Ask LH: What Options Do My Parents Have For Rural Wireless Broadband?

Dear Lifehacker, After 30 years, my parents are moving house. They live in northern NSW and have had access to ADSL2 services, but unfortunately are moving to an address that is five kilometres away from the exchange. No ADSL for them! What are their options for wireless broadband?

Picture by Corey Butler

I've found Wires Broadband but can't find out much about them - they offer 40GB for $49.95 @ 10MB/512k over what looks to be a WiMax/extended Wi-Fi solution. Alternatively, they could use a 3G router but the plans don't give them much data (they need at least 5 to 10 GB per month). Any thoughts? Thanks, Rural Rampage

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Dear RR,

Your parents are now playing Australia's favourite internet game, the broadband lottery. Whenever you're moving house, the odds are good that you won't have the same range of choices that you had before. That should eventually change with the National Broadband Network (NBN), and it's worth checking to see when that will arrive at your parent's new address. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll assume it hasn't arrived yet. (If it has, check out our NBN Planhacker to see what your options are.)

The first thing you need to do is establish exactly what ADSL options are available. While at a five kilometre distance from the exchange it does seem unlikely that any ADSL2+ options will be in place, basic ADSL might still turn out to be the most economic option. If you can find out the old phone number for where your parents are moving, or the number for a neighbour, you can get a good idea what's on offer by plugging the number into the checker at Whirlpool's Broadband Choice service. (Tip: If you're planning to move to a general area but haven't picked a house yet, look up the numbers for local retailers or libraries and enter those to give you a rough indication of what's on offer.)

Assuming you don't or can't go the ADSL route, there are several possible options:


Satellite was long the only choice for remote rural areas, and will be used by the NBN for remote rural areas where fibre isn't a practical solution. The problem with current offerings in non-NBN areas? It's very expensive. Telstra, for example, charges $104.95 for a 500MB plan -- and that's the cheapest option. With those prices, looking for alternatives makes sense.

Specialist Wi-Fi providers

There are quite a few specialist providers offering dedicated WiMax or Wi-Fi transmitters; these often emerge in areas with poor ADSL coverage (and are sometimes labelled as WDSL). Pricing can be competitive (it's usually better than going 3G), but the key issue is whether they cover the area where you live -- something you usually need the company to confirm directly.

Wires Broadband, which you mention, operates in far northern NSW and a small corner of south-east Queensland. It's the only option in the area you're talking about that I'm aware of.

We've linked to all the residential wireless providers we know about below, and indicated their general coverage area (additions welcome if I've missed someone -- tell us in the comments):

Provider Area covered
Adam Adelaide
Apex Telecom Canberra
DCSI West Gippsland
Dreamtilt Gladstone
NuSkope Adelaide
Ocean Broadband Perth/Regional WA
SkyMesh Gympie/Sunshine Coast
Wires Broadband Far North NSW/South-East Queensland

Mobile broadband

Assuming you have reasonable reception, 3G can actually be relatively affordable. Optus will give you 5GB a month for $32.95 on a 12-month contract with a wireless hotspot, 10GB for $42.95, 15GB for $62.95 or 20GB for $82.95. Telstra is more expensive -- 8GB a month costs $49.95 -- but has broader coverage. Vodafone has a much shakier reputation, but is slightly cheaper: 10GB a month is $39 on a no-contract plan.

The key point is that you need reception to make this viable, and the only way to know is to test it on location. A coverage map will indicate if you're definitely not covered, but is less reliable when it comes to judging if signal is available in a particular area. Ideally, you want a phone, mobile broadband dongle or hotspot running on Telstra, and another on Optus to make a comparison possible. (You'll also need Vodafone if that's an option, though in northern NSW my experience suggests it isn't.)

If you can't get hold of test devices from friends or family, a prepaid option can make sense -- at least that way you're not tied to a long-term contract. Either way, buying the item in person and getting a clear commitment that you'll be returning it if it doesn't work makes sense.

Good luck with the search! We'd love to hear from readers who use any of these options in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I would look at buying a WiFi router that has 3G support and a facility for an external 3G antenna. Then get an external antenna and go to Woolworths and buy a Woolworths Mobile SIM and they have 5gb per 45 days for $29.

    Before purchasing though check with a USB modem if it works in the area however chances are if it works with the USB internet key or the telco shows it works in the area the external antenna should guarrentee it.

      +1. Grab a ladder and take your mobile or dongle with you up onto the roof if you can't get a signal on the ground. External antenna can be attached to the TV antenna mast. Works for me.

      yep good move.. though the availability of those wifi routers with support for a external antenna can be a bit patchy, but worth it (Boost currently have one), I've got one hooked to a Yagi.. picking up a tower 20km away-- There are lots of different optus resellers which is good, though I looked up that Woolworth's one, and couldn't find any reference to the data rate you were talking about

    Look into buying or making something called a yagi antenna. (the whirlpool site mentioned in the article has a heap of information). If there is an optus or telstra tower anywhere nearby this can actually provide a really solid and fast internet connection.

    Otherwise that wires broadband company actually looks reasonable, could be the best option if no adsl is available (definitely worth checking though)

    If you are going to get pushed onto satellite, contact the NBN, they have a satellite interim program with speeds up to 6mbps + Free installation. And the plans are a lot cheaper than Telstra's.

    [email protected] 5kms away? Try being 25kms away then ask this question. #trollface.jpg?
    Better yet, how about discussing the NBN and how it will improve services in "Real" rural areas.

    3g with pennytel $25 for 14 GB no contract. Could try the 1GB for $8.88 first

      Pennytel ?
      I had never heard of them so I had a look at whirlpool forums. BAD choice to foist on your parents !
      Don't do it.

    Dear Writer,
    That is all.

    I Live over 5km (5101m) from our exchange and still sync adsl2+ at 14mbit.

    Never used it personally, but Internode's 3G data offering might be a good idea because fairly uniquely (as far as I know) it cuts off at the limit rather than charging excess, with datablocks as an option. The pricing is close to the Optus network that it resells, but it offers a bit of extra safety from bill shock, which is something to be concerned about with these low data packages.

    Move to England, get 152mbps unlimited data fibre connection. Problem solved.

    Wires broadband was discussed in a post and I tried to engage them.
    Disaster! 20mb plan is "up to 20" and seems 1.2 is acceptable. Unauthorised credit card transactions trying to cancel service. Buyer beware

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