Telstra is set to launch a new, faster portable Wi-Fi hotspot to enable travellers to access the net on laptops, smartphones and tablets via the Next G mobile network.
The new Telstra Elite Mobile Wi-Fi (available from Tuesday 12th April) has an inbuilt battery that lasts up to four hours, and allows five devices to share a Wi-Fi hotspot that accesses the internet connection via a Telstra Next G prepaid SIM card.
There are numerous devices like this around from the various telcos, including the well-known MiFi device popular in the US and sold locally by Internode, but the new Telstra Elite Mobile Wi-Fi benefits from the Next G network's market-leading coverage and speed.
This new device can connect to the network at up to a theoretical 21Mbit/s — which Telstra says will equate to a real life speed of anywhere from 0.5Mbit/s - 8Mbit/s.
In Australian Business Traveller's experience using Telstra Next G modems, the fastest speed generally seen is around 7Mbit/s, which means a 500MB TV episode from iTunes downloads in about nine minutes.
There's also an optional external antenna can be purchased to give it better reception in areas of marginal coverage.
The device (a rebranded ZTE MF60) has a display on it that gives clear information like signal strength, number of devices connected and battery level at a glance, which is an improvement over the many similar devices available that just have cryptic status lights.
The modem costs $129 and has no contracts associated — you just use the included pre-paid SIM card, which comes with 5GB data valid for 90 days, and then recharge the account with credit as needed.
Unfortunately, the prepaid mobile broadband recharge plans are almost as expensive as the modem itself — for example, a 6GB plan with 90 days expiry costs $100. The best value plan is the 10GB plan for $150 which stays valid for a year.
Business customers can also get it for nothing upfront on a 24 month plan, with plans ranging from $29 for 1GB data each month.
The prepaid version of the modem is locked to the Telstra network, which means it's not possible to put another SIM card from a foreign carrier in it if you travel overseas. We've enquired with Telstra about what it costs to unlock the modem, and we'll update the story once we've got the answer.
If you have an iPhone 4, or a recent Google Android-based phone, you may already have a similar portable Wi-Fi hotspot function built into your phone. See our recent guide on how to set up the personal hotspot on iPhone 4.
However, phone-based personal hotspots are usually much slower than dedicated devices like the Telstra Elite Mobile Wi-Fi.