If you need your home internet to be flexible and portable, or if you have trouble getting a standard connection, then Optus Home Wireless Broadband might be exactly what you need. Just be aware of its limitations.
What we love
- Super easy setup
- Get online in minutes, literally.
- 4 x Ethernet ports
- Connections for external antennas
What could be improved
- Limited service footprint
- Not entirely mobile without battery power
- 4G service is speed limited
What is it?
On the box for Optus Home Wireless Broadband, the Optus team has printed a challenge. "Surf the web within minutes of opening this box," and then in smaller print, "Go on, time it."
So we did.
We hit start on the stopwatch even before we touched the box, and it took just over 3-minutes between peeling back the sticky tape on the lid of the box to browsing a website on our laptop. This included plugging everything in, letting the modem connect to the network and punching in the dozen-character default WiFi password.
If you've ever waited for a week or more for an ISP to connect your house to the web, then you'll know exactly why this is so impressive.
Home Wireless Broadband works like a USB modem you'd plug into your computer, except that it comes with a fully featured modem/router — like you would get if you signed up for an ADSL or NBN plan.
More importantly, Home Wireless Broadband is packaged with plans that finally make mobile broadband seem like a viable alternative to fixed-line options, at least for small households with moderate data needs.
What's good about it
Firstly, the way Optus prices the Home Wireless Broadband product is worthy of praise. Being a mobile broadband service, you might expect that the plans would be constructed like phone plans — small data inclusions and high fees for excess usage.
Instead, Optus treat Home Wireless Broadband like a fixed-line internet plan. Data inclusions are generous (the plan includes 200GB at the time of writing). If you reach your monthly limit, Optus charges $10 for an extra 10GB. If you use 50GB over the limit, your connection slows to 256kbs, rather charging you for even more data.
You can choose between no-contract, 12-month and 24-month contracts. The plans are the same, but no contract customers pay $240 for the modem upfront. 24-month customers get the modem included at no extra cost.
The Home Wireless Broadband modem is a Huawei made model (the E5186, for those playing at home), and it comes with a number of the standard features you'd expect from a modem/router that you've probably used for an ADSL connection in the past.
Across the back of the device is a strip of ports: 4 x RJ45 Ethernet jacks, 2 x RJ11 telephone ports, and a USB connection. It's worth noting that the telephone ports are part of the original Huawei design, but can't be used with the Optus service.
Under a flap on above this are two SMA antenna connectors, but you will need to buy the actual antennas separately if you need them.
Having Ethernet ports opens up the possibility for connecting a more powerful router to this one and sharing a stronger WiFi signal throughout your home.
The Home Wireless Broadband web interface includes common advanced options like port forwarding, UPnP interfacing, MAC address filtering, and the like.
What's not so great
The key drawback is that while the service runs on the Optus 4G network, the speed of the service is limited to 12 Mbps in metro areas, which is the same max speed of a basic NBN connection. If you're outside of these (undefined) metro areas, the top download speed is 5Mbps.
Which is to say, that Home Wireless Broadband is not available everywhere. Even in suburbs where you can get an Optus signal on your phone, you may find that Optus will not sell you Home Wireless Broadband. The core of the Home Wireless Broadband services relies on the 2300MHz radio frequency which has a much smaller footprint than the other parts of the Optus mobile network.
This also means that if you buy this service will the intention of taking it away with you to your holiday house (lucky you) then you may find that the service doesn't work when you arrive. Technically you can pack it up and move it, but just be aware of the limitations.
I didn't find that the speed limits preventing me from doing anything that I'd ordinarily do with an internet connection. I successfully ran three YouTube videos simultaneously on different devices, and it worked OK, though there was a little patience required while everything buffered. We imagine that connecting another device or two would see the brakes applied.
Gamers also need to be aware that 4G mobile services, while they can be fast, often have much higher latency than fixed-line connections, which may wreak havoc in fast-moving online games. I managed to jump into a game of Overwatch during testing, but your experience could vary greatly.
Who's it for?
Thinking about the strengths of Home Wireless Broadband; the portability, the flexibility of the plans, the speed of setup, and the absence of physical cabling; there are obvious candidates. Perhaps you're renting and likely to move again soon. Perhaps you tried to get a fixed-line connection but there is an impassable technical reason that you can't.
But you don't need unusual circumstances for this to be a great option. Home Wireless Broadband is for anyone with moderate web usage at home, and moderate expectations in regards to performance. If you've been using an ADSL service for a while, and your monthly downloads match what's available in the Optus plans, then you should find this delivers a similar online experience, minus a lot of the fuss.