How to live without fixed-line Internet

Broadband is something most people take for granted.

I’ve moved house a fair few times, and a very common theme is that the new place has no pre-existing internet connection. Usually this would mean suffering for about a month on a pre-paid 3G plan while waiting for ADSL to get installed. Which is often a world of pain in itself, because Telstra like to disconnect copper pairs from vacant rental properties, meaning a $300 connection fee for the unwitting new tenant.

But this time, it’s different. In a bad way. A very, very bad way. My new place is in a “soon-to-be-NBN-enabled” area. How soon? November-soon. The grey box pictured above is teasing me in much the same way as you would eating a hamburger in front of a weight loss gymnasium. With an SQ-failing copper line, ADSL is out of the question. Wireless will have to be the only way for these painful six months. I know what you’re thinking. Wireless is slow and expensive. Fortunately, it doesn’t HAVE to be that way.

Getting kitted up

So you’re in the same situation as me, huh? First things first, check if your area is covered by Optus 4G LTE. If it isn’t, that’ll put an end to this exercise before it’s begun – sorry about that. All good then? Head to eBay and look for an unlocked Sierra Wireless 320U modem, they’re going for around $80. Make sure it’s unlocked – you can safely ignore that Telstra logo. Unless, of course, you fancy the idea of paying $99 a month for a piddly 5GB of data! You’ll also want to get a TP-Link TL-MR3420 router for about $40 if you want to share your connection. If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and don’t mind losing the warranty – get the ROOter Huntsman firmware onto it before hooking it up. See here for a guide: http://ofmodemsandmen.com/flash.html

The custom firmware not only makes the whole connection process more transparent, it also removes the PPPoE shackles from your connection, allowing it to go faster than 25 Mbit/s (if possible, of course!). If you know your Linux, troubleshooting is easy as pie with the custom firmware.

Picking a plan

The only plan I would consider recommending is iiNet’s brilliant 20GB 4G plan, which uses the Optus open-access network, for $74.95 a month,  which you can see here: http://www.iinet.net.au/internet/broadband/mobile/

There’s no need to sign a contract. And of course, you already have your own hardware. The best hardware. All for less than the cost of iiNet’s cheapest dongle. You’re welcome.

How does it rate, yo?

The fastest I’ve ever managed to get it going was this:

36.3 Mb/s… much faster than ADSL.

But day-to-day, it reaches about 20-25 Mbit/s in my location. With that said, it’s the school holidays in NSW today, so contention might have a say. It is Optus, after all. As with all things wireless, your mileage may vary. Do yourself a favour and stick the modem near a window. Indoor performance of 4G is in many cases truly woeful.

And WATCH THOSE DOWNLOADS! Get iiMum to keep track of things and keep well in mind that data is not measured in real time – expect a 48-hour delay. That means don’t binge on the Game of Thrones torrents, matey. It’s only 5 more months until I get the NBN. At least in the meantime, I’ve got something workable even if it means I have to take a trip back to 1990 and buy movies, music and games from Big W, thanks to lack of quota.

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