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Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster review: A simple network speed boost

Posted: 10 May 2018 4:28 pm
News

Telstra's Smart Wi-Fi Booster is very easy to set up if networking perplexes you, but there are faster ways to boost your home's Wi-Fi connection.

Quick Verdict
If you're petrified by the prospect of mucking around with Mesh Wi-Fi solutions or other ways to improve your home wireless coverage, Telstra's Smart Wi-Fi Boosters may have some appeal thanks to their easy setup. However, range improvements are only likely to be modest.

The good

  • Easy setup.
  • Interesting design.
  • Can't mix up boosters.

The bad

  • Only two boosters in the standard pack.
  • Can get better results with a mesh network.
  • Only works with Telstra modem/routers.

Home Wi-Fi is all but ubiquitous these days, in that almost anyone with a home broadband connection has a Wi-Fi enabled router. That's a long way from saying that your home's Wi-Fi router will be powerful enough to service every part of your property, with plenty of scope for interference from walls, environmental obstacles and, of course, everyone else's home Wi-Fi connection.

Telstra's promise with the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster is that it will simply and easily eliminate those issues, boosting Wi-Fi signal strength throughout your house or place of business.


Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster : Design

Typically speaking, networking equipment has always tended to be downright ugly. At best, you might end up with something that looks like a discarded 1970s Doctor Who prop.

At worst, you'll end up with a nondescript black box, complete with blinkenlights.

The Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster isn't like that, at least partially, with a pleasing circular design for both its primary and secondary boosters. You get two in a box, along with power packs for both, a single ethernet cable and a very slender installation pamphlet, and that's your lot.

They're essentially much nicer looking than most home networking gear, although the presence of a prominent Telstra logo on the front does mean that they're not likely to take pride of place on your coffee table any time soon. From a home decor point of view, you've also got to work out what to do with the trailing cables that come out the back of each unit, which can quickly become unsightly.

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Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster: Installation

Setting up home wireless equipment is a headache for many people, made worse if you've got the kinds of Wi-Fi blackspots around your home that the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster is designed to combat. The included installation pamphlet is rather brief, but then that's because the installation procedure, at least by default, is especially simple.

Installation is handled by Telstra's free Home Dashboard app, available for iOS or Android, and involves scanning a QR code to get the install process rolling, plugging one of the boosters into a Telstra-provided modem-router when prompted, and then working out where you're going to place the other booster for optimal benefit. One nice factor here is that there's no "master/slave" designation to worry about, so you can't accidentally plug the "wrong" booster into your router.

It is possible to manually configure the boosters if you don't want Telstra's app, but frankly, if you're that au fait with networking, this isn't the product for you.

The Home Dashboard app determines ideal placement by connecting to the primary booster and then making its own connection check depending on where you are. That's a smart move borrowed from the connection apps of many popular (and more expensive) mesh networking solutions, because it should, in theory, allow for optimal range extension with just two boosters. You can have up to four boosters working across a property, although they're only supplied in packs of two.

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Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster: Performance

There's always a challenge when it comes to testing Wi-Fi routers and range extension products because everyone's networking setup and environment will vary. You may have lots of competing networks, or just lots of solid walls or electrical appliances playing havoc with your Wi-Fi. You may want lots of range, or just lots of throughput over a very small area.

For the purposes of testing, I used my home office because I'm very well aware over many years of testing where its Wi-Fi blackspots typically are. My home office sits at one end of the property on an extension built over a brick wall that's very good at killing Wi-Fi signals stone dead. That gives me a good harsh test environment for any product, but it also introduced a challenge for the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster.

Specifically, the Home Dashboard app identified my home office as an area where the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster would work, but not optimally, suggesting I move closer to the router for better effect.

The problem there was that there's no power point for the additional booster, and where there were power points, the app correctly picked that I was too close! I tested (as I'd expect an everyday user to do) with the second Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster in my home office, but you may find that if you're able to hit the sweet spot where the Home Dashboard app is happier with you that your results were better than mine.

To provide points of comparison, I tested using macOS' inbuilt Wireless Diagnostics to get an RSSI (received signal strength indicator) rating for the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster at close distance to the router and original booster, then at mid-range with one room in-between, and then in my home office where the secondary booster was located.

I also used finder's broadband speed test to get an idea of actual throughput on the network. There are, to be clear, a lot of variables at play here because RSSI measurements can vary a lot, and obviously your actual broadband connection can vary too. What I wanted to get a picture of was the level of improvement across distance, rather than a hard and fast benchmark figure.

To provide points of comparison, I ran the same tests using a standalone Telstra Gateway Frontier modem-router, because the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster only works with Telstra's own supplied modems, as well as with a Linksys Velop Mesh Wi-Fi kit, all running off a speed boosted Telstra HFC connection.

Any customer for the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster will be coming off a Telstra modem, so that's a fair starting point to work from. The Velop is a much pricier proposition, but that gives the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster a real challenge, not to mention showing what it can do for less initial outlay.

Here's how the three solutions compared at close, medium and long range:

It's quite consistent across all three connection types, with the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster providing a clear signal advantage over using just the Gateway Frontier. Still, the Velop has it beat as you'd expect, given its much higher price point.

Signal strength is one metric, but what you really want to do is increase your Wi-Fi signal strength for useful purpose, which was the reasoning behind the speed test run. Again, to be clear, while home broadband throughput can vary depending on external network congestion factors, what I wanted to see was whether the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster could usefully increase Wi-Fi throughout a property. Here's how all three solutions fared:

At close and mid range, there's really not much to it, and that's to be expected. If you're already getting a decent Wi-Fi signal in an area, the Booster is unlikely to change that much, especially in the configuration I was using with the secondary Booster in the far position.

However, if you've got a black spot, it's a very different story. While I could see the network off the Frontier Gateway alone in my far position, signal interference was such that I couldn't actually do anything useful with it at all. Adding the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster gave me back my precious Internet connection at a functional speed, albeit one that's only a fraction of my whole connection.

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Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster: Verdict

The Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster isn't going to be a panacea for all your Wi-Fi ills, and it's also not going to work all that well if you don't have power points to locate the secondary booster in an optimal spot.

However, it is very easy to set up and get running, and it's less expensive than a full mesh networking setup. If your needs are modest and you're already a Telstra customer happy with its own Modem-Router products, it's a solid choice for improving your home network.

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Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster: Pricing and availability

Telstra sells the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster in packs of two outright for $180 to Telstra customers. Alternatively, they're available for $7.50 per month over 24 months for customers taking up an eligible Telstra Home Broadband service.

Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster: Alternatives

On the lower cost side, you could investigate any of a variety of powerline-based products that use your home's power circuitry to share broadband to hard-to-reach areas. They can be a bit hit-and-miss depending on your wiring schematics, though, so it's wise to keep a receipt if they don't work. Likewise, there's any number of repeater products that can fling wireless signals further, but those typically do drop your wireless throughput even more than the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster would.

At the more expensive end, if you need more than the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster can provide, any of the available mesh networking products, such as the tested Linksys Velop, Google Wi-Fi or D-Link COVR systems should provide a wider and faster connection than the Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster, but at a much higher asking price.


Specifications

Product Name
Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster
2.4GHz Connectivity
802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz-256QAM
5GHz Connectivity
4 x 4 802.11ac 5GHz-256QAM
Ethernet connectivity
Gigabit
Number of boosters
2 per box, maximum of 4
Price
$180
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