Wireless internet review and compare

There are desktop and roaming plans but is it the high-speed internet alternative for you?
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

Wireless-internet

Wireless internet is broadband internet access that doesn't use a telephone line or cable network. You connect to the internet using radio frequency signals. A wireless service lets you access the internet from home or when you’re out of the office.

It may also be an option if:

  • You live too far from the telephone exchange (but within a wireless network coverage area)
  • The exchange doesn't support ADSL
  • You don't want to pay phone line rental fee
  • You don't have access to a cable network

See our article on broadband basics.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see Wireless broadband 2010.

There are several ways to access the internet wirelessly.

  • Portable and roaming wireless internet. You can access the internet wirelessly at home using a special desktop modem or you may prefer roaming internet through your laptop.
  • Wireless hot spots. Some ISPs offer wireless internet access from public places such as cafes, airports and hotels.
  • Fixed wireless. Several ISPs run limited fixed wireless networks using Wi-Fi technology.
 
 

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02.Portable and roaming wireless internet

 

Portable wireless internet

You can access the internet wirelessly at home using a special desktop modem. This type of wireless internet access is usually portable. The portability may appeal to renters who move frequently — you’ll be able to connect to the internet using the same account and equipment at a different address, provided it’s within the coverage area.

To use wireless internet access that’s portable, you need:

  • A special modem (with antenna), supplied by the ISP.
  • To be located within the ISP's network coverage.

Roaming wireless internet

If you move around cities or metropolitan areas and need internet access on-the-go, you may prefer roaming internet through your laptop. Roaming wireless services let you connect to the internet when you’re away from home without the need for a bulky modem.

Most access speeds are listed as the theoretical maximum, rather than the practical speed. For example, a theoretical maximum speed of 54 mbps is more likely to be 1000 kbps in reality.

In most cases, you need:

  • To buy a card for your laptop to access the wireless network;
  • To be located within a coverage area.

As long as you’re within the network coverage area and you have your laptop connected, you should be able to get online wherever you are — be it your home, a cafe or a park. But connection speed can vary depending on your location.

Fixed wireless

 Several ISPs run limited fixed wireless networks using Wi-Fi technology.

To access a fixed wireless service you need to:

  • Install transmission equipment such as an antenna or dish on the roof of your house
  • Connect special wireless-enabled equipment (a modem, Ethernet bridge, router or wireless card, for example) to your computer.

Antennas need to have a clear line of sight to the ISP’s base station (or another antenna), which must typically be within several kilometres of the receiver’s house. Some services may require additional equipment, depending on the provider.

  • Most ISPs supply their own equipment and prices vary depending on where you live so check individual ISP websites. Network speed can also vary.

Unfortunately, there’s no central listing of ISPs offering fixed residential wireless internet. Some are:

  • Chariot in Victoria and South Australia. 
  • Linknet in northern NSW. 
  •  BigAir in Sydney.

Your best bet is to contact your current ISP to check if it offers a service. You could also try the forums at www.whirlpool.net.au

Unwired

Unwired offers a portable wireless service in Sydney that can be used with a desktop computer and a laptop, but both need the modem. The roaming option is laptop only using a wireless card and isn’t suitable for Macs. For information on pricing and plans, see the table. The Unwired service is also resold by other ISPs, such as Exetel and Internode, but only for desktop and laptop modem plans.

For information on pricing and plans, go to www.exetel.com.au or www.internode.on.net/unwired

Vodafone mobile connect-laptop plans
Price / month Usage limit Speed
$29.95 100MB max 356/64kbps
$49.95 300MB max 356/64kbps
$99.95 Unlimited (a) max 356/64kbps
(a) Usage over 1GB per month may be subject to additional charges.
Excess uage fee: 0.2 cents per KB or $2.04 per MB
Data card: $299 upfront or $16.63 per month over 24 months
Early termination/switching fee: no
Usage limit includes incoming and outgoing
 



3 NetConnect

The 3 NetConnect mobile broadband plans have two options – connect with a laptop card or use a 3 mobile as a modem to connect to a laptop. Connection is available in most areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth and Canberra. Outside of these, the service shifts to Telstra’s GPRS network where the speed is 40kbps to download and up to 10kbps to send (upload).

Refer to the table for pricing and plans.

3 NetConnect
Price/month Data usage Speed 3 Zone Speed GSM/GPRS
$29 100MB 384/64kbps 40 /10kbps
$69 300MB 384/64kbps
$99 600MB 384/64kbps
$129 1GB 384/64kbps
Card cost: $199
Excess usage: 30 cents per MB
Casual rate is $4 per MB
 



Optus Wireless Connect

The Optus Wireless Connect service was launched at the end of 2005. There are several plans that vary with download limit. You’ll need a PC card to access the service.

There are two types of laptops cards:

  • GSM/GPRS for laptops with inbuilt wireless network connectivity;
  • GSM/GPRS/WiFi for laptops without inbuilt wireless connectivity.

The cards can be bought up front or on 12 or 24-month payment plans and the cost varies according to how you choose to pay for it. See the table for prices.

Depending on where you roam, you’ll be moved automatically between three networks – WiFi, 3G and GSM – to maintain coverage, although the speed will vary. The PC card monitors network availability.

  • Wi-Fi is the preferred connection. It’s typically the fastest, but only available in Hotspots;
  • 3G is the next preference. It’s usually available in metropolitan areas;
  • GSM is the third option. It’s widely available wherever an Optus GSM mobile phone works.
Optus Wireless Connect
Price/month Download allowance Max speed WiFi Max speed 3G Max speed GSM/GPRS
$29.95 75MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50kbps
$39.95 200MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50kbps
$79.95 500MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50Kbps
$129.95 1500MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50kbps
Excess usage fee: 0.50 cents per MB
Fees may apply for early cancellation or switching plans
 
Vodafone

Vodafone launched its mobile broadband service in November 2005 and it’s available for both PC and Mac laptops. You’ll need to buy the Vodafone Mobile Connect card for $299 to access the service.

The coverage areas include Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra metropolitan areas; and Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth airports. Outside of these areas, connection shifts to the Vodafone GPRS network at a speed of up to 56kbps for incoming and outgoing data.

See the table for pricing and plans.

Vodafone mobile connect-laptop plans
Price / month Usage limit Speed
$29.95 100MB max 356/64kbps
$49.95 300MB max 356/64kbps
$99.95 Unlimited (a) max 356/64kbps
(a) Usage over 1GB per month may be subject to additional charges.
Excess uage fee: 0.2 cents per KB or $2.04 per MB
Data card: $299 upfront or $16.63 per month over 24 months
Early termination/switching fee: no
Usage limit includes incoming and outgoing
 



3 NetConnect

The 3 NetConnect mobile broadband plans have two options – connect with a laptop card or use a 3 mobile as a modem to connect to a laptop. Connection is available in most areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth and Canberra. Outside of these, the service shifts to Telstra’s GPRS network where the speed is 40kbps to download and up to 10kbps to send (upload).

Refer to the table for pricing and plans.

3 NetConnect
Price/month Data usage Speed 3 Zone Speed GSM/GPRS
$29 100MB 384/64kbps 40 /10kbps
$69 300MB 384/64kbps
$99 600MB 384/64kbps
$129 1GB 384/64kbps
Card cost: $199
Excess usage: 30 cents per MB
Casual rate is $4 per MB
 



Optus Wireless Connect

The Optus Wireless Connect service was launched at the end of 2005. There are several plans that vary with download limit. You’ll need a PC card to access the service.

There are two types of laptops cards:

  • GSM/GPRS for laptops with inbuilt wireless network connectivity;
  • GSM/GPRS/WiFi for laptops without inbuilt wireless connectivity.

The cards can be bought up front or on 12 or 24-month payment plans and the cost varies according to how you choose to pay for it. See the table for prices.

Depending on where you roam, you’ll be moved automatically between three networks – WiFi, 3G and GSM – to maintain coverage, although the speed will vary. The PC card monitors network availability.

  • Wi-Fi is the preferred connection. It’s typically the fastest, but only available in Hotspots;
  • 3G is the next preference. It’s usually available in metropolitan areas;
  • GSM is the third option. It’s widely available wherever an Optus GSM mobile phone works.
Optus Wireless Connect
Price/month Download allowance Max speed WiFi Max speed 3G Max speed GSM/GPRS
$29.95 75MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50kbps
$39.95 200MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50kbps
$79.95 500MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50Kbps
$129.95 1500MB 54Mbps 384kbps 50kbps
Excess usage fee: 0.50 cents per MB
Fees may apply for early cancellation or switching plans
 

The terms and conditions often contain important caveats on cancellations and monthly usage limits.

  • Some plans that advertise ‘unlimited’ downloads may impose charges if you go over a certain limit.
  • If you can’t get full coverage in your area and cancel the contract, some companies impose conditions such as a seven-day limit for return of equipment or no connection fee refund for usage above 20MB.
  • Unused data usually expires at the end of each month.
  • GPRS charges may be additional.
  • Some plans count data usage (incoming and outgoing), while others count download (incoming) towards the monthly limit.
  • There may be fees for early termination or switching between plans before the term of the contract

Some conventional ISPs, including Telstra, Optus and iPrimus, offer wireless internet access from public places such as cafes, airports and hotels. These designated access points are advertised as ‘wireless hotspots’ and most use Wi-Fi technology (also called IEEE 802.11) to connect you to the internet. Wi-Fi operates in the 2.4GHz radio spectrum that's also used for cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Hotspots are fixed and have a limited range — you need to be within about 100 metres of a location.

To use a Wi-Fi hotspot, you need:

  • A Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or PDA.

To set up and pay for a wireless account with the ISP supplying the access.
Laptops with Intel’s Centrino mobile technology already have Wi-Fi built-in. If your laptop isn’t wireless-enabled when you buy it, you need to install a special wireless card, available from computer stores for around $150–$250. This plugs into the card slot on your laptop.

When you turn on your computer in a hotspot location, the Wi-Fi card should automatically detect the wireless network.

You can usually sign monthly contracts or buy a period of wireless access using a credit card or prepaid card, depending on the provider. Wireless hotspot services are generally charged based on the amount of time spent online, rather than the amount of data you use. Prices vary, so check with your provider.

Some hotspots

Telstra hotspots

  • Sydney Airport
  • Some McDonald's restaurants (free)
  • Starbucks cafes
  • Some hotels (Rydges)
  • Qantas Club lounges throughout Australia

Optus Wireless Connect Zones

  • Gloria Jeans cafes
  • Sydney Airport
  • Brisbane airport
  • Metropolitan cafes
  • Bookstores and hotels around Australia

iPrimus hotspots

  • Bookstores and cafes and eateries throughout Australia.

Azure hotspots

  • Cafes and restaurants throughout Australia.

Internode

  • Various locations in Adelaide and Adelaide airport.

You can also find hotspot listings at www.jwire.com but it isn’t comprehensive so you may want to check individual ISP websites. Whirlpool also operates an updatable list of hotspots on its site.

It’s also worthwhile looking for a free service in your area. Public Networks Australia (PubNet) operates free wireless hotspots at limited locations in Sydney, Bathurst and the Gold Coast.

All you need to use the service is a wireless-enabled laptop or device — you don’t need an ISP. Go to www.public.net.au to see if there’s a PubNet location near you.

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