Ever tried to connecting to airport lounge free Wi-Fi and concluded that it's too slow and unreliable to be worth the effort? Qantas' recent switch from Telstra to Optus has bought a massive improvement in performance.
I hadn't realised that Qantas had moved from its long-time free Wi-Fi offer via Telstra until I hit Sydney airport last Friday on my way to Melbourne. So the first surprise was a slightly different network name and a more straightforward login process -- the Telstra option often took a very long time to load the login screen.
The really big surprise, however, was how much faster the whole thing was. The last time I properly tested the free offering in Adelaide, the performance was acceptable, but solidly trounced by Telstra's paid-for 4G option. That also felt very much like a best-case scenario, since I was in a deserted airport at 6am on a Sunday. In busy city lounges on a Friday night, even scaring up a signal for the free service has been challenging in the past/
In any event, the speeds on offer through the Optus service on a Friday afternoon were much faster, even though the login screen warns you that "Optus does not represent or warranty any specific data speed". With an average ping time across three tests of 8ms, a download speed of 24.9Mbps and an upload speed just below that at 23.6Mbps, the figures were very comparable with what Telstra 4G offers.
Commercially, the change in alliance makes sense, since Optus already partners with Qantas to offer frequent flyer points for its customers. Australian Business Travellers reports that the upgrade has already been rolled out in most capital cities, and will hit all regional lounges by the end of April.
Obviously none of this is much use to you if you don't have Qantas lounge access. You can of course try logging onto the access point from public areas, but in most capital cities it isn't practical. Still, for very frequent flyers, a chance not to chew through the mobile data allowance could be a welcome change.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will still be keeping his dongle, but likes having the choice. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.