Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone: Which Australian network gives you the most consistent speeds?

Harry Tucker 13 December 2017 NEWS

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All three networks talk about huge speeds, but who delivers the best results to consumers?

When we buy our new mobile phone plans, we’re often swayed in by the money we can save on a deal or the included data that we’re paying for. But what good is all that data if you can’t use it?

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all invest billions of dollars in their networks each year, improving everything from coverage in rural areas to download speeds and capacity.

However, just because a telco says they’re throwing big dollars at the network, doesn’t necessarily mean you as a customer are going to see better results in day to day usage.

Luckily, there are a few metrics we can look at to help us work out what sort of performance you’re likely to achieve, and why you’re achieving that.

In rural areas, Telstra still has a clear advantage in terms of overall coverage, so in this article, we’re going to be focusing just on the major metro areas. Major metro areas are where telcos fight the hardest battles and tend to roll out the newest fastest network infrastructure, meaning that this is often where the real network competition is.

There are three separate organisations that track mobile network speeds and coverage in Australia – P3, Ookla (SpeedTest) and OpenSignal.

All three of these track speeds and coverage in different ways which give us the ability to get different perspectives on each.

P3 is an independent test, involving testers travelling across the country to test speeds and coverage with their own devices.

The P3 group works closely with carriers here who use these results to optimise their networks, so it’s more an indication of peak performance on your best days, and more importantly, a reflection of investment rather than real world speeds.

Ookla’s results are from the data they receive when people use its Speedtest applications and test the speeds of their phone. If you're curious, you can run a speed test on your mobile or broadband connection using Ookla's infrastructure right here at finder.

Ookla then takes those download, upload and ping speeds and uses them to form its yearly report. This is a great real world indicator. Its results are "speed scores" which combine download and upload speeds and also weight when times were recorded such as off-peak and peak.

Lastly, Open Signal uses an app installed on tens of thousands of devices which tracks coverage and download speed across those devices in the background. Like Ookla, it’s a great real world indicator as it’s just tracking owner’s everyday usage.

We’ve pulled the data from each of these tests in the past two years, as well as the flagship data plans from each carrier around the same time. That way we can see not only the speed scores, but also the effect of our growing addiction to using ever more data on mobile networks, and how that may have affected them. Each test reports in slightly different timeframes, which is why there are blank areas in the tables below, including the April 2017 period, which we've included to show comparable data plans and rates over time.

Optus speeds and plans 2015-2017

DateFlagship plan data inclusion/priceP3 city averageOokla resultOpenSignal result
October 2015$100/12GB38Mbps31 Speed Score
April 2016$100/12GB19Mbps
October 2016$100/15GB56Mbps
April 2017$100/15GB
October 2017$100/40GB65Mbps33 Speed score30Mbps

Telstra speeds and plans 2015-2017

DateFlagship plan data inclusion/priceP3 city averageOokla resultOpenSignal result
October 2015$95/7GB46Mbps37 Speed score
April 2016$95/6GB23Mbps
October 2016$95/10GB59Mbps
April 2017$95/12GB
October 2017$109/20GB60Mbps45 Speed Score38Mbps

Vodafone speeds and plans 2015-2017

DateFlagship plan data inclusion/priceP3 city averageOokla resultOpenSignal result
October 2015$80/8GB32Mbps29 Speed Score
April 2016$70/6GB18Mbps
October 2016$90/11GB55Mbps
April 2017$80/12GB
October 2017$105/27GB70Mbps39 Speed Score35Mbps

As you can see, there are two clearly different stories being told across the P3 test and the crowd sourced tests. If you look at P3, you can see that both Optus and Vodafone’s investment into new technology is evident, with the peak speeds that you’ll see on a good day improving faster, and are higher than Telstra’s.

However, things get a bit more interesting for Optus in the crowdsourced tests for real world speeds. While Telstra and Vodafone have both continued with a lot of speed growth in the past two years, Optus’ real world results are growing at a much slower pace as they increase data limits to higher levels than Telstra and Vodafone.

Using Ookla’s metrics, Optus has shifted from a number one position. The latest results show as Optus’ base and data limits have grown, it is now well below both Telstra and Vodafone.

This is likely to relate to how Ookla weights results in peak download periods more than the others, showing that when more people are using the network, Telstra and Vodafone handle the load much more evenly.

Similarly, if you look at Open Signal, which is just the average speed across all of its users, while Optus’ speeds have risen, Telstra and Vodafone’s have both risen more, with Telstra providing the fastest average speed.

As data limits continue to rise, handling congestion and consistent network speeds will become a challenge for carriers as they wait for 5G to arrive.

For now though, it’s important when you’re signing up to a new plan to seek results like these to show what the network you’re signing up to is like. There’s no point buying a 50GB plan if you can barely use it because of sub-par speeds.

It's also wise to consider signing month-to-month plans, either SIM-only or on a prepaid basis.

As you can see above, a lot can change in a network in just two years, so not locking yourself into a service that could be dramatically different halfway through your contract is wise. That's if you don't need a new handset to go with your service, of course.

Also remember that it’s incredibly easy to change carriers if yours isn’t fast enough, as is keeping your own number when you move, which in most cases is transferred within the hour of signing up.

Need a new SIM-only month-to-month or prepaid plan on Optus, Telstra or Vodafone? Here's how their plans compare:

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