Paul Wright takes a caffeinated tour of Sydney’s suburbs to test go-anywhere broadband
The setup procedure for my new Unwired broadband modem was extremely fast and friendly. Four clicks and I was off to the car to test whether mobile internet access really means mobile as in “while driving from place to place”, or mobile as in dangling in one spot while slowly turning around and around while singing “It’s a Small World After All” as the parents weep quietly in the corner of the baby’s room because all they want is just one night of sleep, is that too much to ask?
First stop: Birdies’ Cafe, Alexandria. Fast call to the Good Lady Wife because I forgot to bring the demo password, and I was off into the wild blue internet. Popular myth has the first telephone call being from Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Watson to help him with an acid burn. In a remarkable coincidence, the first Unwired email I received was an eerie reflection of Bell’s plea; it begins “Mr Watson, I need you…to help get $93 million out of the Bank of Lagos.”
The tests were performed using a Toshiba Pentium 3 600 notebook, test websites chosen for load speed were the Sydney Morning Herald, as a popular local website with medium graphics content, and instapundit.com, a very popular US website with low graphic content. Most tests were performed in business hours.I recommend turning on the “Reception Assistant” whenever going online from a new location. Without this, there is no way to tell why the system is not connecting.
Cafe Bianchi, Summer Hill. Reception: four bars. Download speed: good. Watching: movie trailers from Hoyts.com.au. Coffee: excellent. People: ugly.
The modem has no battery indicator, so user won’t notice when it tanks. Like the reception, this is irritating in extremis, and means one more thing to check when a page won’t refresh. Also, the modem needs to be physically switched off after use. This is an entirely new habit to form, and for the first few days, expect the modem battery to be as flat as a pancake every morning.
Starbucks, Park Street, City. Reception: off the chart. Load speed: excellent. Service: where’s my triple espresso?! These people are moving at the speed of mud.
Make sure the computer you are using has an ethernet port. That’s the one that looks like an overweight telephone socket. Without it, you’ll have to deal with the mutants at Tandy as they gibber incomprehensibly about what sort of cable you need while making insulting comments about your manhood because you actually require assistance with your computer.
Big roundabout, Sydney Park, Alexandria. Reception: poor; connection dropped out. Repeated laps of roundabout failed to regain signal. Other motorists increasingly rude. Decided not to explain reason for driving behavior. Left before police arrived.Since this is a free demo account, I decided to test e-mail load speed by signing up for every possible spam site, porn offer and scam letter I could get my hands on. I want every part of my body enhanced and enlarged with cheap generic medicines supplied to me by the wife of the former Chief of the Army of Nigeria. And Hot College Chicks will then Want To Meet Me Now.
Blackwattle Bay park, walking the dog. Or rather, sitting down while the dog chases the trams on the overhead railway. Computer says it has many, many spyware programs. Decide to download and install Ad-aware software. Reception: hovering between 2-3 bars. Download speed for a 2Mb program file: 8 minutes. I mean, sitting in the middle of a sunny park, no visible means of communication, and it takes 8 minutes to reach out across the other side of the world to get a free program that will prevent marketers from tracking my internet movements? Eight minutes! May as well be living in Russia!
As an aside, it’s worth noting that the software used by Unwired cannot be exported to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya or North Korea. So if you were planning on making a killing re-exporting wireless broadband to countries that still communicate by writing notes on their enemy’s livers, think again.
Note to Unwired: when I’m driving over the Harbour Bridge and need to email ahead to have someone open the wine, I do not want to have to wait to get a connection. A man is not a camel, you know.
A glance through the User Guide produces some interesting examples of Tech-Speak. My favourite came at the top of the document, where they urged me to put in the Quick-Start CD to assist in installing the User Guide. Perhaps this is included to throw those annoying North Koreans off the scent.
When using the Unwired modem in a public space, the signal strength can be enhanced by holding the modem up higher, placing it next to a window, or moving g it about the room. While this may have an effect on connection speed, it will definitely make sure everyone in the restaurant knows you’re an Unwired user and therefore at the bleeding edge of technology. As with every other broadband service provider, reading Unwired’s pricing plans rapidly causes glazed-eye induced bouts of keyboard face. If your boredom threshold is so high you are willing to pay extra for the grass-growing cable channel, I commend you to the pricing plan page. For the rest of us, I recommend choosing blindly, and hope there isn’t a kidney forfeit clause in the fine print.
Interesting thought: will mobile broadband spell an end to fights over bar bets? Who will resort to fisticuffs over the level of influence Seneca had over Pliny the Elder (well it comes up where I drink), when the dashing Unwired user can swiftly settle the matter to the satisfaction of all parties?
One significant problem with the Unwired system is that you can’t tell if it will work in your house or place of business, until you actually purchase the whole deal, get it delivered, install it, and spend a few hours shouting at the screen to get it running. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, but in the meantime, you’ve parted with some hundreds of the readies, and signed up for a year-long contract, which you now have to inveigle your way out of. There probably isn’t a way around this, but it’s still annoying. For instance, the on-line mapping of coverage in Sydney tells me I have access from my house. I relayed this slowly and loudly to the Connection Assistant, to little avail. No connection.
All in all, Unwired is a nifty system that portends serious changes to the way we will do business in the future. For home use, it is more cumbersome, and less reliable, than a wireless LAN, but Unwired still offers speed and big-time convenience for road warriors. To say nothing of that increasingly rare commodity, major pose value.