State of Mobile Networks: Australia (June 2016)

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

Report Facts

15,594,150
Measurements
7,904
Test Devices
2016-02-01 - 2016-04-30
Sample Period
Australia
Report Location

Highlights

Telstra dominates in speed

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.

Vodafone matches Telstra in 4G availability

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.

Australia is well ahead of global network trends

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.

We ain't seen nothing yet

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.

Awards Table

Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: 3G Download Speed: Overall Latency: 4G Latency: 3G Availability: 4G

Optus

medal medal

Telstra

medal medal medal medal

Vodafone

medal medal medal medal

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Performance by Metric

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.

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: Overall

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.

Latency: 4G

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.

Latency: 3G

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.

Analysis

At Mobile World Congress in February, Telstra made big headlines by announcing it would launch the world's first commercial 1-Gbps 4G service. Its new high-performance LTE-Advanced network is set to go live this year in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. There is only one problem. Just a single device will be capable of accessing such a powerful network, a stand-alone modem built by Netgear. It will be a while — if ever — before a smartphone will be able to support such superfast speeds.

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.

No slow networks here

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.

Monitoring 4G experience

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.

Breaking speed barriers

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.

Our Methodology

OpenSignal data is collected from consumer smartphones and recorded under conditions of normal usage. As opposed to drive-test data, which attempts to simulate what a user might experience by using the same devices to measure network performance in a small number of locations, we take our measurements from millions of smartphones owned by regular people who have downloaded OpenSignal’s apps.

Those measurements are taken wherever users happen to be, whether indoors or out, in a city or in the countryside, representing a mobile data service the way users experience it. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 15,594,150 datapoints were collected from 7,904 users during the period: 2016-02-01 - 2016-04-30.

All data has been collected from users of the OpenSignal mobile app for Android or iOS.

For every metric we've calculated statistical confidence intervals and plotted them on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric, our measured results are too close to declare a winner in a particular category. In those cases, we show a statistical draw. For this reason, some metrics have multiple operator winners.

©2016 OpenSignal, Inc. All rights reserved.

OpenSignal, Inc retains ownership of this report including all intellectual property rights, data, content, graphs & analysis. Reports produced by OpenSignal, Inc may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed, published for any commercial purpose (including use in advertisements or other promotional content) without prior written consent.

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