Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone: What’s the difference?

Before you choose a mobile plan, it's worth knowing the difference between the three major Australian networks.

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What you need to know

  • All Australian mobile plans operate on either the Telstra, Optus or Vodafone networks.
  • Telstra's network has the greatest coverage, but it's also typically the most expensive.
  • Most smaller and cheaper telcos operate on the Optus network.

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You can choose to sign up with dozens of different mobile carriers, but the practical reality is that your phone is only ever going to connect to one of three networks. Telstra's, Optus' and Vodafone’s mobile networks are the three essential back-end choices you’ve got for a mobile service.

Regardless of which carrier you decide to get a mobile plan from, understanding the differences between each of these three networks is a crucial part of knowing what you can expect from your provider. But before we start, here's a quick primer on the technical jargon that underlies all networks.

Understanding coverage maps

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All of the carriers claim coverage figures well above 99%, which means that no matter where you are in Australia, you can get a mobile signal, right? Sadly, while you could read a claim of 99% coverage as seeming to indicate that nearly the entire Australian landmass is covered, what those figures actually relate to is the population of Australia.

Spectrum matters: What do the frequency numbers mean?

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All carriers operate their mobile networks on tightly regulated frequencies that they're allocated to use, but not all carriers use the same frequencies. This relates to blocks of spectrum purchased by each telco from the Australian government, which regulates the use of public airwaves.

Carrier aggregation, FDD and TDD explained

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The three telcos all operate on the quantities of available spectrum licensed to them by the federal government, but in order to deliver ever-increasing 4G LTE (4G Long Term Evolution) speeds, those spectrum blocks are sewn together to create even quicker and better travelling mobile signals.

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone at a glance

Telstra Optus Vodafone
4G coverage Covers 1,600 Australian towns and communities Covers 98.5% of the Australian population Covers over 22 million Australians
5G launch 2019 Early 2019 2020
Mobile app Yes Yes Yes
Customer/chat support 24x7 24x7 Yes

Telstra

Telstra quick facts
  • Frequencies used: 700Mhz, 850Mhz, 900Mhz, 1,800Mhz, 2,100MHz, 2,600MHz
  • Connection technologies: 3G, 4G LTE
  • Claimed coverage: 99.3% of Australian population
TelstraLogo2_450Telstra’s mobile network encompasses 3G and 4G frequencies, as well as 2G services, although those were decommissioned on 1 December 2016.

It operates primarily at the 1,800Mhz and 700Mhz frequencies, as well as 2,600Mhz services in limited locations. It’s the combination of these three frequencies that allows Telstra to bind them together using FDD aggregation technology to deliver some blisteringly fast speeds, at least in theory, on what it calls its "4GX" network.

Optus

Optus quick facts
  • Frequencies used: 700MHz, 900Mhz (3G), 1,800Mhz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz, 2,600MHz
  • Connection Technologies: 3G, 4G LTE
  • Claimed coverage: 98.5% of Australian population
optus newsOptus is unique in that it offers a mix of FDD and TDD aggregation technologies, with TDD most significantly deployed in Canberra and FDD elsewhere. It has spectrum holdings in the 700Mhz band, albeit less than Telstra’s similar offerings, but a wider range of holdings elsewhere higher in the spectrum band.

Higher frequency spectrum can typically deliver more data than lower spectrum, but it’s always a balancing act between users, physical location and actual real-world speeds.

Vodafone

Vodafone quick facts
  • Frequencies used: 850MHz (3G) 900Mhz, 1,800Mhz, 2,100MHz (3G)
  • Connection Technologies: 3G, 4G LTE
  • Claimed coverage: 96% of Australian population
Vodafonelogo_450Until recently, Vodafone didn't have its own spectrum holdings in the 700Mhz space, having declined to take part in the "digital dividend" auction back when analog TV services were decommissioned. However, in April 2017 it acquired additional bandwidth in the unused 700Mhz spectrum from the government, growing its coverage to better compete with Optus and Telstra.

Where Vodafone claims some level of advantage over Optus and Telstra is in having larger blocks of contiguous spectrum, which allows devices on the Vodafone network to take advantage of a wider bandwidth.

Compare Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone mobile plans


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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    PeterMarch 1, 2018

    Wife and both pensioners.With Telstra on a No Contract Go Mobile Casual Plan @ $35/ Month each with usual Unlimited calls,text etc. Don’t need International.Both our mobiles are about 5 years old and showing their age.We only make Phone calls and Text, with 500Mb small data usage which we only use to send /receive photos — Don’t do games etc
    Need your opinion re as follows: Looking at Virgin / Optus deal using Samsung A5 [ 2017 ] Cost is $36/ month NIL Cost for phone.Includes Unlimited calls / text and 2G Data all on 24 Month Contract.
    Can you confirm this is a good plan for us and can you advise where we can obtain Insurance in case we lose or have phones stolen
    Thank you

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      RenchMarch 14, 2018Staff

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      Whilst we cannot say which one is best or recommend a specific plan for you, you can consider Optus $36 plan. It depends on your needs and your budget. Alternatively, you can also have a look at this page and compare other plans. You can make use of the search filter tool on the side of the page and also select a phone that you prefer in the plan. Once you’ve decided, you may click on the ‘Go to site’ button and purchase the plan from the provider’s official site.

      Best regards,
      Rench

  2. Default Gravatar
    VeronikaAugust 11, 2017

    Am having trouble finding a service provider at Fingal 3939 as Telstra say there are no portholes available and there could be a 3 month wait. We are looking for a landline and internet package and use the phone for international calls as well. can you help us with a speedier service?

    • Default Gravatar
      JonathanAugust 11, 2017

      Hello Veronika,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      You may do a serviceability check to know which are available to you. Please put your complete address on the search field and then click “Home” or “Business” whichever applies. After that, you would see the list of providers and products on the comparison table being updated. You may customize the results by price, data, speed and contract.

      We urge you to click “View Details” prior “Go to Site” to understand more about the product before applying. Alternatively, you may review the Critical Information Summary that is located on the providers’ webpages.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

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