High-speed broadband in the palm of your hand: our first play with Vivid Wireless

Advertised as “faster broadband with less hassle”, the ViViFi is the first commercially available portable wireless hotspot in Australia. Released by Vivid Wireless, this modem uses different technology to mobile phone towers, essentially designed for data only instead of mobile communication and data.

Like many other portable hotspots, the ViViFi fits in the palm of your hand. Unlike conventional mobile broadband solutions, however, the ViViFi lacks a SIM card.

Consisting of a small square device that fits in the palm of your hand, there’s not much to the ViViFi. There’s a power button, three lights, and a microUSB port for recharging. On the bottom of the device, you’ll find login details for the device, including the SSID and password.

Using it is very easy: simply turn it on, wait a few seconds for the Wi-Fi light to hit green, and then connect to the wireless network using the SSID and password details found on the bottom of the device. Once you’re connected, you just have to wait for the WiMax light to go from a blinking red to a solid red, yellow or green, informing you that there is a connection.

The most important question is, of course, will it work where you are, and that’s something of a mixed bag.

Vivid Wireless keeps a coverage map on its website, and at the time of publishing, only Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth support the WiFi hotspot. Out of those three locations, the latter gets the better deal, with access to Sydney and Melbourne really only existing in the CBD (according to the coverage map).

With the pink areas telling us where reception is, it's easy to see that Sydney's CBD suffers problems with reception.

We tested in Sydney and found the results to be the weakest in the centre of town, with no connection at all. Using the hotspot as a portable connection to the web while on public transport was extremely poor, with little or no connection most of the time.

Connection was found in the Inner West and Sydney’s East, but it wasn’t strong, maxing out at 3Mbps. Often, the download speed would drop to below 512Kbps, far lower than what both ADSL2 and mobile broadband speeds offer. Throughout our testing, we switched to our Telstra NextG mobile phone simply because it was able to connect without problem in areas of the CBD where the ViViFi suffered greatly.

In truth, we’d have a hard time recommending this technology to anyone at this time. While Vivid Wireless offers several gigabytes of data in both monthly and prepaid plans, the lack of a speedy and stable connection is truly concerning.

The real worry we have for Vivid Wireless is the future: with the reliance on Vivid’s own network and a reception map with plenty of holes, we wonder how long it will be until the system has competitive speeds across the cities it services.

If Vivid Wireless can improve by patching up the holes and offering high speed connections, it could prove a good system for those not willing to grab a fixed mobile broadband connection, especially with unlimited monthly pricing at just under $80 per month.Until then, we can’t recommend it, at least until the service improves substantially.