In 2019, Telstra launched its 5G network and smartphone vendors were rolling out their handsets. While at the Telstra building in Sydney’s CBD, we clocked download speeds at 1.5Gbps. Real-world figures on the street were very different, however. The recently launched Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro 5G router, available exclusively from Telstra, is capable in theory of speeds up to 8 Gbps. For some perspective, that would be 160 times faster than the standard 50Mbps home NBN connection! We have our hands on the Nighthawk M6 Pro to see just how fast it can go, and what it can do to supercharge your connectivity.
NETGEAR, Inc. is a multinational computer networking company based in San Jose, California, with offices in about 25 other countries. It produces networking hardware for consumers, businesses, and service providers.
Who would benefit from the M6 Pro?
The Nighthawk M6 Pro mobile router is a Telstra 5G battery-powered hotspot with lightning-fast internet speed via Wi-Fi 6 or ethernet.
A mobile hotspot can be purchased from a supermarket for as little as $29, so to spend $749 is a big jump. This jump, however, adds a load of features from battery to internet speed to the number of devices you can connect.
A business could use an M6 as a backup solution if a fixed broadband connection fails. The M6 will support up to 32 Wi-Fi devices connected simultaneously and also has a 2.5Gbps ethernet port that could be connected to the existing office network. The M6 connects to mains power and can be set to automatically take over if your fixed line broadband fails. For those business people on the road or perhaps needing a high-speed internet connection to do a presentation, the M6 offers the best chance of reliable, fast speeds.
For the home user or the remote traveller that may not have access to fixed line broadband or wants an NBN alternative, the M6 will help you future proof. The latest technologies in this router allow the fastest, most reliable connections ensuring that streaming or video calls will be uninterrupted.
Fast and reliable internet does require mobile phone coverage, and to take advantage of the Telstra 5G sub-6GHz or 5G mmWave speeds, you will need to be in range. The M6 has two TS9 ports, which allow an external antenna connection. An external antenna will help gain coverage and increase speed in fringe areas. See more details in our sister publication’s guide to better mobile broadband. A recent trip to regional NSW saw my download speeds jump from 8.3Mbps to 52.1Mpbs by attaching an RFI directional antenna.
Netgear has a external 5G MIMO SMA/TS9 Antenna available to pre-order on its website.
For remote travellers, a cheap alternate way to increase signal strength and, as a result, internet speed, is to put the M6 in a bucket. Attach a rope to the bucket and raise the bucket up a tree by throwing the rope over a branch. Note the M6 is not weather resistant, but the extra height may make a difference between no coverage and some coverage.
What is 5G millimetre-wave (mmWave)?
The M6 Pro has all the latest technology built in to maximise speed and availability of data connectivity both from a mobile base station and to client devices (PCs, smartphones etc.) These technologies include 5G mmWave, ethernet and Wi-Fi 6E.
5G mmWave is a short-range high-frequency mobile phone standard used to communicate with a compatible base station. This is used more widely in the US and is different to the sub-6GHz 5G network that we have in Australia. However, we expect to see more mmWave in the future given its performance. While the range from a mmWave base station is limited to a few hundred meters, the latency is very low and the speeds speeds can be amazingly fast.
The M6 Pro is backward compatible, so it will connect to any Telstra base station to provide internet access. Telstra, for example, could put a 5G mmWave antenna on a busy railway station but not on a rural highway, as it is not economical. The speed you would get on a train station with 5G mmWave coverage would depend on factors such as how close you were to the base station antenna, how many other people were also using the same internet connection and what speed internet is available to the base station.
For the geeks reading this, the M6pro supports LTE CAT 20, LTE Advanced Pro, 4×4 MIMO, 256-QAM, which are technologies that help maximise internet speed.
Features of the Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro
The M6 supports Wi-Fi 6E and all previous versions. This will ensure a secure, fast and uninterrupted connection back to your router from your client device. The dual-band 5 & 2.4GHz router allows you an aggregate speed of up to AX3600. A feature of the M6 is the ability to change the transmit power of your Wi-Fi. The default setting is low, which will minimise the distance a client can be from the router and save battery power.
The M6 comes with both a USB-C charging cable and an AC adapter. Removing the battery if it is permanently powered from mains is recommended. Leaving the battery in will, however, allow continued operation in the event of a mains power outage.
Control of the device can be achieved either from the onboard 2.8-inch touch screen display, the Netgear smartphone app or by entering an IP address on your PC while connected to the router. Network settings, Wi-Fi settings, security, and power-saving features can all be controlled from these interfaces.
The router measures 105mm by 105mm by 21.5mm, not much larger than most smartphones, and at 256 grams, I have been carrying it around in my jeans pocket.
A GPS function is also available to enable, which could help locate the M6 or perhaps a caravan it is located in the event of theft.
Using the Nighthawk M6 Pro
Once you have inserted an active Telstra SIM, in theory, other than keeping it powered, it is a bit of a set-and-forget device. If it has coverage, it will provide you with mobile broadband.
My baseline for my mobile speed tests is to do several tests using speedtest.net and compare the results. The results will differ based on location, congestion and network upgrades over time. The M6 Pro, although capable of Gbps speeds, provided me with an average of 362Mbps down and 49.8 Mbps up. An older Telstra 5G mobile router showed similar results, not in mmWave coverage. For comparison, my NBN connection provides 50Mbps down and 20Mbps up, and to watch 4K Netflix, a 15-25Mbps connection is required.
I took this one step further and tested the M6 in various locations in Sydney and averaged around 250 – 300 Mbps, which is respectable. The best results I got were 650Mbps down and 153Mbps up. The caveat is that the mobile phone I tested with only supports Wi-Fi 5, not the faster 6 or 6E. We will update this section shortly with some Wi-Fi 6 speeds.
The net result of my tests and the capability of the M6 Pro is the speeds you will get with good coverage will exceed the needs of consumers and small businesses alike. As Telstra improves its network, you will get better speeds, and you will get better speeds as you update your mobile phone, laptop, tablet and other client devices. The support of Wi-Fi 6/6E brings connectivity, reliability and security benefits that will help future-proof the product.
I noticed the M6 Pro occasionally failed to reconnect with my phone automatically; to resolve this, I had to cycle the M6 power. I assume this is a software glitch that will be rectified in a future firmware upgrade.
The Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro, exclusive to Telstra, is the best mobile broadband router available today. With its ability to use Telstra’s 5G mmWave network, when and where available, it will provide the fastest non-commercial internet speeds available today. In reality, it will use whatever coverage it can get, whether sub-6GHz 5G, 4G or 3G, and maximise the weakest link in the internet chain speed. The M6 Pro supports clients with a 2.5G Ethernet port and up to 32 devices on Wi-Fi 6 technology. A touch screen display and external antenna sockets allow customisation to maximise the environment it is being used in too.