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Saturday, 15 March 2008 09:53

Telstra's Next G wireless Internet rocks - except when it doesn't

As a visitor to the Saturday qualifying round of the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix (as a guest of Sensis), I’ve been mixing work with watching the cars spin around the track, trying and failing to get my Next G connection to work properly. Yet, I’m posting this story, with ‘old technology’ coming to the rescue!
Sensis, a division of Australia’s dominant telco, Telstra, have invited me to the Saturday qualifying round of the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix, and I’m here right now as I type this article.

Yes, I should be enjoying the atmosphere and the ultra loud squeal of the engines as the cars whiz by, and I am.

But I’m such an Internet addict that I took the opportunity to ask Sensis about claims their search experiences are below par in a story I published yesterday, with Sensis claiming they’ve made big changes and are asking users to give them another go, although whether users will, or won’t, is yet to be seen.

And as I have my computer and my wireless card with me, why not publish their response now? I’m an online technology journalist after all, I don’t have to wait until I get home, or wait until Monday.

Although I’ve covered those stories already in the links provided above, I noted that my Next G wireless Internet connection, which is part of Telstra’s 3.5G HSPA network on the 850Mhz frequency band, was having real difficulties in giving me a stable Internet connection.

In fact it was so bad that I almost felt like giving up. But anyone that knows me, knows that a technology challenge is one of the things I love most, and I knew there had to be an alternate, simple solution – I just had to find it or remember what it was.

So, what do I think the problem was, and how did I solve it? Please read onto page 2.

As anyone who has tried to make phone calls or send SMS messages at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve knows, the phone network can get overwhelmed by the sheer number of people trying to connect to nearby cell towers at the same time.

While I don’t specifically know what the problem is here at the F1 Grand Prix with my attempt at connecting to the Next G network, there are so many hundreds of people in nearby stands, most of which likely have mobile phones they are making calls and sending text and picture messages on, that the local cell towers are probably being overwhelmed.

Perhaps not for making calls, or sending SMS messages, but, I’m guessing, to allow a stable, reliable Internet connection through the Next G HSPA network.

Of course the problem could be other interference, but I’m going with my gut feeling on what the cause of the Next G connectivity problem as I’ve described – if you think otherwise, please let me know.

Telstra’s Next G network has, for the most part, always worked above expectation when I use it, with my chief complaint about the whole system squarely revolving around the ridiculous prices that Telstra charges for it, especially when compared with the pricing plans of Telstra’s competitors.

But today is one of the rare times I’ve experienced a real technical problem, beyond outrageous pricing.

Not being able to connect to the Internet is not helpful when you’re an online journalist, and loving a challenge, I knew there had to be a way around the problem, without resorting to a different wireless Internet connection, for example, through my 3.5G phone.

So, how did I solve the problem? Please read onto page 3.

I had a look through the options of the Next G connection software I’m using (it’s the Telstra version, not the BigPond version that I have loaded), and I saw that I could change the network the card accesses from the 3.5G network, to the 3G network or the 2G network.

The 3.5G network gives you HSDPA and HSUPA speeds of 500kbps to 5000kbps down and 250 to 1300kbps up, the 3G network network gives you speeds of 500kbps to 1500 kbps down and around 250kbps up, while the 2G network, at EDGE speeds, gives you approximately 100kbps download speeds.

Thinking that the 2G EDGE data network is probably being used by far fewer people than the 3G and 3.5G networks, I told my data card’s software to only look for and connect to Telstra’s 2G EDGE network.

And... everything changed. I can now connect to the Internet, maintain a solid connection, and quickly get some work done. Of course the connection is far slower than any 3G or 3.5G connection, but for the purposes of writing a story and then publishing it into our Joomla-based content management system, EDGE is more than good enough.

Making sure that we keep older networks in place, as long as they don’t cost a fortune to maintain (as Telstra claims is the case with the CDMA network), is a great backup to have.

My choices were simple: either no connection or an extremely flaky connection with Next G, or I could choose to connect to the slower EDGE network and post a story, as I have just done.

So, sometimes the very latest and greatest isn’t always the best solution, even though my normal preference would always be for 3G and 3.5G over 2G.

But, in this case, the slow, old 2.5G EDGE network saved the day. When Next G doesn’t rock, EDGE is still a great alternative, with any reliable connection clearly better than a flaky connection or no connection at all.

Disclosure: Alex Zaharov-Reutt attended the Saturday qualifying round of the F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne as a guest of Sensis.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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