TelstraClear PDQ Max review

, posted: 12-Nov-2006 08:44

PDQWhy review a broadband plan? And DSL too - aren't they all much the same? Not quite; this is New Zealand, where for political and competitive reasons, broadband has become an issue that is debated in Parliament. In short, we want it but there's not much choice, so... it's DSL or nothing for most of us. By DSL I mean the first-generation variant too. The rest of the world is shifting to ADSL2+ and even VDSL2, but not New Zealand unfortunately.

I had heard a lot about Telecom's wholesale DSL, which is supplied to ISPs as a Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP) service unlike the retail one from Xtra, which runs over network Layer 3. This is the Commercial Unbundled Bitstream Service, or CUBS for short - Telecom created this in 2004, in response to the Commerce Commission specifying a Regulated Unbundled Bitstream Service (RUBS), which access seekers could apply for. There are several CUBS variants on the market, but only one RUBS type, based on the determination for the applications from Callplus and Ihug.

To be honest, I haven't heard very many good things about CUBS. I've had a lot of readers write in to complain that they're just not getting the level of performance they thought they would based on what's advertised, and there's a huge flame fest in different Geekzone forums on the topic with some people blaming Telecom for the lack of speed, and others saying it's all the government's fault for interfering with the broadband market. The issue has become especially heated after Telecom took off rate-limiting in October this year, so that most plans bar the entry level ones and RUBS are now running at line speed, just like it was in 1999 when DSL arrived in New Zealand. Luckily, we didn't go back to the exorbitant pricing of that era, and the small data caps then.

It's probably true that from some providers, CUBS isn't very good. I started asking providers in September for a CUBS connection to check out, for PC World's annual broadband feature (which ended up being postponed). The providers I spoke to were reluctant to set me up with a connection however, with a couple being direct saying they didn't want to because I'd "write a bad article about it". Well, I have to be honest and report things as they are.

The last provider I spoke to was TelstraClear, which had no qualms about setting me up with its Pretty Damn Quick or PDQ Max plan, with a 10GB a month data pack. It costs $44 a month, plus $11.95 for the 10GB data pack - you purchase additional packs too in 1GB ($2.95) or 10GB increments. That's not too bad, but... you need to get phone service from TelstraClear too. It means you're looking at a $42 a month line rental on top, plus $10 toll call spend as well.

Let's see if PDQ delivers what the name promises then. First, this is what my D-Link DSL-G604T/TX modem connects at:
DSL connection
Not sure how far I am exactly from the exchange - I estimate between 3-4 km as the crow flies - but that's Pretty Damn Good. I'd also like to point out that upgrading the firmware to what D-Link says is ADSL2+ capable one made a big difference. I got an increase of 500kbps approximately on the downlink and 200kbps on the uplink.

While TelstraClear doesn't offer static IP addresses for PDQ for some strange reason, you have the option of turning ADSL interleaving (a form of error correction) off to improve latency. However, the latency is already quite good:
Ping and Traceroute

... so I'm not convinced that there's much point in turning off interleaving. Will try that later though, to see if as some of the techies I've talked to have said, the service will degrade more than the lowered latency is worth it.

Downloads go fast with PDQ from well-connected hosts:

Most of the time, I get over 5Mbit/s downloads from local hosts as per above - that is very good indeed for a shared bandwidth service. Uploads are of course slower due to the asymmetric upstream, but I usually get 500-600kbit/s which is again very good.

I don't know how to measure P2P performance with any accuracy, but getting some Linux ISOs was fast, with the torrents hitting 2.5-3Mbit/s. It doesn't look like TelstraClear or Telecom interfere with Skype on PDQ, because calls worked on over it without issues.

Here are some local and international speed test results:
Unfortunately, it looks like TelstraClear international capacity isn't quite as PDQ as the DSL service.

Overall though, PDQ works pretty well. It was provisioned within a reasonable amount of time - just over a a week, which while slower than Xtra retail is faster than expected, indicating that Telecom has stopped dragging the chain on wholesale provisioning.

I'd be happier with PDQ if it wasn't so tied up with, or tied down by, the voice service. Would much rather put the money that goes into the voice part into more data, and it would be great if TelstraClear would break out of the traditional telco thinking mould and do just that - it would make PDQ a very attractive broadband alternative indeed.

Update TelstraClear looked into the international traffic issue, and says this through spokeswoman Jodine Laing:

Speeds vary when it comes to international connectivity depending on what is being downloaded and from where. We are faster than some providers and slower than others, depending on what you are accessing.  We have done some testing and our results showed that two people testing simultaneously from the same or different locations - using the speed test site you used - produced vastly different results.

Laing also says about the bundling that:

... you don't need to have a land line with us to have PDQ - but you do need to use TelstraClear for your national, international and home to mobile calling and maintain a $10 minimum monthly spend.

Other related posts:
The problem with VDSL2, part 2
The problem with VDSL2
The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

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