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
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):
|Ocean Broadband||Perth/Regional WA|
|Wires Broadband||Far North NSW/South-East Queensland|
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.
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