Australia has long been a leader in mobile networking, adopting new 3G and 4G technologies right after they leave the lab. Even as it outpaces the world in LTE, it's already looking ahead to 5G. We took a close look at Australia's three major mobile operators, comparing the results of more than 15 million tests conducted by 7,900 OpenSignal users between February and April. We found networks that weren't just fast but also consistently available to Australia's far-flung population.
Last Updated: July 15th 2016
Telstra wins OpenSignal's speed ribbon with a 4G download average of 23.6 Mbps. Telstra also provided the best overall speeds, averaging 17.1 Mbps across its 3G and 4G networks.
Though Telstra outperformed in speed, the country's smallest operator Vodafone kept pace with the Australian giant when it came to offering a consistent LTE connection. Vodafone and Telstra were statistically tied in network availability at 76%, measured as the proportion of time users have a 4G signal rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.
Overall, Australian consumers have much better access to fast LTE networks than the world at large. It ranks in the top 10 in 4G speeds, and the top 20 in 4G availability, according to our most recent data. Even 3G speeds from all three operators exceed global averages.
If anything, Australia is <i>too</i> far ahead when it comes to network innovation. Telstra and Optus have built LTE-Advanced networks capable of theoretical speeds far faster than its subscribers can access. Smartphone technology is still catching up.
|Download Speed: 4G||Download Speed: 3G||Download Speed: Overall||Latency: 4G||Latency: 3G||Availability: 4G|
This metric shows the proportion of time OpenSignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed experienced by OpenSignal users across all of an operator's 3G and 4G networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE availability tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend more time connected to slower 3G networks.
This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.
This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.
That situation sums up the Australian mobile industry in a nutshell. The country has always tottered on the bleeding edge of mobile networking, but it's so far in front of the industry it often has to wait for mobile device technology to catch up. OpenSignal is taking its first close-up look at the networks of the land down under, comparing the mobile performance of its three major operators: Optus, Telstra and Vodafone. What we found was a country that definitely lives up to its reputation for mobile innovation.
In our February-to-April test period, OpenSignal clocked the fastest speeds in Australia on Telstra's LTE network. It averaged 4G downloads of 23.6 Mbps, but Optus and Vodafone were hardly tortoises to Telstra's hare. We measured LTE download speeds faster than 18 Mbps on both operators' networks, resulting in a statistical tie for second place.
3G speeds for all three operators were between 4 and 5 Mbps, resulting in a three-way draw. But Telstra managed to take our award for overall speed — which measures the typical mobile data experience across all networks — with an average download connection of 17 Mbps.
When it came to 4G availability, it was a much closer contest over who could provide an LTE connection most often. Starting with this report, OpenSignal is changing the name of our time coverage metric to the term availability. Availability still measures the same thing as time coverage — the percentage of time customers have access to a particular network. We feel the name availability better represents what our crowdsourced community tracks: the real experience the typical consumer sees on a network, rather than a measure of geographic coverage. (For more details, see our methodology page)
All of Australia's operators performed quite well in the availability category. 4G customers on all three networks were able to see an LTE signal more than 70% of the time. The winner in the category, however, was a bit of a surprise as Australia's smallest operator Vodafone was able to match long-dominant Telstra in 4G availability. In our three-month test window, Vodafone 4G customers were able to connect to its LTE network 77.6% of the time, which put it in a statistical tie with Telstra. Optus was a nose-length behind both with an availability rating of 73.4%.
As mentioned earlier, availability doesn't measure geographic or population coverage. Telstra has long invested heavily in geographic coverage, bringing mobile data services to some of the remotest parts of Australia. What we're seeing in our availability tests represents the typical experience customers are seeing on their operators' networks wherever they happen to be.
The final metric we tracked is latency, which measures the response time of a network. Networks with lower latency send data back and forth much more quickly, which creates a much more streamlined mobile internet experience. For instance, web pages begin rendering faster and there is less lag time in real-time communications apps such as video chat. Latency is becoming an increasingly important metric in Australia as all three operators have started moving their voice services onto their LTE networks. Vodafone won the 3G latency award with a response time of 87.4 milliseconds. The 4G latency award was split between Optus and Vodafone, with both coming in under 55ms.
Australia has done an admirable job maintaining its leading role in the global 4G market. In our most recent tabulations, the country was among the top 10 in average LTE speed and in the top 20 in 4G availability (not an easy feat to pull off considering Australia's vast territory).
What those rankings don't convey, however, is just how far Australia has advanced its network capabilities. Many operators globally have deployed LTE on multiple frequency bands and used LTE-Advanced techniques to tie those bands into high-speed connections, but Telstra and Optus have gone several steps further. They have begun aggregating three — and in some cases four — frequencies into massive-bandwidth links. Telstra is now reaching deep into the grab bag of the LTE-Advanced standard to implement new multi-antenna and more sophisticated modulation technologies in its new 1-Gbps-network launching this year.
The problem is only a handful of devices exist that can access these new upgraded networks, and in most cases those devices aren't smartphones. Two such devices are Samsung's new flagship phones, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, and when we broke out speed test data for those handsets on Telstra's network we found average download speeds of 31.3 Mbps. That's 8 Mbps faster than the operator's 4G average. The S7s, however, only account 2.5% of the OpenSignal users on Telstra's 4G service — not enough for us to say anything definitive about the typical speed on Australia's most powerful networks. But it provides a reasonable indication that Australian consumers can expect their 4G speeds to keep climbing as they upgrade to more advanced smartphones in the next few years.
In conclusion, Australia's networks are both fast and widely available — and they're only improving. Even while waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with Australia in 4G, the country has already begun experimenting with the next iteration of mobile broadband: 5G. Perhaps the best indication of Australia's commitment to the future, though, is its attitude toward the past. Both Telstra and Optus will begin mothballing their 2G networks in less than a year's time.
Editor's Note: This report was updated on July 15, 2016 with additional details on OpenSignal's availability metric and the distinction with geographic coverage metrics.
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