Telstra CDMA 1xRTT Communication Card

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Telstra CDMA 1xRTT Communication Card
Telstra's wireless service is for Australian road warriors who don't mind paying big bucks for maximum mobility.

According to the Telstra, its existing CDMA network covers about one-fifth of the Australian landmass and over 98 percent of the population. Telstra is currently upgrading its existing CDMA network to support 1xRTT (One x Radio Transmission Technology), know also as 1x.

Similar to what GPRS does for GSM networks, CDMA 1x enables devices to use packet switched technology to achieve faster download speeds -- Telstra claims their 1x service bursts speeds up to 144kbps (kilobits per second) which is relatively slow compared to wired broadband but a couple of times faster than dialup -- not that it really tries to compete with either service.

Telstra's CMDA 1xRTT Communication Card is essentially a PCMCIA card that acts as a wireless modem. The Communication Card we tested is manufactured by Maxon Electronics for Telstra and uses Qualcomm's 5100 chipset. It fits into a single PC Card slot with its swivelling 4cm external antenna jutting out at the end. In order to install the Communication Card you'll need Windows 2000 or XP, a CD-ROM drive, 32MB RAM and 20 MB available hard disk space.

Once the card is installed and inserted, network status is indicated by an LED on the edge of the card. Solid green indicates the card is registered with Telstra's CDMA network and in a good signal area whereas flashing red means no signal present.

The interface software for Telstra's Communication Card displays Voice, Dial-Up Networking, Call/Msg Logs, SMS and Phonebook tabs. The voice and networking tabs both show a representation of network status and a 1x symbol when in a 1x area. The card can operate on standard CDMA -- at a slower rate -- should CDMA 1x be unavailable. When the connection drops out you need to re-connect via Telstra's proprietary software.

Occasionally within 1x coverage areas, it took us two or three attempts before a connection could be made. Even within inner city suburbs of Sydney we experienced drop outs sporadically; maybe once in every ten connections.

CDMA and CDMA 1x coverage maps can be found on Telstra's Web site. According to Telstra, the national rollout of the 1x upgrade is due to be completed by the end of 2004.

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We checked the speed of Telstra's CDMA 1x network using Sigma Solutions' TCP/IQ Line Speed Meter in conjunction with the Communication Card. Taking the average of several tests around the Sydney area, we achieved about 108kbps downstream and 55kbps for uploads.

With the ability able to make voice calls and send SMS text messages through the software the Communication Card also acts as a mobile phone. On signing up for the Wireless PC Pack through a Telstra store, the 1x Card is assigned a phone number. Once connected the CDMA network, by plugging in a headset you can make calls simply by typing phone numbers or using the Phonebook tab in the Communication Card application. When a call is received, the application plays a sound alert and conveniently displays the calling phone number.

It is liberating to type SMS messages on a QWERTY keyboard rather than the slow methods found on mobile phones (T9, multitap) although messages are limited to 160 characters. The Log tab archives incoming and outgoing text messages as well as call history.

Telstra's AU$49 per month plan gives customers 20 hours of connection to the network and the AU$99 per month plan allows for 50 hours access. This works out to be about AU$2 or AU$2.45 per hour, depending on which plan you choose. Hours also include Internet access through Telstra Wireless Hotspots for WiFi compatible notebooks.

A caveat we found in the fine print is that customers may be slowed to the dialup rate of 28.8kbps if monthly CMDA 1x usage exceeds 100MB or 250MB on the $49 and $99 plan, respectively. Additionally, download speed at a Telstra Wireless Hotspot may be restricted if usage exceeds 30MB in 15 minutes.

The CDMA 1xRTT Communication Card retails for AU$500 and is sold in through Telstra stores. Telstra will waive the cost of the card if customers choose to sign up for the $99 data plan under a 24-month contract.

This service is not designed to be a replacement to a wired service, such as an ADSL or cable Internet account, which most users would use back at the office or at home. It will appeal to people constantly on the move in between the office and home. Field workers, for instance, needing to send e-mail and photos back to the office will see great benefit in this service while out on the job. The price of the service will probably keep it in the enterprise realm for the moment and as Telstra finishes rolling out the CDMA 1x upgrade it will become a more attractive wireless service.

Telstra CDMA 1xRTT Communication Card
Company: Telstra
Price: AU$500 on 12-month contract ($49/$99 per month plan plus $50 connection fee); or AU$0 on 24-month contract ($99 per month plan, no connection fee)
Distributor: Telstra
Phone: 1800 986 687

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