I picked up a new Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi Next G Modem last week as unfortunately, even though Vodafone has full 3G reception in Kempsey, data services are practically non-existent, so I couldn’t use the internet with my laptop tethered to my Blackberry as I normally would (I might get data services on for long enough for my Blackberry to receive a maybe 2 emails at the same time once in a day – pretty horrendous given my phone indicates full 3G reception here).
Getting the modem activated was terrible. Telstra really need to pick up their game here.
According to the instructions you have to call a number to get it activated. No problem, put the number in my mobile and give it a call.
Problem. As soon as I call it, it goes to a recorded message saying that the services provided on that number are only available to Telstra customers. In other words, you cannot activate the modem unless you have access to a phone that is already on the Telstra network (be it landline or mobile).
As far as I’m aware, we don’t have any Telstra phones, so I write down all the information that I need to provide according to the instruction booklet, make sure I have plenty of coins and head out hunting for a pay phone.
After finding one, I called the number up again, go through the process of selecting what I’m calling about and putting in the mobile service number to be activated. I wait on hold in the 7 degree evening weather in a pay phone that’s missing a door. Finally a customer service representative takes my call and immediately asks what I’m calling about. I’ve already indicated this through the number based menu process I went through initially, so why do we need to waste time asking about this?
After I explain what I’m calling about and ask if we could try and get through the process quickly since I have had to go find a pay phone to do it on and it’s cold the service rep tells me that:
- Their activation system is currently down and will not be back up for about 24 hours.
- I can activate it online.
- I should be able to call from any phone.
No apology about having to find a pay phone, no apology about their system being down, and no offer to call me back on my own phone.
Anyway, I’m not too impressed that the only way I can activate my modem is online. If I had data access I wouldn’t be trying to call.
When I got back, we fortunately had brief access to the internet and I tried to put it through online. Unfortunately, I could not. The website kept giving me errors because I briefly had a Telstra home phone and it wanted me to log into my online account (which I don’t have, so could not retrieve my password). It gave me another number to call, which was almost identical to the one in the instruction booklet, again a Telstra only number.
I was pretty well ready to give up, but found out that the land line where I was staying had been requested to be switched to Telstra that week and that it was set to be swapped any day now. I gave it a try and it worked!
This new number took me to the same place as the other number and asked all the same questions. Once again the service rep (a different person) asked me what I was calling about (why do they have the menu if the service rep’s ignore your selections?). Immediately, she put through my activation request, no indication of the system being down or any other issues. She was really quite helpful, though I don’t understand why I had to repeat the mobile service number to be activated to her when I had to enter it before it would even put me through to a service rep.
When I asked why I couldn’t call the activation number from a non-Telstra phone she didn’t know but gave me another number that is available from any phone should I need to call again and wasn’t sure why it isn’t listed in the instructions. She also said activations can take up to 4 hours to go through and if there are any problems to give technical support a call, and gave me a number for them that is also available from any phone.
Once I got off the phone to the Telstra service rep I followed the instruction manual for setting it up with my laptop. It really is very straight forward, just like connecting to any wi-fi network. All you have to do is turn on the modem (I had to plug mine in to the charger first before it would come on the first time) and wait for the wi-fi light to come on. Once this light is on, the wireless network is being broadcast and you can connect to it. From there it’s just a matter of telling the laptop to connect to the network shown on the information card that came with the modem and entering the passkey.
Voila, all done. All I had to do now was wait for it to be activated which took about 3.5 hours. After that though, it all worked with no fuss.
You can log into the modem if you wish and change settings such as the network broadcast name, the passkey and so on. It’s more or less the same as configuring any other wireless router except some features are limited.
After using it for almost a week now, I’m very impressed with the stability and consistent speeds of the device. In some ways I wish I’d forked out the extra for the elite model that is capable of even higher speeds again, but the standard model is still getting consistent higher speeds than I ever got with Vodafone in a city (let alone in a country town), not to mention the connection is far more stable. It’s obvious that even though Telstra is more expensive, you really do get what you pay for here.
I’ve also setup the wi-fi network on my Blackberry and again it is a breeze.
One thing that has really amazed me though is the range of this little modem. I still have a stable wi-fi connection at the opposite end of the house to it. My Blackberry reports half signal strength, but that’s a distance of probably 25m through 3 walls – which I think is fantastic for a battery powered modem!
In terms of battery life, it’s pretty poor. It lasts longer than my laptop battery though so that shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve run it on battery a few times now until flat, each time it has lasted between 3 and 5 hours depending on how much it has been in use and how many devices are connected (the shortest it lasted was with 2 laptops and 1 phone connected to it). It comes with a USB charger cable that also has a wall adapter, so you can plug it into a wall power socket just like a regular modem, or plug the USB cable into a USB port to charge it or use it. Charging is relatively fast using either option.
In my opinion, for a low volume user that doesn’t need large amounts of data, this modem would be a very viable alternative to contract based ADSL connection. For example, TPG’s cheapest ADSL2+ plan is $29.99/month with 15gb of data. On a Telstra pre-paid modem, you can buy 10gb of data for $150 that will not expire for 365 days. So, if you only use a small amount, this could be perfect for you. It only takes 5 months on a contract like that TPG one to have spent the same amount of money, but at least with this you can take it with you wherever you go! In comparison to Telstra’s own contract mobile broadband plans, their base plan is $9.95/month with 400mb of data. This is effectively $120/year for a total of 4.8gb of data ($25/gb) – worse value than the pre-paid option in my opinion. The next plan up is $19.95/month with 1gb of data. Effectively $240/year for a total of 12gb of data ($20/gb) – still worse value. The next plan is the first option that offers better value at $29.95/month with 3gb of data. Effectively $360/year for a total of 36gb of data, or $10/gb (compared to $15/gb on the pre-paid option). Note that the only pre-paid option in my opinion that is worthwhile is the $150 for 10gb option, the lesser amounts are far too expensive to be worthwhile. So for low volume users, this is really an excellent option that could do away with the need for a cabled modem.
One other little feature that is quite handy is the myprepaid.telstra.com website that is only accessible when connected through the modem and not from another service. From here you can see exactly how much of your data is remaining and when it expires. You can also add more through this interface, making it very easy to recharge. An added benefit is when you recharge, existing data is rolled over to the new expiry, so if you don’t use all your data in time, you don’t lose it (as long as you recharge before the expiry).
Customer service is terribly horrendous and you really need access to a Telstra phone, but if you can get past that, it’s fast, it’s easy, it’s flexible, it’s stable, it’s reliable (so far), and it works.
I’m really quite sold on the benefits of this technology and the benefits of the Telstra network – it really does leave Vodafone for dead. It’s a pity that their customer service can’t get their story straight though, really doesn’t do much for building trust in the company.
It’s just a pity I can’t get enough data to make this a viable option at home!