Lifehacker Tests Telstra's Prepaid 3G Wi-Fi/Dongle Mobile Broadband Combo

Can't decide between a Wi-Fi hotspot and a USB dongle? Telstra's new prepaid 3G dongle offers both: you can plug it directly into your laptop, or use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five other devices. Here's how it stacks up.

At $59, the device is a cheaper alternative than most of Telstra's existing mobile broadband range. There is one major restriction: you can't access the newer 4G LTE network, so speeds will be on the lower side. (With that said, I've been finding 4G access increasingly variable as more people use the network, and if you live in a non-4G area this is a non-issue.)

You plug the device into your computer and then connect as if it's a Wi-Fi hotspot. There's an auto-launching software package, but this is browser-based; there's none of the bloatware associated with previous Telstra USB dongles. Additional devices simply connect via Wi-Fi. If you don't have a laptop to hand (or can't spare a USB port), a power plug is also supplied so you can charge directly from the wall.

Unlike the more elaborate Wi-Fi hotspots Telstra offers for 4G prepaid and contract customers, there's no on-screen display of the network name and password. The usual Telstra card listing the password is supplied in the box, and it's also written on the device itself, though you have to awkwardly pry off the main plastic cover to access it. That makes it less convenient, but does mean it's not going to wear off over time, which is a problem I've experienced with other mobile broadband devices. There's the usual nuisance of a cap for the USB end (which only fits on one way, despite looking symmetrical).

In operation, the device gets quite spectacularly hot; even after 10 minutes of use, it was running very warm. This is much less of an issue when it's plugged into your machine then when you have it in a pocket, admittedly.

If you're an occasional mobile broadband user and don't want to pay the $169 which the 4G prepaid hotspot commands, this is a reasonable alternative. Dongle-only options are still cheaper, but the sharing option is handy, especially if you're on the road with multiple devices.


    The question is does it work as a wifi hotspot when it's NOT plugged into anything?

      No -- doesn't have independent power. If that was a big requirement (or you only want to connect phones and tablets), standalone hotspot would work better.

        That's a shame. I use a PocketWifi for both my laptop and tablet - but it would be better if it had longer battery life. I was hoping this generation of dongle had lightened the load some watt (boom-tish), but it appears it is useless for a tablet unless it is plugged in somewhere.

          Yeah that's disappointing. Was hoping I could use this for my N7 instead of tethering my phone all the time. Oh well.

    How much data does it come with?

      2GB to use within 30 days. Then standard Telstra prepaid rates.

        Thats a lot.. Not. In this day and age you need way more than 2gb. Available here!

    Just to be clear .... the unit doesn't have to be plugged in to a PC/Laptop to operate...

    "When you're near a power point, plug in the included AC adapter to create a hotspot, and connect up to 5 Wi-Fi enabled devices to the internet wirelessly. " (click the details link)

      I did suspect that you could do this with any USB wall charger but it is still restrictive if you are travelling with a tablet (think train, bus etc.)

    Does it have a connection for external antenna? This might be the perfect device for me to create a hotspot in the car as we travel Oz, I assume it will run from a cigarette lighter USB adapter instead of the included AC adapter?

      According to the detail at the unit does have an external antenna interface


    Hi Angus, sounds interesting. I am looking for a device to send emails with attachments on the go. The emails are in the region of 10Mb. Does that like a task the dongle would be up too? Also, am I right to presume that as long as there is a mobile signal it will perform in rural parts of the country? Many thanks Elke

    Hi Angus, I have one of these Telstra 3G prepaid dongles, and have a question about it that has been bothering me. I have been unable to find an icon on my toolbar to use to disconnect it when I've finished using it. Since I am wary of just pulling it out while my laptop is still functional, I have been shutting my laptop down to remove the dongle, then firing up the laptop again to continue with my work. This is annoying and time consuming. Can you recommend the corret way to disconnect this device, please?

    I have a Samsung galaxy note 10.1 with 3 g and no hard wired adsl or broadband or satellite connection. Can I use my Telstra dongle as a wifi to join my tablet to the tv via a router or without a router.

    I purchased this 2 years ago for my parents to skype me while travelling and it worked pretty well.

    Now I would like to know if it can be plugged into my modem/router (standard Telstra Netgear Cable Home Network Gateway) to provide internet access?

    I have temporarily moved out of my primary residence for an interim period. I've managed to set up my network and access my NAS, WD TV player etc but would also like these to have Internet access.

    I have plugged the key into the USB port on the router and can easily find and log into the USB key's wifi, but I need confirmation that this will also provide Internet before I waste money recharging this prepaid dongle.

    Thanks in advance!!

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