OpenSignal says Australia’s mobile networks run neck and neck

Alex Kidman 16 November 2017

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The speed and availability differences on Australia's 3 big carriers aren't as big as you might think.

The latest OpenSignal State Of Mobile Networks report shows that while Australia's general mobile network performance is highly robust and in some cases world-leading, there's perhaps less between the three big networks than you might think.

Taking some 218,574,415 measurements from 10,990 devices in Australia for the sample period of July to September 2017, OpenSignal's report draws out detail from real world users in Australia as to their experiences on Telstra, Optus and Vodafone's 3G and 4G networks.

While all the big networks have been busy preparing for 5G, they're all also busy talking up the quality of their existing networks. So how good are they?

That depends on which metric you use. On the question of 4G availability, OpenSignal declares it an effective "draw" between the big three networks, with Vodafone having a slight (but probably not statistically significant) lead over Optus and Telstra:

OpenSignal4G Availability
Vodafone85.88%
Optus85.43%
Telstra85.07%

If it's 4G speed you crave, Telstra takes the local crown, although OpenSignal's statistical variance suggests that it's an effective draw with Vodafone in real terms:

OpenSignal4G Speed
Telstra37.82Mbps
Vodafone35.21Mbps
Optus30.22Mbps

Drop to a 3G signal, however, and it's a different story:

OpenSignal3G Speed
Optus6.53Mbps
Vodafone6.27Mbps
Telstra5.66Mbps

Combine the two, and Telstra has a narrow lead across the country, although again OpenSignal considers its network tied with Vodafone's from a statistical viewpoint:

OpenSignalOverall download speed
Vodafone29.44Mbps
Telstra30.88Mbps
Optus24.85Mbps

For issues of latency (the effective "round trip" speed of a network), Telstra's 4G network is lagging a little behind both Optus and Vodafone according to OpenSignal's measurements:

OpenSignal4G Latency (lower is better)
Optus33.64ms
Vodafone35.78ms
Telstra39.82ms

As for 3G latency, OpenSignal's measurements suggest a difference, but not enough for them to declare anything but a draw across all three networks:

OpenSignal3G Latency (lower is better)
Optus73.25ms
Telstra78.91ms
Vodafone81.6ms

The vast majority of Australians live in the major metropolitan centres, but there's no clear "winner" there, with OpenSignals' results suggesting that you may want to switch networks if you move cities.

Here are the networks they're suggesting have best performance across Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney for 4G availability, download speed and latency:

RegionBest 4G AvailabilityBest 4G Download SpeedLowest 4G Latency
BrisbaneTelstra/VodafoneTelstra/VodafoneOptus/Telstra/Vodafone
MelbourneOptus/TelstraVodafoneOptus
PerthOptus/TelstraTelstra/VodafoneOptus/Telstra/Vodafone
SydneyTelstraTelstraTelstra

Clearly, Sydney is a Telstra kind of town.

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    OpenSignal's report also highlights a new measurement metric the company is using, with a distinction between availability of 4G signal and actual coverage of that carrier over a geographic area. Its new place coverage metric has been tested and measured across Australia specifically and quite deliberately.

    Open Signal's Kevin Fitchard noted that Australia was chosen to highlight the new coverage metric due to its particular nature. "Australia is a country of extremes," he said. "It has pockets of extremely high population density along its coasts, and it has vast areas of extremely low – in many cases zero – population density in its interior."

    As such, while a report might indicate a specific percentage of availability, that might not map to all the places a mobile user in Australia might happen to be.

    OpenSignal's coverage metric takes the population of an area into effect when weighting coverage scores, on the grounds that there are more mobile users in a metropolitan area than, say a heavily rural one. It's here that Telstra has a noted advantage over its rivals, with 85.3% place coverage, effectively mirroring its general 4G availability. Optus and Vodafone do manage place coverage better than 80%, but not quite at Telstra's level.

    In global terms, we're still doing very well, however, with OpenSignal's report noting that the average download speeds across all Australian users were typically twice that of the global 16.6Mbps average.

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