Broadband to go: 3G data card round-up

Road warriors rejoice -- 3G data cards are bringing some long awaited speed to mobile Internet access. We take a look at offerings from the major Australian carriers.

After years of fiddling with mobile phone hook-ups just to dawdle along at GSM speeds, hunting down hotspots or just making do without Net access on the road, the arrival of 3G is like manna from heaven for the mobile digerati.

3G data cards slide into a notebook's PC Card slot and hitch a ride on the nascent third-gen phone networks. 3G data speeds peak at 384kbps -- slightly more than entry-level ADSL but a serious leg-on on the 50kbps ceiling of the GSM-based GPRS channels, which in the real world tend to lag behind even a dial-up modem.

Of course, the coverage of a 3G card is only as good as the underlying network, which can make a difference depending on your travel habits. The limited roll-out of 3G means it's certainly not a case of being 'Internet anywhere': that honour goes to Telstra's BigPond Wireless Broadband, which piggybacks onto Telstra's advanced EV-DO service. It's also why most data cards can fall back to their parents' more extensive GSM networks when 3G isn't available.

(The exceptions are Telstra's card, which drops back onto CDMA; and 3's NetConnect card, which connects to Telstra's GSM service because 3 has no GSM network of its own. This can in fact happen inside 3G coverage areas where the Telstra signal is stronger than the 3G one. This roaming incurs an AU$1.65/MB tariff, although the NetConnect card's software settings can be adjusted to prevent GSM handover).

Telstra, 3, Vodafone and Optus aren't the only ways to get into the broadband on-the-move game. Wireless ISPs iBurst and Unwired also have PC Cards and run on dedicated data network at speeds closer the true 'broadband' rate of to 1Mbps, but with obviously limited coverage compared to the phone networks - for example, Unwired's PC card service works best only in selected locations in Sydney and isn't really meant for use 'on the move'. Unwired has, however, announced plans to start selling a long-awaited PCMCIA card version of its broadband modem for laptops on Boxing Day (December 26, 2005).


Vodafone Mobile Connect
Vodafone Mobile Connect
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Aggressive pricing, a slice of speed-boosting tech and a tempting 'unlimited' downloads plan puts Vodafone in pole position in the race for 3G datacard customers.


Optus Wireless Connect

Optus Wireless Connect
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Optus' combo PC Card ticks every box on the wireless menu, including 3G, GPRS and Wi-Fi, to serve road warriors with a smorgasbord of connectivity.


Telstra BigPond Wireless Broadband

Telstra BigPond Wireless Broadband
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As long as you're a metropolitan broadband user, Telstra BigPond Wireless Broadband delivers well, but it can't be said to be an inexpensive broadband option.


3 Mobile Internet NetConnect Card

3 Mobile Internet NetConnect Card
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The 3 Mobile Internet NetConnect Card is a reliable wireless broadband option, but the usual "subject to coverage area" caveats apply.

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