Telstra’s latest hotspot promises LTE-A 4G coverage and long battery life. It can’t quite manage LTE-A just yet, but the battery life is indeed superb.
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot: On the plus side
Telstra’s latest hotspot features a simple and rather businesslike grey design wrapped around a 2.4 inch colour touchscreen display. It’s the first “Netgear” branded hotspot Telstra’s offered, thanks to Netgear buying out the AirCard division of Sierra Wireless, where Telstra’s sourced most of its previous premium hotspots.
Touchscreen is an interesting choice for a hotspot, because typically they’re devices that you configure once and more or less only switch on or off, but it’s hard to argue that the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot is hard to use. Everything is simply presented and allows for easy access — by default it displays both the SSID and password for its network — and somewhat easy tracking of your data usage. I’ll get back to that point shortly.
It’s also more capable than previous Telstra hotspots in a couple of interesting ways. Firstly, the number of tethered devices bumps up to ten — most hotspots top out at five — which again accentuates its business style. You could, funds permitting, run a small office off just this hotspot.
Secondly, it’s an LTE-A device, utilising both the 900Mhz and 1800Mhz frequencies in what’s called carrier aggregation. The theory is that with two bands to play with, you can get both better signal throughput, because you’re mixing the best of the signal characteristics of those bands, as well as faster data speeds.
At least, that’s the theory; Telstra has yet to formally announce areas where consumers can take advantage of LTE-A for actual throughput purposes, apart from a few brief statements regarding trials on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. It’s expected to be a little more public in 2014 regarding LTE-A availability, but for now it’s effectively an LTE hotspot with a bit of future-proofing built in.
Telstra’s claims for the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot sit pretty much in the same kinds of spaces as anyone else’s LTE hotspot, then, at between 2-50Mbps downstream.
In testing across Sydney, the Central and Far North coasts of New South Wales and the Gold Coast in Queensland, that’s certainly been my experience. Putting the Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot head to head with the previous generation Mobile Wi-Fi 4G (which I reviewed some time ago) showed little difference in real world use most of the time, but as with all things mobile data, expect variance based on both signal strength and the number of users currently congesting the network.
The one claim that the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot really does live up to is battery life. Telstra’s claim is that it’ll last for up to ten hours of use. Throughout my tests, it’s managed this admirably; on several occasions I left it running overnight with a couple of connected devices more or less idling except for regular email checks, and it was still happily sitting on more than half of its battery in the morning. Even seriously pushing it with multiple devices trying to grab down data didn’t seriously worry its battery.
One nice touch there is its inbuilt “Jump Start” capability, which allows you to use the microUSB port on the base as a battery pack for other compatible devices, so if your smartphone is running flat you can top it up. It’s not a vital feature — but it is a nice one.
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot: On the minus side
There are some downsides. Telstra’s always been the most expensive carrier in terms of data costs, and as with other 4G devices, the faster you can slurp it down, the faster it can suck the contents of your wallet dry.
Here the inbuilt data meter is meant to help you manage your usage, and this would be fine save for the fact that it runs a full 24 hours behind your actual usage. As such, it’s fine for ongoing trend tracking, but if you’re nervous about going over quota, it’s likely to let you know a day too late.
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot: Pricing
If you’re buying the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot outright, Telstra will sell it to you for an upfront price of $218.
That doesn’t score you any data, however, and for that you’d need a plan. If you’re happy with a 24 month contract, pricing starts at $50/month plus a $6 device payment, for a minimum cost over two years of $1344 with 8GB of data to use each month.
Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot: Fat Duck Verdict
If you’re a heavy data user who needs a lot of mobility, a hotspot makes a lot of sense. You can always tether a smartphone, but that quickly saps the battery. That for me is the standout feature of the Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Hotspot; while LTE-A is nice to have in theory, it otherwise operates in the same way as the existing 4G hotspot.
For new purchasers, the traps are really in the pricing of data; Telstra’s rates are still substantially steeper than those of its competition, although a bit of canny usage of prepaid plans can bear rich fruit there. For existing users of a Telstra 4G hotspot or USB modem the reasons to upgrade are, so far, rather slim, but once LTE-A opens up that may change rather quickly.