Goondu review: StarHub 21Mbps HSPA

July 21st, 2009 | by Alfred Siew

StarHub MaxMobile Elite using Huawei USB modem

Heard of StarHub’s recent radio ads about their “blazing fast” mobile broadband offering?

Well, for the past month, Techgoondu has been testing the MaxMobile Elite service that promises as much as 21Mbps downloads on the go. And we have to say it rocks!

The proof of the pudding is in actual downloads, and I’ve to say I have not seen faster downloads on the go than with the black Huawei USB stick that I used to access this HSPA or 3.5G service.

I’m talking about bursts of as much as 1MB per sec (megabyte per second), or 8Mbps (megabits per sec), when I recently opened my laptop and plugged in the Huawei USB stick at the food court at Tiong Bahru Plaza.

This sometimes fluctuates, going down to about 200+KB to 300KB per sec (or 1.6Mbps to 2.4Mbps) at its lowest, but even those speeds are still fast for a wireless, login-on-anywhere service.

At top speed, the wireless service can actually rival some fixed broadband offerings. 8Mbps is still some way off my home’s cable modem service that sometimes gets up to 16Mbps for fast “local” downloads, but this is surely good enough for on-the-go downloads like your e-mail attachments.

I got the wireless speeds when downloading a driver file from Nvidia.com, which is fast because it uses Akamai’s content distribution technology to ensure that you are getting the content “locally” despite visiting a “US” website.

Of course, surfing the Web is no problem with the mobile service. Videos from the Channel NewsAsia website streamed smoothly without any big glitches, for example.

Huawei login screens

Best of all, the ease of use really shines. Huawei’s software driver is stored on the bubblegum-sized stick, which doubles up as a USB drive during installation. It’s literally plug in, install and surf. Well, you still need to connect using the Huawei software, but logging on is seriously child’s play.

With the Huawei in my laptop bag, I’ve been logging on and filing stories at CommunicAsia (faster than anyone there!), sending e-mail while waiting for my car at the workshop and getting on Facebook while waiting at a mall for my wife. Like other 3.5G offerings, this service truly is “anytime, anywhere”. Just that, now it is truly “broadband” as well.

My goodness, I’ve waited a long time for this day, since I first heard about something called 3G.

The only major complaint I can find on the StarHub service, which it touts to be the first to offer up to 21Mbps in Singapore, is that it is expensive. Real expensive.

S$118 a month is simply too expensive; even S$59 a month for MaxOnline customers who already pay at least S$50 for their fixed line connection is still too much for my wallet.

The other con, if I’m picky, is that the USB stick can get pretty hot after a while. And though I never broke it, I felt it was a small accident away from being destroyed, the way it just hooked up on the edge of my Fujitsu S6520 laptop.

Nonetheless, this HSPA service is a great step forward for mobile warriors. You’ll probably never get 21Mbps, of course, given the number of users around you, the problems with radio waves in a congested area and other factors including wind. But finally, here’s a mobile broadband service that really feels like it’s broadband on the go.

I expect SingTel and MobileOne to come up with their versions real soon. The mobile broadband speed race may be on, and prices should fall if you can wait a few months.

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