FIELD TEST: Telstra's Turbo 7 Series Wireless Gateway.

Ian Yates heads to rural Victoria to test Telstra's Turbo 7 Series Wireless Gateway, a device that takes wireless broadband and redistributes it over Wi-Fi. His verdict? This device could be essential for roaming IT types!

When you’re setting up another branch office from scratch there are a few things you know you’ll need so you order them well in advance. Electricity is a given, along with phones and of course, broadband. When we arrived in Maryborough, the first two items were in place but the broadband was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately the electricity was doing a fine job running the air-conditioner on maximum heat – we were in the middle of Victoria, not that other place called Maryborough in sunny Queensland.

And since the phones were connected we could ring up and politely ask when we could expect the broadband to arrive. Yeah, alright, perhaps “firmly demand” rather than “politely ask” is a more accurate record. Okay, “shout and scream”. No matter, we soon learned that no broadband was arriving until Monday, and it was Friday morning and we had an entire network to configure with VPN links back to the head office in Sydney. Of course, we’d been there done that before so this time, we came prepared.

Both of our notebooks had BigPond wireless broadband USB modems. These Sierra modems look like USB memory sticks that spent too much time pigging out on fast food, but they still squeeze into a slot with room for other things in the next socket, and they work their magic by connecting to Telstra’s Next G network. That’s right, they use the mobile phone network in data mode to connect at a honking 7.2Mbps. Well, in theory they can connect that fast, but you probably need to be very close to a mobile phone tower for that to happen. But we’d previously managed to get close to 3Mbps – not to be sneezed at.

These little gadgets had saved our butts when we commissioned another branch office up at Evans Head on the NSW north coast. Although in that location we’d got the ADSL broadband delivered on time, the configuration wasn’t what we’d asked for, and being able to access the Internet independently and run some inbound tests from an external source made it easier to prove our case and get the problem sorted by the ISP. Of course, these Next G USB sticks are also fantastic for checking email at the airport or looking up the nearest accommodation while on the road, as well as the more mundane tasks like connecting back to head office to do some real work.

However, this time the Next G USB modems couldn’t save us. We had no signal. Our Next G mobile phones had no signal. We were halfway between Bendigo and Ballarat in a town of some 7,000 people. Surely they get a signal here? Alright then, whose bright idea was it to construct an office inside a warehouse, out of cool room panels? Previously we’d only seen Faraday cages on the Discovery Channel. Now we were actually sitting inside one. Fortunately we had a backup broadband plan for our backup broadband plan, in the shape of a Telstra Turbo 7 Series Wireless Gateway.

NetComm makes this little wonder for Telstra and it also gets its broadband via Next G after you plug a SIM card into a slot on the back where you’d normally expect to see an ADSL socket. It then connects you to the Internet via its Ethernet ports and/or Wi-Fi. When we’d first tested this gadget in the rainforest retreat we’d found this box maxed out at 650Kbps. Okay, so it was better than dial-up. At least ten times better than dial-up, in fact. And twice as good as what was on offer when ADSL first appeared. But times have changed and there aren’t too many punters who’d be happy calling 650Kbps “broadband speed” these days.

However, Telstra just recently upped the available speeds over Next G and before we headed off to Maryborough the same setup was consistently hitting 1600Kbps and occasionally 2Mbps. And that’s broadband by anybody’s reckoning. So we unpacked the Turbo 7 and of course we found we had barely any signal inside the office, but parking the modem on a chair outside the warehouse using an extension cord we had a good signal. A 10-metre Ethernet cable into the office patch panel and we were on the air and could get on with the network setup.

The downside to this interesting broadband access method was the inclement weather. Despite the locals claiming to be in the middle of a ten-year drought, it rained the entire four days we were there, which had us sprinting to rescue the modem before it went from sunning itself on the chair to drowning and blowing the circuit breaker. We eventually lashed up an umbrella to the chair but we were unable to find anything in the user manual to cover this sort of setup. Maybe they need an addendum for “hostile” environments. After all, if you’ve got no ADSL it’s likely you’re not too close to civilisation, although in our case, the ADSL was just delayed rather than unavailable.

What we really wanted to do was get the dynamic DNS working along with the VPN tunnels to the head office and that required a clear uninterrupted view of the Internet from our Netgear ProSafe DGFV338 router. This would save us time if all we had to do when the ADSL arrived was plug it into the socket, and you can theoretically do this with the DGFV338 because it has both Ethernet and ADSL2+ ports for broadband connection. We told the Telstra Turbo 7 Series Wireless Gateway to treat the port plugged into the Netgear router as the “DMZ”. And it worked – without any further networking skulduggery. We were already impressed by the Next G broadband service and now we started fighting over who gets to keep the Turbo 7 gadget.

When Monday arrived so did the Telstra tech and the ADSL was up and running shortly afterwards. And we could tear down our umbrella-chair-Next G broadband connection. If you’re a systems integrator going out on-site, pack your bag with one of these gateways and you’ll soon get your client’s office on the air. That will stop them whining while you figure out what’s wrong with their normal broadband, and you’ll also have access to the Internet yourself – essential these days for troubleshooting. It goes without saying that your laptop bag already has a Next G USB modem lurking inside.

Postscript

When my daughter moved her family across town from Kellys Plains to Invergowrie she didn’t really consider Internet access. Why would she, since both locations are within 10km of Armidale, a major centre in the New England region of NSW. However, she was advised that although there is ADSL out there, she wouldn’t be getting any, and the kids were already whining about not being able to do their homework. Telstra suggested one of these new-fangled Next G gateways. Well of course before she signed on the dotted line she asked her old man for some advice.

What better way to find out if it would work than to actually take the thing up there and plug it in? The fact that she could only get a Next G mobile phone signal outside the house, and then only when using a “blue-tick” phone was the main reason she didn’t just go ahead without checking first. Sure enough, at first the little modem couldn’t get a signal there either, but after locating it on the highest cupboard in the kitchen the “low” signal light came on and she had 114Kbps download link. Not exactly broadband but still twice as fast as dialup and the man in the Telstra shop says they have some optional antenna you can get for the roof, so things can only get better.

If Telstra can come up with some more affordable pricing plans these Turbo 7 gateways are going to literally walk off the shelves and into homes and businesses across the country.

 

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