My recent roundup of the many and varied trials of 3G broadband software established pretty clearly that every piece of client software I've tried has major issues, but didn't cover one crucial player in the market: Optus.
Coincidentally, the same day I wrote that piece Optus arranged to send me a 3G modem so I could trial its network coverage in some of the more remote locations I'm visiting during Hand Luggage Only. Optus sells the same Huawei E169 modem as 3, and that's evident also in the client software, which is exactly the same package with Optus visuals glued on. There was one small difference: when I installed the modem and tested it in Sydney, it worked straight away. That may not sound important, but I think it's the first time it's ever happened with an HSDPA modem.
That gave Optus a promising start. When I hit Cairns on Sunday, I decided to see if 3G coverage was available in my hotel via Optus, and it was. Or at least, it was sometimes. Firstly, I started getting random dropouts, accompanied by blibk-and-you'll-miss-it confirmations. Then, when I tried to reconnect my machine after a meeting, I got the same poorly phrased "You can't reconnect before register an available network" message (so Huawei's definitely to blame for that one).
The worst thing, however, was the network variability. This morning, working from my hotel room, Optus happily gave me a 3G connection. In exactly the same position a few hours later, it resolutely refused to believe that anything other than GPRS was available. At that point, I gave up on Optus and switched back to my Vodafone modem. Vodafone's planned 3G extensionto Cairns seems operational, so I'm sticking to that until I hit the next town. (Though it still also suffers from its own peculiar range of bugs.)
Int the end, the Optus problem doesn't make it any easier to choose between mobile broadband providers: it turns out they all have lousy software, so those old basics of coverage, price and usage patterns come into play. And yet again it seems we'll have to pray that Windows 7 might finally offer some relief on the stability front. Of course, that's not much chop for Mac or Linux users, though to judge from reader comments the latter are actually doing better with generic clients than I am with the official commercial software.
Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will be travelling throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project.