Confused about Wireless?

Clients regularly tell us about telcos such as Optus or Telstra calling them up and offering them wireless internet. There’s always some fantastic deal attached to it – something like you get all your mobile phone calls included for free, plus reduced international call rates and home phone rates. But is it worth it? Well, that depends on exactly what they mean by wireless and, more importantly, what your needs are.

To begin with, there are two different types of wireless and they are vastly different.   There is WiFi (also called “local wireless”) and Mobile Broadband (or “wide-area wireless”).


How to Tell Which is Which

WiFi is available with ADSL internet connections. You know you have ADSL if your modem plugs in to your telephone line and your internet is always on. The modem (or a separate wireless router attached to an ADSL modem) will usually have one or more aerials sticking out of it. There will be power cables too.  WiFi works similarly to a cordless telephone. WiFi is what you find at airports, hotels and many cafes so you can connect your laptop to the internet (sometimes for free although usually not) when you are away from home or the office.

Mobile Broadband, on the other hand, usually plugs directly into your computer via a USB socket and, these days, usually looks similar to a USB memory stick. Older models, however, may be much larger, need to be plugged into mains power and may also have aerials sticking out of them (these types are rare now). Regardless of whether they are old or new, they will NEVER plug into your telephone line because they work like a mobile phone and use the mobile phone network.


The Pros

WiFi is usually very stable and reliable because it is actually connected to an ADSL internet connection which uses a physical medium such as copper phone lines.

  • Speeds are usually very fast – ADSL1 connections range from 256 kilobits per second (kbps) to 1500 kbps and ADSL2 ranges from 1500kbps all the way up to a theoretical 24,000 kbps (speeds are typically 5000 to 10,000 kbps).
  • Download limits are usually very generous and connections costs are low.
  • Multiple computers can be connected to a WiFi’s local area network (LAN) and that means you can share your printers, internet and files among all the computers connected to this LAN.

Mobile Broadband can usually be used anywhere you can get a mobile phone signal.

  • It usually doesn’t require a separate power source.
  • Mobile Broadband is inherently secured, so your neighbours won’t be able to leech off your internet connection.


The Cons

WiFi has a limited range – rarely more than 20m from the modem (or router).

  • The further you are from the modem/router, the slower your connection speed will be.
  • You must make sure your WiFi is set up with wireless security so that your neighbours don’t leech off your internet connection.
  • ADSL usually isn’t available in rural areas.

Mobile Broadband is usually very slow – 1500 kbps is about as fast as they go, however typical speeds are around 512 kbps (too many times I’ve seen them at dial-up speeds (64 kbps) or slower!).

  • The download speed differs depending on where you are (just as the quality of mobile phone calls differs depending on where you make them from).
  • You can’t network multiple computers via your mobile broadband connection (technically you can, but it usually requires a special mobile broadband router. Considering that download speeds are usually too slow for one computer, you’d have to be desperate to use mobile broadband for multiple computers, though).
  • Download limits are usually low but the fees for excess usage are prohibitive Excess usage fees often mean that the awesome phone call rates that the salesman told you about when he signed you up are totally negated.
    (NB: the phrases “unlimited downloads” or “no download limits” are not bonuses, they are actually WARNINGS!  What they mean is that you have a download allowance, but if you go over that allowance, your downloads won’t be stopped or limited but you will be charged an excess usage fee for downloading more than your allowance. These fees are usually NASTY!).


The Long and Short of it All

To sum it all up, if you intend to always be using your computer in your home or office, you want WiFi from an ADSL modem/router. If, however, you are always out on the road when you need an internet connection, or you just can’t get ADSL in your area, you need Mobile Broadband.

Hopefully you now have a much better understanding of the different types of wireless connections and which type is more suitable for you.