Vivid Stuff

‘New’ wireless broadband provider vividwireless is offering the best mobile broadband deals yet seen. But there’s a catch: it’s really slow, and thus kind of pointless.

Ah, the 2000s were a heady time for new technology: the rise of social media, which enabled the general public to tap unto a hitherto unexamined urge to share photographs of their meals; a series of federal broadband policies that have ultimately led, very gradually and at the cost of careers and general sanity, almost nowhere; small vibrant start-ups that tried their best to compete with market-controlling juggernauts.

One such was Unwired, which you’d be forgiven for not remembering. Unwired was a wireless broadband provider based out of Perth, where it rolled out a WiMax network to provide fast residential broadband for urban types. The network was ok, but where it really excelled was in putting out the kind of ecstatic press releases that promise much, and are easy for lazy tech journalists to reprint more or less verbatim.

Sadly, WiMax was superseded by competing technologies, and in 2008 Unwired was bought out by the Seven Network, which you might have heard about from the television. Unwired was renamed vividwireless, continuing the fashion for lower case names begun by e.e.cummings. The name changed, but the heroic tone of the press releases didn’t. It expanded to all capital cities, and announced an intention to upgrade its WiMax infrastructure to TD-LTE – part of a ‘continuing technology roadmap assessment’, which probably means something. It would also build 1,000 new base stations across the country, backed by an unnamed Asian telco.

It didn’t mention that a year later it would be bought by Optus for $230 million. Optus didn’t really care about TD-LTE or Wi-Max so much as the 2.3 Ghz and 3.5 Ghz spectrum bands that they were operating on. Spectrum is worth a great deal of money. Optus shut down vividwireless’s national operations, though they continued to operate in Perth.

Now it’s relaunching nationally, selling home wireless broadband plans on Optus’ 4G LTE network, and retaining almost nothing of its original mission.

So what does it do? Well, according to vividwireless they offer the best-value wireless broadband plans in Australia. We admit, the prices look good: $89 for an unlimited plan; 10Gb for $29; 40Gb for $59. Seems decent.

Alas, there’s fine print: download speeds are capped at 10Mbps, meaning that this service is basically as fast as ADSL2+ in real terms, and slower in many cases.

Thus it is technically correct to say that this is the cheapest 4G pricing in the country, but still more than a little disingenuous. The real comparison is with not competing 4G LTE services, including those on Optus, which routinely achieve speeds in excess of 40Mbps and are available while out and about.

The vividwireless product comes with a ‘home gateway’, meaning its use is residential. The real comparison is really with ADSL plans, or the lowest tier NBN plans. And you can find plenty of cheaper unlimited plans on those services. Oh, and vividwireless only operates in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

It seems to be a product aimed at that surely tiny minority of urban customers who cannot get reasonable ADSL service – perhaps they’re on a RIM – yet who enjoy stable Optus 4G coverage.