OPINION | iPrimus has announced a mobile broadband package with enough data to displace ADSL broadband services. But will the service quality be adequate? Probably not.
iPrimus has announced it will offer 1GB ($29.95), 6GB ($49.95) and 12GB ($79.95) mobile broadband plans over the Optus network, using the familiar E220 USB soap-on-a-rope modem from Huawei.
But given the Optus 3G network's recent problems with statewide outages and customers complaining of appalling download speeds, it might be wise to hold off buying iPrimus' service until we know the problems are mitigated.
iPrimus was making a big deal of the fact that it was Australia's first "capped price" mobile broadband service -- where speed is automatically throttled if you hit your paid download limit.
That's actually not true -- Virgin Broadband was the first capped price mobile broadband service that we know of -- a $70 per month deal with 4GB of data and no excess usage fees after that (or 2GB if you signed up later on down the track.)
However, since that service became popular, customers have been up in arms about "broadband" speeds slower than 56K dialup, and frequent call dropouts when using their "unlimited" calls to landlines and Virgin Mobiles.
When APC asked Virgin CEO Peter Bithos recently what the company was doing to fix the congestion problems on the network, he did not deny that there were problems, but said we should talk to Optus (Virgin's 100% owner and provider of the network it runs on). We did that, and after several days delay and deliberation, Optus came back with a statement that it was committed to building more network capacity. (Read our full report on Optus' 3G network problems.)
Although Optus is currently building a nationwide 3G/HSPA network which will provide coverage near to that of Telstra Next G, it will operate on the 900MHz radio frequency, and only the latest slimline USB mobile broadband modems from Optus will operate on that frequency.The older model Huawei E220 from Primus and Virgin Broadband will not.
So, if you buy into an Optus-based mobile broadband service now with a Huawei E220 modem -- such as the iPrimus one -- you'll be stuck on the same congested network unless you agree to shell out for a new modem down the track (presuming Optus doesn't hand out free modems, which seems unlikely, though Telstra did do it when it shut down the CDMA network which was being used to provide BigPond Wireless through EV-DO.)
We applaud iPrimus for what it is trying to do in terms of bringing affordable mobile broadband to the masses, but we suggest it has made a poor choice of business partner when it comes to network quality.