and is set to reach over 96 per cent of the Australian population across an area of 690,000 square kilometres by Christmas. For now, though, the network covers over 80 per cent of the Australian population, so not all users will be able to take advantage of HSDPA speeds. As with all mobile Internet devices, keep in mind that the actual speed achieved will depend on a number of factors such as device capabilities, your location and equipment, as well as network usage at the time.

Like Telstra and Vodafone’s offerings, the USB Slimline Modem is a compact device. Aside from its size, its main appeal lies in the fact that the software required to use the service is installed on the USB device itself. This means much more flexibility in terms of using the unit on multiple computers. It connects via USB, so it offers a flexible alternative for users of desktop PCs and notebooks. Conveniently, it also doubles as a USB flash drive; there is a microSD card slot included that can house cards of up to 4GB in size, although no card is included in the sales package.

The Optus package is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X, and it is simple to set up. Simply plug the modem into a spare USB port on your notebook or PC, install the software and you are up and running. We had no issues using the software on either a PC or a Mac.

Speeds were erratic to say the least. Although the Slimline Modem can attain a potential maximum speed of 7.2Mbps, in the real world this is unlikely due to congestion and signal strength. We performed a number of tests, ranging from sending and receiving small amounts of data, like e-mails and basic Web browsing, to using streaming services, and finally we conducted some basic downloading of files (ranging from 1MB to 60MB in size). Speeds tended to vary on a day-to-day basis but generally the USB Slimline modem had no problem with basic Web browsing, loading pages swiftly.

Testing the modem in our offices in St Leonards, Sydney, and in Sydney’s inner west, we downloaded several files ranging in size from 10MB to 60MB in order to measure speed. Using the modem both with the external antenna and without, the modem delivered average download speeds of 120-212 kilobytes per second, though on some occasions the speed dropped to as low as 82KBps.

Optus’ prepaid wireless broadband package costs $199, which includes a USB modem, SIM card and 2GB data allowance. However, the biggest issue with the Optus package is the fact that data use is charged in 10MB increments, even if you use less than that. To compensate for this, the first 30MB of data used per day is deducted as 10MB, which may prevent small amounts of usage (for example, quickly logging on to check a few e-mails) costing you a fortune.

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