It is almost as though any technology worth its salt will be wireless, in this world where we’re always on the move, and too busy to be tied down by anything as menial as wires. Therefore, it is no surprise that wireless broadband plans are becoming more prevalent and more popular, and as a result, more competitively priced too. However, with so much choice and opportunity out there, it can be difficult to know whether you are getting the best deal, which is why you can use this guide to help you compare the wireless broadband plans available.
Top Wireless Broadband Plans
What Broadband are you looking for?
What is wireless broadband?
The word wireless is used interchangeably a lot when it comes to broadband connections, so it can be tricky to know what you’re actually looking at when it comes to wireless broadband. Wireless broadband refers to the internet which is delivered to your computer or other mobile device via the airwaves, rather than through a cable.
This is different to the Wi-Fi and W-LAN networks which you often find in homes, offices, coffee shops and McDonald’s. This type of wireless internet is generally delivered to the property using traditional broadband services such as cable or ADSL, and it is simply accessed by those in the vicinity through the use of a wireless router. Whereas wireless broadband does not use any sort of cables or telephone lines, and instead is delivered by satellite or mobile phone towers.
Those of you who have used the wireless connection in your local café or library will also remember that the connection isn’t always as fast as you can achieve with a traditional fixed broadband connection through ADSL or cable direct to your computer, as the absence of that direct connection can slow you down. While this can also be an issue when connecting to wireless broadband in your home, there are ways to overcome the speed problem, which are covered below. As a result, wireless broadband can deliver a reasonably fast connection, to your home, as it has a minimum speed capacity of 1-1.5 mbps, so you will be able to download data at at least this speed, if not faster in many areas.
How does wireless broadband work?
It can often be mind boggling to comprehend how something as fast and complex as broadband uploads and downloads can be transmitted over the air, when you have nothing tangible connecting you to your provider. However, what you may not realise is that broadband operates in much the same way as your mobile phone, and if you have phone reception in your area, then you’ll likely be able to connect to wireless broadband too.
As a result, wireless broadband is widely available in Australia, in fact one of the biggest ISPs Telstra, estimates that their BigPond services can deliver wireless broadband to 98% of the population. Plus, there are also satellite ISPs who can provide you with broadband practically anywhere.
Of course, wireless broadband doesn’t just land in your home and squirrel its way into your computer. Because the wireless signal is transmitted in a similar way to mobile phone signals, you will need some sort of antenna or aerial to pick up the electromagnetic signal. Many laptops and mobile devices have a compatible antenna already built in, or you can use a wireless broadband router. Regardless, wireless broadband allows you to connect to the internet without the need for cables running to your house, or through your house.
How is wireless broadband different to mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband and wireless broadband may appear to offer the same kinds of access, however, they are two different technologies. The connection you get when you use your mobile phone to browse the internet or send an email is mobile broadband, which runs on the GSM, or 3G technology – and more recently for some networks, 4G.
Both wireless and mobile broadband require a SIM card with a linked mobile number to identify you, and of course so the provider knows where to send your bill. However, the GSM technology used by mobile broadband isn’t designed to transmit data, and so the speeds of mobile broadband are around the same as those you would find on a dial up connection. Therefore, GSM technology isn’t ideal for browsing, but can be used as a back up if your 3G connection drops out, or you’re outside of the coverage area.
Therefore, the majority of data is delivered using the 3G and 4G networks which can deliver data at speeds between 3.6 mbps and 42 mbps. A realistic speed to expect from a wireless broadband modem is anywhere from 3.6 mbps to 7.2 mbps, or if you’re with Telstra for example, the theoretical speeds of their Next G network are 21 mbps with a compatible modem.
Mobile broadband uses the 850 – 2100 MHz range of the radio spectrum to deliver your internet services, while all other fixed broadband services operate outside of that spectrum to avoid interference with established technologies. So while both mobile and wireless broadband allow you to access the internet wirelessly and on mobile devices, the speeds of mobile broadband are not conducive to regular and heavy browsing, and the costs of mobile broadband can be inhibitive too when compared to wireless.
Types of Wireless Broadband Connections
There are a number of ways you can connect to wireless broadband, for example through a Wi-Fi hot spot, using an ADSL connection, or via mobile broadband. However, there are two types of wireless broadband infrastructure you need to understand first:
- Ad-hoc mode. An ad-hoc wireless broadband connection is a peer to peer connection, which allows wireless devices to communicate directly with each other, without needing a bridge of any type of cable. An example of an ad-hoc wireless broadband connection is when two computers have been networked, and both can use the internet connection which is established by just one machine.
- Infrastructure mode. Infrastructure mode is a more standard type of wireless connection as it transmits its signal through a bridge connection. The wireless devices communicate with a wired Ethernet network to access and deliver the broadband signal.
Therefore, here we will be looking at both types of wireless broadband connection:
- Wi-Fi hotspot. Wi-Fi is not the type of wireless broadband you are looking at here as you compare ISPs and plans. Instead, it is a type of ad-hoc connection because it uses a publicly set up wireless network offered by a venue such as a café. You can then use your computer or mobile device to connect wirelessly to the venue’s Wi-Fi connection, which is usually free, and you may have to buy a coffee or a meal to be given the password. A Wi-Fi hotspot will generally have a limited range, which helps the venue control who is accessing their network, as it is unlikely to be accessible outside of their premises. Therefore, accessing wireless broadband using a hotspot is something you would do if the opportunity arose and you wanted to save the data on your own mobile plan, rather than it being a mobile and reliable option for getting online. However, if you do find a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can usually enjoy faster speeds than standard wireless broadband, as the hotspot is communicating directly with an ADSL, ADSL2+ or cable broadband connection. Just remember the number of people using the hotspot at the same time will affect the speeds.
- WiMAX and LTE. As wireless broadband evolves, the next logical step is seen as WiMAX, but WiMAX has recently met some competition with the expected implementation of LTE, or Long Term Evolution technology. LTE is an evolution of the existing 3G network as it is able to provide faster bandwidth speeds, up to and exceeding 100 mbps. LTE has a strong focus on transporting data and increasing the support for the existing internet technologies, while WiMAX uses local aerials as wireless access points to increase its coverage area. The WiMAX aerials can each cover a three to 10 kilometre radius, so it wouldn’t take very many of these new towers to connect entire cities to the network. However, WiMAX wouldn’t be able to reach the high speeds which LTE promises. The reality is though, that there are no known trials planned for the implementation of LTE in Australia, while Energy Australia have already successfully tested the WiMAX network, and South Australian ISP Adam Internet is planning to roll out WiMAX across Adelaide.
- ADSL Wi-Fi. Wireless ADSL is the connection you have when you are connected to a standard ADSL or ADSL2+ broadband connection through the telephone lines in your home, and you use a wireless modem to get online with your computers and other mobile devices. A wireless modem turns your home into a hotspot, transmitting a Wi-Fi signal which everyone in the family can pick up from anywhere in the home, or even the backyard. While the wireless modem is plugged into the wall connection, the built in antenna transmits the broadband signal to the devices in your home which also have Wi-Fi capabilities. Just make sure that your Wi-Fi is password protected so that you’re not providing a Wi-Fi hotspot for your neighbours as well.
- Mobile broadband. Mobile broadband uses what is known as a dongle to connect your computer or mobile device to the internet. The dongle transmits the mobile broadband signal via mobile phone towers, and the SIM inside the dongle identifies the user. Mobile broadband means you can use the internet wherever you are – as long as you have reception – and you don’t have to hunt around for a Wi-Fi hotspot at a library or restaurant.
Benefits of Wireless Broadband
The wealth of information which is afforded to us on the internet allows us to be informed and in control of every aspect of our lives, and this freedom and control has become very important to us. As a result, we now want that access all of the time, wherever we are, which is one of the benefits which wireless broadband can offer. With a wireless broadband plan, you can also benefit from:
- Online anywhere. The most obvious benefit of wireless internet is that you can take it anywhere with you. Whether you are on the bus, in the backyard or in the beer garden of the pub, you can be online with your laptop or other mobile device.
- Ease of use. With the ability to be online at anytime, anywhere, wireless internet is also easy and convenient to use. With wireless you don’t have to find the right cables or compatible connections, you can just log in and go.
- Simplified and slim lined. Our homes are becoming invaded by more and more technology every day, but the trick is to make a modern home look as though that technology is integrated into the design and living spaces. And that is another benefit of wireless broadband, because you don’t need to have wires and cables running throughout your home to connect your laptop, your partner’s laptop, your child’s computer and the family tablet to the internet. Instead, you simply log in with each internet capable device whenever you want to be online.
Are there Drawbacks to Wireless Broadband?
As with any type of technology there are may positives to using wireless broadband, but there are also a few drawbacks you need to be aware of:
- Slower speeds. Wireless broadband internet will have slower upload and download speeds than a wired broadband connection, with download speeds around 1.5 mbps. While this is of course much faster than a dial up connection for example, it is not as competitive with cable and ADSL2+ broadband services, and even standard ADSL can reach up to 8 mbps.
- Signal drop out. We all know that mobile phone calls can drop out, and any sort of technology which relies on travelling through the air, rather than through designated cables is vulnerable to signal drop outs. Therefore, you need to be aware that wireless broadband may not be as reliable as a standard wired broadband service.
- Wireless security. Using wireless technology can also make you vulnerable to cyber attacks from scammers or hackers accessing your account fraudulently. Therefore, you need to be careful when sending sensitive information over wireless broadband, unless you can encrypt the files. Also make sure your wireless connection is password protected with a strong password, and that your antivirus and firewall protections are up to date.
- Cost of data. When you compare wireless broadband plans with standard home broadband plans, you can be looking at a higher cost per GB of data.
- Competition for signal. When you look at how the wireless broadband system works, you will see that there is only a certain amount of radio spectrum, which must be shared with everyone using the connection. Therefore, if there is a high number of wireless internet users in your area, there will be less bandwidth available for each person to use. You will especially notice this is peak times such as evenings and weekends. While providers can increase the number of receiving stations or buy more radio spectrum, long range wireless services will still struggle to service hundreds of thousands of users wanting high speed internet.
- Latency in real time applications. Latency is also known as ping time, and it is the measurement of responsiveness used when looking at how long it takes for a message to reach its destination over the internet. Latency is different to bandwidth, as bandwidth instead measures how much traffic a connection can handle. When using the internet for regular browsing such as emails, viewing websites and downloading and uploading documents and images, you wouldn’t have much need to worry about your latency rates. However, for real time applications such as online gaming, video calling or VoIP, transmission delays severely affect the quality of the experience. Current wireless broadband services don’t perform well in latency tests, for example latency in excess of 250 milliseconds will begin to cause issues with online calls, and using wireless broadband for Australian sites will experience latency of around 70 ms to 200 ms, and 250 ms and more for US and international sites. At the same time on ADSL Australian sites will experience latencies of around 20 ms to 50 ms, and around 200 ms on international sites.
How to Keep your Wireless Broadband Secure
Since security is a real risk factor when using wireless broadband, you will want to know how to overcome this issue, and protect yourself and your online experience. Luckily there are a number of simple steps you can take to keep your connection secure:
- Protect yourself legally. You may not think that you have any information worth stealing, or that someone hacking your connection is so unlikely that you don’t need to bother with these security measures. Well regardless of how unlikely it is to happen, it is important to know that you could be held liable if someone uses your internet connection and illegal activity can be traced back to your account.
- Restrict access to your own devices. You can set up your Wi-Fi network to allow only specific computers or mobile devices to access the network. This stops unauthorised use and only lets you and those people you give permission to, use the connection. Each wireless broadband enabled device has its own unique 12 digit identification number called a Media Access Control (MAC) address. To give only certain devices permission to use your wireless broadband you need to give them permission by adding their MAC address to the wireless network through software settings.
- Set your own username and password. Your wireless broadband will come with a default username and password, but when you set up the connection in your home you should have both the username and password to something unique. This means something which doesn’t include your name, address or telephone number, but does include a combination of upper and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols, to make the password harder to crack.
- Turn on firewall. If you are using a wireless router it is particularly important to make sure the firewall on the router is turned on. Also make sure you have firewall protection on each computer and device using the wireless broadband to monitor uploads and downloads and block any attempts of hacking.
- Stop broadcasting. Your wireless broadband will broadcast its location by default, as this is how mobile devices know they can connect to a network – you may have seen notification on your own phone to join mobile networks as you walk through the mall or past a Wi-Fi hot spot enabled café. It is possible to turn off your SSID broadcast from your wireless broadband. This will make your connection much harder to discover, and if people don’t know it’s there, they can’t hack into it.
- Turn on encryption. The encryption scrambles the information you are accessing and sending online using a particular formula so that it is difficult to unscramble and understand. Make sure your wireless broadband is set on the strongest encryption possible to give maximum protection. WEP is the most basic protection, but you should set your encryption to either WPA or WPA2 if available.
- Don’t leave your computer or internet on when not in use. When you are not using your computer, turn it off, and disconnect it from the internet. You can’t be hacked if your computer is turned off, and offline.
- Reduce the power of your signal. Some wireless broadband networks will allow you to reduce the power of the signal being transmitted, and reduce the distance covered by your wireless signal. This limits the number of people within the signal area, and reduces the chances of someone finding and hacking into your network. Just make sure you don’t adjust to signal so far that you affect the signal in your own home.
- Don’t allow remote access. Remote access allows someone offsite to access your wireless network. For example an offsite administrator who looks after your computers may have remote access to your wireless broadband, but it is a good idea to cease this access if you have security concerns.
How to Achieve the Highest Speeds and the Best Connection on Wireless BroadbandAnother common complaint about wireless broadband is that it is too slow, or that the connection is unreliable. Luckily, there are also steps you can take to improve your wireless broadband speed and reliability:
- Your directional antenna. The directional antenna on your wireless broadband receiver needs to be positioned correctly to optimise the signal coming in. For example, your directional antenna will have a spread of around 30 degrees at the most, so it is important that it is aimed precisely at the signal coming at you. However, remember that the directional antenna can increase the signal you experience on your computer, but it can only work with the signal that is coming towards you.
- Check or replace your filter. The filter or micro filter is designed to split the voice and data signals to remove any interference. However, if you are experiencing a slowdown in your broadband speed, it can be worth checking the condition of your filter as they can be easily damaged, and replacing the filter can improve your broadband speeds. Also remember that all devices connected to the phone line should also be connected through a micro filter. This includes phones, answering machines, fax machines, set top TV boxes, games consoles and alarm systems.
- Connect the modem to the main socket. Many homes will have more than one phone socket installed, but if you want to enhance the speed and performance of your broadband connection, make sure your wireless modem or router is plugged into the main socket, as secondary sockets have a reputation of being unreliable. You can even find that phone line extensions interfere with wireless broadband so if your connection is suffering because of interference, it could be worth removing that extra line.
- Other electrical equipment defects. The signal of your wireless broadband can also be affected by faulty electronic equipment in your home such as a set top box, microwave or games console. To narrow down whether another device in your home is affecting your wireless broadband signal, you will have to use a process of trial and error as a faulty power supply in a device may not necessarily be enough to stop it working all together for you to notice the problem otherwise. Therefore, you will need to start by turning off all electronic devices except for your computer and your modem, and turning them on one by one and monitoring the connectivity. You may even experience interference with your wireless broadband signal from faulty Christmas tree lights, flour lights, or even metallic objects or interior decorations.
- Use the shortest cable possible. It is important for speed and reliability to connect your router to the phone line with the shortest cable possible, and not to have any line extensions between the router and the socket.
- Stay close to the router. Wireless broadband will work at its optimum speeds if you are close to your router and in a direct line of sight. Being in another room or upstairs away from your router can slow down your wireless internet experience.
- Check your operating system. Each computer and operating system will be different, but there are a number of software adjustments you can make to any operating system to improve your broadband speeds. It is possible to make these changes quickly and easily yourself, without the need to visit an IT professional. Part of adjusting your operating system will be checking that you are running the most recent version of the software. Also make sure you are using the latest version of your browser and router firmware. Keeping your router firmware updated is particularly important, as this will help ensure that your router will be compatible with any new technologies your ISP implements.
- Use an independent DNS. A DNS is a Domain Name System, which associates an IP address with a domain name. When you use a dedicated independent DNS you will be using a high intelligent network on the cutting edge of technology. Setting up a dedicated DNS is free and easy to do, and will also allow you to block certain sites and monitor your usage, all while enhancing your online experience.
- Update the TCP/IP settings. The default settings for your TCP/IP are likely not optimised for large amounts of data. However, you can easily update your TCP/IP settings by downloading the TCP/IP Optimiser program for Windows, or the Broadband Optimiser program for Mac. This will adjust your settings and improve your broadband speed.
- Password protect your wireless broadband. As with most types of broadband connection, the more people using the network, the slower the connection will be for everyone. Therefore, make sure you protect your network from other users who will hack in and use up your data and hog your bandwidth.
- Switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox. Internet Explorer has a well known reputation for being an unreliable browser. Luckily there is a free and open source alternative in Firefox. Firefox is updated regularly to improve the experience for users, and provides protection from phishing. The standard Firefox browser will deliver faster broadband speeds for you as standard, however, if you want to enhance your online experience even further, you can install FasterFox. The FasterFox plugin gives you additional broadband speed optimisation opportunities, and the browser is also better at blocking popups. FasterFox also has improve network tweaks, and is able to pre-fetch pages which are linked to the page you are currently on, so they can load faster.
- Close all other applications. Both the Windows and Mac operating systems allow applications to run in the background of your computer while you go about other tasks – such as going online. These applications are often security suites, and can affect the speed of your broadband, as they transfer data from your computer to a remote server. If you are using Window, you can improve your wireless broadband speed by disabling applications you don’t need from running in the background or the Taskbar, by using the Process Explorer. If you are using a Mac you can close down unwanted programs by going to System Preferences-Accounts-Login Items, or by going to the Terminal.
- Contact your ISP. If you have tried all of these tips and you are still frustrated at the slow speeds of your wireless broadband, you should take the time to call your ISP and discuss the problem. There may be an issue on their end, or they may be able to suggest alternative software or hardware they know to be compatible and optimises their customers’ connections.
- Look for a new ISP. It is also important to remember that you don’t have to put up with poor broadband speeds if you have followed all of the tips above. No two ISPs are the same, and where they all deliver different services and plans, the speeds and reliability of their broadband connections differ too. Therefore, it can be worthwhile shopping around for a new ISP who can better meet your needs, or service your area.
Who is Suited to Wireless Broadband?
Wireless broadband is a service designed with specific needs in mind, because while there can be certain drawbacks to wireless, the benefits outweigh those drawbacks for those who are perfectly suited to the technology. Therefore, to help you decide whether you are suited to a wireless broadband plan, consider whether it is important to you to be able to access the internet when you are away from the home or office. For example, if you conduct a lot of your business online, or via email, then you’re going to need to be connected wherever you are, so that you can always follow up an enquiry, make a sale and trouble shoot any customer concerns. Plus, if you are the sort of person who stays connected to their social life online, then you will want to be able to check updates, upload photos and interact with friends and family in real time.
You don’t have to only be looking for convenience and instant access when you’re out and about, because wireless broadband is also suited to those people who want to keep the technology in their home under control, and mobile. Wireless broadband means you don’t need cables running throughout your home, you don’t need to worry about sitting at your desk to use your computer, instead you can return emails in bed, or play games with your friends over social media while sitting in the backyard.
Also, if you live in a rural area, and can’t connect to a landline phone or cable TV service then you can still be connected using wireless broadband. In this case your wireless broadband is transmitted via satellite, and you can access internet speeds which will rival standard fixed connections.
How to Connect to Wireless Broadband
To know whether you can connect to wireless broadband you need to know whether you are within range of a wireless receiver. Wireless broadband works similarly to mobile phone reception, where you need to be in range of a mobile phone tower to make or receive calls, and if you are just within range you can experience slower internet speeds.
The coverage of wireless broadband in your area will depend on the ISP you choose, and so too will the speed and reliability. You may even be asked about the type of device you will be using most often to access your broadband, because you can often access different coverage if you are using a modem, compared to a notebook expansion card.
To get connected to wireless broadband you should also check the ISP’s coverage map for all the areas you are likely to use your connection, not just whether you can get coverage in your home. For example if you travel frequently, or you visit friends and family on the other side of the city, you may not be able to remain connected across all of your favourite haunts.
How to Compare Wireless Broadband Plans
When you have decided that wireless broadband is the right option for you, and you know how to optimise your connection and your online experience, you’ll need to compare the range of wireless broadband providers and plans, using the following tips:
- Compare Speeds. You are already resigned to the fact that wireless broadband isn’t going to rival the speeds of standard ADSL or cable broadband connections, but you still need to shop around for the fastest wireless connection. A wireless broadband connection on the 3G network should be able to reach top speeds of around 1.4 mbps.
- Look for cheap wireless. Wireless broadband is very competitive on price, so don’t make your comparisons based on similar data packages for standard ADSL connections for example. When it comes to wireless broadband, some providers are even offering monthly plans for as little as $4.99.
- Data limits. As with any broadband plan comparison, it is important to look at the download limits you are allowed. A wireless broadband plan with more data included will come at a higher monthly price so you need to weigh your internet usage with your budget. For example, if you are a light user and simply send a few emails a day and check the weather online, then you would be suited to a wireless broadband plan with a low limit. However, if you watch YouTube videos and download music online, you’ll need a plan with a higher data allowance.
- Contract Term. While wireless broadband is flexible and freeing to use, you can still sign up to your service on a contract. When you sign up for a wireless broadband contract you can usually secure a lower monthly cost, because the ISP has you locked in for a longer term. Just make sure your broadband needs will remain the same throughout the contract period, otherwise you can be looking at expensive cancellation fees to change to a different broadband plan.
- Availability. Wireless broadband has a wide availability, but it is still important to check whether you can connect to a strong signal in your area.
- Wireless broadband plan additions. It never hurts to ask about free extras when signing up for a wireless broadband plan, as many ISPs will include a free wireless USB modem with your plan, and you may even be able to score a free netbook as part of your plan.
- Bundling services. Another great way to save money and enjoy free extras is to bundle your services. For example, if you can bundle your mobile phone and your wireless broadband with the same provider you can often qualify for a discount on the total price.
- Compare the wireless broadband provider. As well as comparing the inclusions and terms of your wireless broadband plan, it is also important to look at the reputation and background of the ISP too. You will be relying on your wireless broadband provider to connect you to high speed, reliable internet wherever you are, and you need to know that they have the reputation and the ability to provide the quality service you are after.
Wireless broadband is an important revolution in the internet world, as it allows you to connect to relatively high speed internet wherever you are, on your computer or any mobile device. It is also affordable, easy to use and easy to connect to. However, while wireless broadband is technically broadband internet, its speeds are not comparable to other forms of broadband such as cable or ADSL. The top speeds which wireless broadband can reach are around 3 to 6 mbps.
When you compare wireless speeds to satellite broadband which has a top speed of around 3 mbps and often experiences delays when downloading, wireless broadband is the ideal solution if you are unable or unwilling to connect to a fixed line service. However, cable and ADSL broadband can reach top speeds of between 24 and 30 mbps which is a noticeable difference when you are browsing, downloading and especially when you are playing online games.
Therefore, if you are looking for a broadband connection to get you out of the dial up days and into the increasingly connected world, the wireless broadband can be the ideal flexible, neat and easy choice. However, just be aware that wireless broadband isn’t suited to downloading large files, songs or videos, its role is to keep you connected wherever you are, whenever you need it.