Before we get into a discussion about Wi-Fi, let’s first clarify what it is.
Wi-Fi is a means of distributing the internet that has been brought to your residence via either a traditional telephone line or by a combination of fixed lines and wireless means. The terms ADSL, SDSL (traditional copper networks) Broadband and NBN (fibre optic, still being rolled out across Australia) all describe ways in which the internet is connected to a residence.
Wi-Fi enables the internet to be made available, via a device known as a router (invisibly and wirelessly) to various devices such as laptops, tablets or phones, in a small geographical location that can pick up its signal.
- You need an internet connection to access Wi-Fi at home. This can be delivered through different ways and it’s not necessary to have a telephone line to do it.
- You then need a Wi-Fi router (~$200) to distribute the Wi-Fi signal. Your device needs to have a Wi-Fi modem that can receive the signal, and if you are using someone else’s Wi-Fi/internet, a password to access it.
- Depending on where you are, you can sometimes access free public Wi-Fi aka “wireless hotspots”. Public places like libraries, some café’s and shops offer free Wi-Fi to patrons however there are security risks in using public networks and so you should not reveal any financial information if using public Wi-Fi option. If you are staying in a hotel and wish to access it, you will often be charged unless told it's free.
- You don’t need a telephone line to access the internet but you do need to arrange internet connection to get Wi-Fi.
- Your internet access will be limited to places where you can access your own Wi-Fi (generally not outside the home) or where free or per pay per hour Wi-Fi/internet is available. There is also the option of tethering from your mobile phone however this is a very expensive option (e.g 7.2 cents/MB vs 0.009 cents/MB for mobile broadband) so we will not go into it.
- Signal strength is highly localised and can vary, even within your own home. The weaker the signal, the slower everything works and a weak signal makes watching videos impossible and you may not be able to connect to the internet at all. The further you are from your Wi-Fi modem, the weaker the strength.
- Many devices, such as lap-tops and Wi-Fi enabled tablets already come ready to receive Wi-Fi signal, so they can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi on offer. There are a few steps to receive the signal but our remote help desk support can help you with that if necessary.
So who is Wi-Fi for?
The benefits of Wi-Fi are:
- Portability. You can move around the house with your device and take it out and about with you.
- Cost efficiencies. If you are on a plan at home, you can piggy back on that plan. Data is more cost-effective via a home plan although note our comment below that there are other upfront costs to consider.
- Data speeds: When strength is good you can piggy back on the back of the speed of your home internet connection. If you have ADSL, NBN or Cable your internet speeds are going to be roughly double what is available through mobile broadband. This is an important consideration if you plan to download movies or if you live in an area where mobile broadband reception is poor.
The disadvantages of Wi-Fi are:
- There’s a little bit of an establishment cost to pay for a Wi-Fi router and modem, if required. Many Internet Service Providers bundle this into the cost of plans, but you’re still paying for it.
- Your Wi-Fi options outside of the house would be limited to places where wireless hotspots are available.
Free Wi-Fi spots are becoming more prevalent, although when you use an unsecured wi-fi hotspot you expose yourself to security risks. (Read all about the risks here). People who are using the same hotspot may be able to capture information that you transmit over the network, so its wise to refrain from doing anything that might disclose your personal or financial details.
How is Wi-Fi different to mobile broadband?
- Both allow portability – you can move around with your device. However mobile broadband allows you to travel away from your modem router and still get internet access, regardless of whether you are in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- The speeds for mobile broadband are likely to be slower (depending on the speed of your home connection if you have one) but this will vary from area to area. Our experience with mobile broadband in metropolitan Melbourne suggests that seniors would not be affected. We will check the coverage for your particular area in considering whether speed is going to be a factor in the quality of your access.
- Data is more expensive on mobile broadband however this is based on the assumption that you have signed up to a contract that usually offers data at a third of the rate. Even monthly plans have start-up costs and require you to bring your own modem, so there is generally a more expensive outlay.
When our clients ask as about internet options, we start off by asking them questions about their usage, as matters of need for portability and purpose will help us determine whether a mobile broadband is the best option or whether to go for a fixed-line home internet package that offers Wi-Fi and cheaper data rates. Cost is also a factor. Although data is cheaper on home internet packages, you are signing up for at least a 12 month contract, and there will be a few hundred dollars in equipment set up costs.
By way of example,
Ella* wants an iPad to read articles and news on the internet. She wants to be able to send e-mails, use Facebook and Skype with her grandchildren for approx an hour a week. She lives in a small house and wants to take the iPad with her when she goes to stay with her family (who have Wi-Fi at their house), or when she goes away on holidays to Thailand with her friends. She travels, on average, 3 months a year. She wants to spend as little as possible and doesn't want to lock into a long term contract because there will be some months where she's out of Australia.
Given the fact that Ella's data usage is unlikely to exceed 4GB a month, and that she wants to avoid long term contracts and the expenses of start-up costs, Ella would be suited to a mobile broadband via SIM card option. If she wants to go from month to month, There are some good deals available at the moment where you can get 6GB a month for ~$30. However if she's going to be overseas, a month to month plan may not be ideal. She may want to look at going a prepaid option such as the Vodafone 22GB over 365 days mentioned in the post below. This way she can spread her usage over the year, only using it as she needs it. She'll just need to look out for e-mails or messages telling her when her data limit is approaching. We can keep an eye out for her as part of her trouble-shooting service, if she requests it.
While in Thailand she could purchase a local pre-paid sim card that would provide her with local coverage. If Ella purchases a Wi-Fi enabled tablet she can access her family's internet while staying at their house. Many resorts in Thailand also offer free Wi-Fi to their residents however she would want to avoid doing any banking while using it, for the security reasons we have mentioned.
Paul* wants a computer that he can watch movies on and he's heard about Netflix and is keen to use it. He wants to watch 4-5 movies a week. He also wants to do some online reading, place bets on the horses and do some research for some DIY projects he was undertaking in his shed. which is at the rear of his small property in Prahran. This might involve watching DIY videos.
Paul's data usage is likely to be heavy, probably 20GB a week, and he'd be wise to look for a fixed line broadband plan as the download speed will be better and data rates are cheaper when 'buying in bulk'. He'd be wise to look at 100GB a month. Although there may be some set up costs such as needing a Wi-Fi modem, this will quickly be off-set by the data savings. He might also be able to find a deal that he can bundle with his home telephone to make some savings. In terms of devices, he'd probably do better with a laptop that has a nice big screen and is Wi-Fi ready so that he can take it out to the shed however whether the Wi-Fi signal will extend to the shed remains to be seen. (There are ways, of course to extend the signal but that's a little complicated..a discussion for another time.)
Next we'll look at fixed line internet options for the home - what's on offer?
As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments. Your feedback is always useful in helping us improve our service.