The BigPond Ultimate Mobile Wi-Fi goes on sale for consumer customers today. Resident gadget guru Michael Lewis takes a look.

This past week I have been flying…..well not literally….. but it certainly felt like it. I was asked to try the latest personal wireless hotspot from Telstra – the BigPond Ultimate® Mobile Wi-Fi.

What is a telco doing releasing a Wi-Fi hotspot I hear you ask? After using it in all manner of places, let me answer that in two words – A LOT.

Operating on Telstra’s Next G® network, you can connect up to five devices simultaneously to the Ultimate, and run these devices for up to 3.5 hours. The standby time is up to 100 hours. You can extend these times by using the optional extended battery.

Wireless hotspots are not new – most new smartphones are capable of operating in this mode. So what makes the Ultimate so special?

Firstly it’s all about speed. The Ultimate provides download speeds of between 1.1 Mbps and 20Mbps  in all capital city CBDs and selected regional areas. Compare these speeds to your smartphone operating as a hotspot and the Ultimate obviously has an edge.

I especially like the 4.5cm diagonal LCD screen that displays the Wi-Fi credentials, battery level, UI URL, connection, signal strength and security Key. It also shows you how many devices are attached to it. Getting started is simple. There is no software to install. When you launch the site http://ultimate.telstra in your device browser, enter the Admin password, you are able to customise your Ultimate. This includes the ability to set up passwords, name your Wi-Fi network and set your Wi-Fi security type (WPA2 Personal AES, WAP/WPA2 Personal or None – not recommended). This is one of the easiest user interfaces for device setup I have used in a long time.

Being a wireless hotspot, you don’t have to have the Ultimate plugged into your laptop. As long as you are within range, and have set up your Wi-Fi security, you are connected. And if you are in a restricted coverage area, you might want to add optional MIMO antenna from Sierra Wireless (RRP $129.95). What can best be described at first glance as a stingray with clips, this handy accessory hangs off the back of your laptop screen or can be window mounted, to give your coverage a boost. Simply insert the two plugs into the base of the Ultimate.

There’s also an optional Desktop charging cradle(RRP $79.95) which is cleverly designed to take the device with either the standard or optional extended battery (RRP $79.95). I have been using it at my desk, with the Ultimate quietly working away in the background – without worrying about battery life. When I am ready to go to a meeting, or head off home, the Ultimate is fully charged.

My Ultimate Experiences

As the Ultimate can take up to five devices, I decided there was no point in only having one device attached at any one point in time. So sitting at my desk I wirelessly connected my Apple iPad, Apple iPhone, Motorola Xoom (more about this product in a future blog), and the Motorola Atrix – a fairly good mix of two Android and two Apple devices. Starting with the Motorola Xoom, I downloaded a series of free applications from the Android Market, whilst checking my email on the Atrix. Just to make it interesting, through my iPad, I selected a YouTube video (Telstra Road Bootcamp Clip #1: Winning the Road to Tamworth 2010/11). Both sound and video presented smoothly on screen. Last but not least, I upgraded 10 applications on my iPhone.

Now this is not “normal” usage by any means – but I have to tell you I was amazed the Ultimate held it all together.

A word of warning – do not do this without first checking you have a good data plan. Remember, the Wi-Fi connection is between the devices and the Ultimate. The Ultimate is using the Next G cellular network to talk to communicate with the outside world.

Given most people do not play with two tablets and two handsets at the same time – where is the practical use for a five device enabled personal wireless hotspot? A few spring to mind immediately:

  • Family trips in the car – great for multi-player games
  • The holiday house / hotel – stay in touch when you are travelling
  • Business meetings/conventions – access files, share documents

How much is it?

The BigPond Ultimate® Mobile Wi-Fi is available from 19 July for $49 (after device rebate) on a range of 24 month BigPond Mobile Broadband plans – including on a $39.95 per month plan (24 month term) with 1GB of data each month over 24 months (min cost $1,007.80).  There are also discounts available for customers who have eligible Telstra fixed line services. For more information visit BigPond mobile broadband.

The following accessories are available in Australia from Antenna Shop.

Aircard 753S Extended Battery – A 3600 mAh battery that will double the working battery life of the Ultimate. Replaces the existing batter and battery cover on your Ultimate. RRP $79.95.

Aircard 753S Charging Cradle – A simple desktop cradle for charging the Ultimate. Accommodates the standard or extended battery. Approximately 112mm x 52mm x39mm. RRP $79.95.

Aircard 753S Protective Skin – RRP $29.95.

MIMO External Antenna – Laptop or window mounted MIMO/3G antenna for fringe network coverage. Provides 2.5dB gain. Includes 1m long cable with 2 x TS-9 Connectors. Ideal to leave in the holiday house. RRP $129.95.

Let us know how you use your Ultimate!