Review: Telstra Big Pond Ultimate USB Modem

Overall Rating

By David Flynn, October 25 2010
Telstra Big Pond Ultimate USB Modem
The Good
  • Super-fast speeds in the CBD
  • Solid signals
  • Swivelling USB port
The Bad
  • Average speeds outside CBD
  • Cheapest plan offers poor value
  • The fastest wireless broadband you can get


Telstra trumpets its Ultimate USB Modem as the fastest wireless Internet dongle in town...


Telstra trumpets its Ultimate USB Modem as the fastest wireless Internet dongle in town – and there’s some irony in how accurate that claim proves to be.

Our tests in and around the Sydney CDB delivered speeds faster than the average home broadband connection: average sessions ranged from 8Mbps to 14Mbps, with peaks as high as 18.9Mbps. That’s so fast that it measuring it barely matters.

What’s important is that everything you want do happens not just quickly but smoothly, and in the case of online video from services like ABC News 24, stutter-free.

So far so good. But once out of the CBD, even in an inner-city suburb, this ‘autobahn of the airwaves’ turns into a laneway with typical speeds hovering around 4Mbps. While still usable that’s roughly the difference between a 110kph freeway and a 40kph school zone.

The reason behind these two very different sets of numbers is the ‘dual channel’ technology which the Ultimate modem relies upon to strut its stuff. Simply put, it uses two Next G mobile phone data channels to download data instead of just one.

This elegant but technically tricky feat in turn relies on Next G base stations being upgraded to support these double-dipping modems.

Telstra’s radio tower revamp currently limits dual channel mode to around a 5km radius of the GPO in each capital city.

Beyond that boundary puts you back in the realm of regular Next G coverage, which still yields a reliable 2-4Mbps with peaks to 8Mbps.

Throughout every test the Ultimate dongle maintained a solid and reliable connection.

The flat square shape of device itself is perhaps less convenient than conventionally slim 3G Internet keys, but we liked the ability of the connector to tilt and swivel so it can fit any USB port.

Telstra’s fuss-free software is baked into the modem and runs on both the Windows and Mac platforms. Slide a memory card into the modem’s microSD slot and the dongle doubles as a flash drive.

The Big Pond Ultimate modem sells outright for $299 but is best bundled with a Next G data plan. These get you the dongle for $0 down (courtesy of a magic $299 rebate) on plans starting from $10 per month for 400MB of data and assuming you’ve also got other Telstra services into the mix.

But 400MB won’t go very far, especially once you tap into streaming content: we suggest the 1GB or 3GB plans are your best bet, at $30 and $40 respectively.

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