Wireless Broadband Buying Guide 2

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Wide-area broadband providers

An increasing number of Internet service providers have begun offering wireless wide-area broadband services. This is somewhat deceptive, however, since in Australia at this time there are only two major network providers. Most ISPs are resellers of the iBurst and Unwired services (iBurst, in fact, works entirely through resellers, and has no direct retail offering). The user experience from one reseller of a service to another should be very similar - it's only the pricing, support and extras (such as Web space and email addresses) that will distinguish providers.
For an excellent breakdown of the various pricing plans available, I recommend visiting www.broadbandchoice.com.au.
If you're buying wireless broadband, it's a good idea to find out which network the service provider is using, since there are significant differences in the technology that each uses.


iBurst (www.iburst.com.au) is the first true and most established mobile wireless broadband service. The company behind iBurst, Personal Broadband Australia (PBA), purchased 5Mhz spectrums in every capital city in 2001, while other telcos were still focussing on Wi-Fi hotspots.
By July 2005 iBurst networks have been built that cover Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, The Central Coast, Melbourne, Brisbane, The Gold Coast and Canberra.
iBurst does not have a direct retail presence, but sells through a large (and growing) number of resellers, including OzEmail, Link Innovations, Veritel, SecureTel, People Telecom and others. Each provider offers their own plans. They tend to be slightly more expensive than Unwired plans (or have smaller volume quotas), but are more widely available and have several other advantages, most notably mobility.
Like Unwired, iBurst offers speeds of up to 1Mbs download, while the peak upload speed is 345Kbs. This data rate can be delivered to desktop-size or PC Card modems.
iBurst uses IntelliCell technology from American company ArrayComm, which makes it possible to access the internet while in motion. Tests have shown that it works well, even when travelling on public transport at speeds of 70km per hour. If you're a notebook user, the ability to purchase a PC-card modem and use the Internet while on the move is a major benefit of iBurst.


Unwired (www.unwired.com.au), is a Sydney-based service that, offers speeds up to 1Mbps to homes and businesses in their coverage area. The maximum upload speed is 256Kbps. The coverage area includes most of metropolitan Sydney which can be checked with their test available on the Unwired Web site. Unwired offers a 14-day money back guarantee if coverage does not include your area.
Unwired uses proprietary technology from US firm Navini Networks to deliver data to end users. This technology requires the use of a rather bulky modem that plugs into a PC via USB or Ethernet. The modem is about the size and weight of a reasonable hardback novel. There is no PC-card option, so notebook users will have to carry the full modem around.
Unlike the iBurst technology, you can't use the services while actually mobile. You can take the modem, and thus the service, from place to place, but the services will not work while in transit. However, when Unwired moves to WiMAX, as is planned, this is likely to change (more on WiMax below).
Unwired sells directly through various ISP resellers. The pricing for Unwired is on-par with most land-line based Internet services, and includes a quota of up to 12GB per month (with additional GB blocks of usage available for purchase), with excess usage shaped to lower speeds. Several Unwired resellers offer even greater volumes and lower prices.


A third network provider, BigAir (www.bigair.com.au) recently made a debut in the Sydney area. Offering what it calls fixed wireless networks, BigAir uses a Wi-Fi variation to deliver data to the home.
BigAir customers require a roof aerial with direct line-of-sight to a BigAir base station. As a result, BigAir is neither mobile nor portable - services are only offered to a fixed location (in this respect, BigAir is no better than land line services). The company has set up multiple base stations around the Sydney CBD to distribute 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz signals to receiving customers. Once the signal is received at the building, it is distributed to the customer via standard Ethernet cable or high speed DSL modems. At the end of May 2005, there were 10 BigAir base stations around Sydney.
BigAir offers plans starting at a $29.95 for 1Mbs symmetrical, but the real appeal of the service is the top-end plans, which can cost up to $500 per month but deliver 10Mbs upstream and downstream data rates. Some recent enterprise customers are even getting 100Mbs data rates.

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