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BigPond

BigPond

Of all the 3G hardware on display this month, the BigPond USB modem is the most impressive. It’s also the biggest, but it’s eminently pocketable, and best of all there are no parts to lose.

We had no problem finding a signal in Sydney, but those on the fringes of BigPond’s coverage may be able to solve problems with the included accessories. A USB extension cable is included, plus an external antenna complete with Velcro pads to mount on your laptop’s LCD.

The BigPond application for managing your connection is easy to use. The software includes at-a-glance details of which operator you’re connected to (useful for international roaming), signal strength, and data sent and received during your current session.

Information such as connection speed and long-term data downloads, included with Vodafone and Optus’ software, isn’t shown, though, so you’ll have to visit your account on BigPond’s website for full information.

Unfortunately, BigPond’s data plans are the most expensive on test. BigPond is the only 3G provider to offer data plans larger than 7GB, but its 10GB plan is no substitute for a home broadband connection at a staggering $130 a month.

Even its modest plans are more expensive than most. Where most providers’ monthly charge for a 5GB cap is around $40, BigPond charges an astonishing $90 for just 3GB.

So what does that extra cash get? Apart from the hardware, BigPond claims it covers more of the population with its network, and our speed tests suggest BigPond is the best bet for those concerned with speed.

At the time of testing, BigPond and Optus were the only networks to have rolled out high-speed HSDPA across their 3G networks, with a theoretical maximum speed of 7.2Mb/s download.

In our speed tests, BigPond was the fastest: averaging over 4Mb/s in our download test. The fastest we saw was a shade over 5Mb/s, near enough to BigPond’s claim of a burst speed of 6Mb/s.

For most users though, there’s little appreciable difference between a 1.5Mb/s connection and a 4Mb/s connection. If you frequently download large files you’ll notice BigPond’s speed increase, but you’ll also hit your data cap – and BigPond’s extortionate 25c per gigabyte excess fee – sooner.

If you live in a metropolitan area with coverage from another ISP, sacrificing a little speed will save you a lot of money.

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