In the February 2000 issue of AUSOM News (Pages 26-27) I reported that Cable & Wireless Optus had announced their new Cable Internet service, “Optus@Home”. They offered an “unlimited” access account for as low as $59.95 per month. This announcement came only days after Telstra had changed their pricing structure for their cable service, “Bigpond Advance”. Telstra’s pricing structure had sky-rocketed from a reasonable allowance of “external” traffic and all local content free to every piece of traffic been billed for.
Many Bigpond Advance users, myself included, were furious at this decision of Telstra and vowed to move straight over to Optus@Home, as soon as possible and many have since done so. Where I was living at the time of the announcement, it would have been possible to switch providers, as I had both Optus and Telstra/Foxtel cable in my street. However, I soon had to move from there and to a cut a long story short, I have since moved to an area that doesn’t have Optus cable. (I know I said that I was looking only for a place that supported Optus cable, but a possible work offer in Sydney, meant I “temporarily” moved in a with a friend but I’m still here). So basically, I haven’t moved across yet.
The upside, however, is that about a month ago Telstra announced a brand new restructure on most of their internet connections, including Bigpond Advance. There are now six pricing options, broken up into three sections based on volume, plus a “trial” version of each.
The first plan is called “Blast Off” and is available for $49.95 per month, but you have a 250meg limit per month, then start paying 24¢ per megabyte after than. The second plan is called “Business” and as the name implies is aimed at the business market. It costs $65.00 per month for 500meg, than 24¢ per meg after that. The final plan is called “Freedom” and is designed to go against the Optus@Home unlimited accounts. It costs $65.95 per month, with unlimited download, but speeds are capped at 400kbps download and 128bkps upload. The regular accounts have an 18-month contract and the Trials have a three-month contract. Setup fees are additional, but until the end of June they can be as low as $99 and includes the cable modem.
Which service for me?
Optus or Telstra? It is really going to depend on where you are, and what you do. The first consideration is which, if either, carrier has cabled your street. If neither, or only one, has done so, than you choice is obvious. However, if you are lucky enough to both than you need to decide on your usage, and whom you prefer as a carrier.
If you are a business then you will need to go with Telstra’s Business Plan as their other plans and Optus@Home are aimed at the residential markets. If you are a residential user, than either service can offer you want you want.
I would NOT recommend the BigPond Blast Off package to anyone. You would be amazed at how quickly you will use your 250meg allowance. Email, news, web browsing, file transfers all mount up very, very quickly on cable – remember your cable modem is “100 times faster than a 28.8k modem” so it really doesn’t take long to use that allowance and at 24¢ per meg after that it really does mount up! I know I’ve been there – My first months bill had an allowance of only a 100meg back then and I had nearly $100 extra on top of the standard $65 and that used to include a lot of free stuff like mail, news and internal traffic.
Although both the Optus@Home and BigPond Freedom plans have capped transfer speeds they are still very fast, even with a couple of users using them and remember they are still faster than what AUSOM used run an entire ISP on – A 128K ISDN link that shared both incoming and outgoing traffic for over 20 dial-in lines and all the background services like mail, news, etc.
Optus@Home are apparently going to be bundling local and long distance calls, along with Cable TV packages. All three services run through the same cable.
Optus@Home also offer five mailboxes compared to Telstra’s single one, but this isn’t a major drama as many people use other sites like Apple’s iTools “mac.com” or Microsoft Hotmail servers for additional mailboxes, which are free of charge anyway and besides can be accessed from anywhere.
In both cases read the fine print and the “acceptable use” policies before sign any contract. Either service has slightly different terms and conditions. Optus@Home, for example, “ban” the use of automatic news readers like BinaryBoy (a well known PC product) or PictureSnooper (the Mac equivalent), while Telstra don’t seem to mention this. On the other hand, Telstra “ban” the connection of LAN’s (computer networks) under the Freedom Plan, but Optus seem to encourage it.
Read the fine print and the “acceptable use” policies before signing any contract.
Protection & Connection.
There has been some concern about just how vulnerable your computer will be if it is “permanently” connected to the internet via either provider. To be honest, the risk is there, but it also exists with regular modem dial up accounts as well.
The simplest protection is to disable all forms of File Sharing, including Personal Web Sharing. If you are connecting your LAN to the cable networks (or even a modem connection) consider the use of Firewall software. While the best firewall stuff runs under Linux, a number of solutions exist for MacOS and Windows. The most popular package for the Macintosh is DoorStop by Open Door Networks, Inc. They also did the Personal TCP/IP File Sharing module in MacOS 9. They can be found at www.opendoor.com.
The other query people have had is how to connect your LAN to share a cable modem. Basically, you need a “router”. Effectively, this is a Macintosh (or a PC running Windows or Linux) that has two ethernet cards and special software. Again, the best Routing software exists for Linux, but for the Macintosh the three most common are IPNetRouter and SoftRouter.
IPNetRouter is a shareware application by Sustworks (located at www.sustworks.com) which has worked extremely well for many AUSOM members, myself and Ian Henderson included. If you use IPNR, I strongly suggest you subscribe to their mailing list “NetTalk” which is a great source of hints, tips and help. IPNR has a “stable” release and then a series of “beta” releases. I personally ran with the betas for my home setup, but if you need a “stable” release, then use the latest “stable” release.
SoftRouter is from a company called Vicomsoft (located at www.vicomsoft.com) and in the past they had a terrible name for ease of use in their software. However in recent years they have made a stunning turn around and the latest versions of their software is extremely stable and easy to use. Many of my clients, which include some major corporations and political and union organisations, use Vicomsoft products on both Mac’s and PC’s. They a good solid foundation for any business enterprise.
The websites of both SustWorks and Vicomsoft contain very good and detailed instructions and explanations on how and why routers should be configured. Your firewall will most likely also run on the same box as your router, so a more grunty machine would be advisable.
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