Woosh as it should have been from the start

Wireless provider finally gets it right, says Juha Saarinen

Arguably New Zealand’s best-known wireless internet provider, Woosh has had a tough run with its W-CDMA broadband technology since its inception in 2003.

Reliability issues and uneven performance resulted in bad press reviews and Woosh didn’t get its badly needed phone service add-on going until last year.

Despite this, the company claims to have some 15,000 customers, has just bought the wired ISP, Quicksilver, and has now come out with its second speed upgrade.

Initially, Woosh ran at 250kbit/s down, 120kbit/s up; an upgrade last year doubled the download speed to 500kbit/s. About two months ago, Woosh upgraded again, originally to 1Mbit/s for downloads. But, it says, the performance bump was so successful customers can now get 1.6Mbit/s speeds. The upstream remains a paltry 120kbit/s however.

On Auckland’s North Shore, I haven’t had much luck with Woosh. Despite a booster aerial, the signal from the Princes Street access point across the harbour is just too weak. There is a closer access point but it’s behind a hill, so I can’t use it.

However, in Auckland city centre the IP Wireless modem picked up a strong signal and delivered surprisingly good performance. Downloads hit the 1.6Mbit/s mark and the upload speed was always faster than 120kbit/s, sometimes reaching 200kbit/s.

Woosh has been criticised for having very high latency (the delay in sending and receiving packets) but this has also improved substantially. Now, the latency stays under 100ms most of the time. There is still considerable “jitter” or delay variation however. It’s not uncommon to see latency spikes of 500ms and higher. This makes Woosh unsuitable for gaming and other real-time applications.

My plan is the Fusion ($59.95 a month). This represents pretty good value as it includes a 10GB data and phone service with a local number. With the better signal, Woosh’s phone service proves fairly reliable. It can be used it with the internet connection, too, and calling rates are sharp — far better than Telecom’s.

Less attractive Woosh features include the $99 PC card to $199 modem “activation fees”. You can’t buy the modems/PC Cards any more and you have to give them back if you stop being a customer. A 12-month contract period, with a $99 cancellation fee, applies too.

The customer premises equipment needed for the phone service isn’t great either. Lots of cables and two power bricks make Woosh look like anything but a wireless broadband solution. The small, cigarette-pack sized modem can be used by itself but doing so entails connecting through USB instead of Ethernet. The Woosh USB drivers and software client have never been good and they hung during the test — if possible, use the Ethernet connection instead, or the PPPoE cable, which costs around $30 separately.

The wireless broadband and phone service from Woosh represents a better deal than most other data/voice connections available. However, users need to be in an area with good signal strength and probably not have too many users on the network. The service would be more useful if it enjoyed a higher upstream speed and more stable latency, but it works fine for simple network usage.

Woosh is finally working as advertised, but is it enough to save the company? It’s not certain. Woosh faces competition from faster fixed and mobile broadband options that are also coming down in price. Tellingly, Woosh has started selling dial-up connections — despite its Escape Dial-Up Hell advertising campaign last year which tried to lure modem customers onto the wireless service.

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Tags technologywirelessWoosh

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