Australian Network Coverage
There are a variety of credible ( independent ) information sources available to establish which phone companies offer the best network coverage in Australia. We try to reference as many as possible here to assist your decision. 40% of Australians say they are likely to change network in the next year. Coverage is a key factor in that decision making process.
Potentially the most important report about phone companies in 5 years, a recent ‘Open Source’ white paper revealed some surprising news. In major metro areas, Vodafone had the best 4G coverage and the best 4G speeds – compared to Optus and Telstra. Complaints to the TIO about Vodafone – the Telecommunications ombudsman halved between 2014 and 2015. These are just a few of the facts showing that the Vodafone network has improved substantially since it’s bad days.
And, when you include the other elements of the service you’re offered by your phone company, it gets interesting. Looking at customer service and overall customer satisfaction from Australian phone companies, Telstra’s and Optus are both on a par with Vodafone. So, Telstra do have the best network but the research says they may well not be the best phone company for you.
Recent changes in Australian 4G Coverage
Low frequencies like 700 MHz or 850 MHz improve in building coverage and reach in to the bush. Remember, not all phones have access to frequencies like Optus and Telstra’s 700 MHz.
As we enter late 2015, the competition between Vodafone Telstra and Optus for 4G coverage and speed is taking an interesting twist. Each player is now attempting to make the best use of their frequency investments to improve both the number of square kilometers they cover and their in building network penetration.
Vodafone is reusing it’s 850 MHz frequency. Telstra and Optus are deploying their new 700 MHz frequency. Each of these spectrum facilitiesis enabled by the closing down of Australia’s Analogue TV networks last year.
Additionally, Optus and Telstra have rolled out ‘double fast’ 4G networks using either TDD or FDD technology. This is sometimes called carrier aggregation. These represent the start of national coverage at even faster speeds than the 4G that some people have already started to use. Meanwhile, Vodafone have moved to a full IP network infrastructure and introduced VoLTE. We cover each of these points in the operator specific section, below.
Optus network coverage
Optus’ 3G Network Coverage – 98.50%
of the population
- Optus’ 3G upgrade is complete.
- Optus’ February 2014 3G upgrade program boosted metro in door coverage to 94%, up from 70% 2 years prior.
- The upgrade provided better in building coverage.
- Optus’ Cover 1.2
million square miles of Australia with their 3G network.
- Compared to Telstra’s 2.4
- And Vodafone’s 0.5
- Optus Subscriber info :
- Have 9.4
million mobile network customers.
- Market share : 30%
( of Australian mobile phone subscribers )
- Customer complaints have changed from 7.2 per 10,000 in March 14
to 8.5 per 10,000 in June 15
in the previous 12 months.
Optus’ 4G Network Coverage
In addition to the information contained in the info-graphics on this page – key facts about Optus’ network include :
- Optus had 4.45
million 4G customers.
- That’s an increase of around 100% achieved in just 12 months from the previously reported statistics and shows how fast usage of 4G services is growing !
- Optus cover almost 90% of the Australian population
with 4G services.
- Optus targeted 70% Australian population coverage with 4G by end March 2014 and achieved it
- Perhaps Optus’ most revealing statistics were shown in the recent Opensource report :
- Optus customers were in 4G signal for 70% of the time
- And, when they were in coverage, they received speeds of 20 Mbp
- ( Where streaming High Definition video takes approximately 5 Mbps, and streaming Ultra High Definition 4K video requires approximately 25 Mbps. )
- Started commercial trials of their 700 MHz spectrum in July 2014
- Optus’ commercial trials of 700 MHz spectrum make use of the network frequency they were granted access to. Full roll out began in calendar 2015.
- The 700 MHz frequency was made available when use of analogue TV channels ceased.
Optus and Virgin Mobile use the same mobile network. Virgin Mobile is actually part of the Optus company. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes this – which is why Virgin Mobile perform better on some network reviews with customers.
Optus actually shares a significant proportion of it’s network with Vodafone. This allows both companies to roll out improved network coverage to their customers whole controlling costs.
In July 2014, the ACMA granted Optus a license to do some commercial trials in Darwin and Perth of their 700 MHz frequency. Since then, Optus have trialed their 4G Plus service – their propitiatory marketing name for FDD / TDD double speed LTE services.
Finally, Optus released a WiFi calling app in mid 2015. Free to download from both the iTunes and Google Play stores, this app lets you use your phone, including the native address book, to call contacts over your home wifi network. Many people have problems making or receiving calls over the phone company networks in some places. For example, one room in a house does not get reception when others do. Optus was first to market with this WiFi calling app in Australia ( they have been up and running in other territories, notably the UK, for a while. ) It’s cheeky that Optus charge you to use your minutes from their plan range when the WiFi calling app is being used to connect the call – since it isn’t necessarily an Optus broadband connection which is providing transit for the call. However, the convenience of this app in providing quality coverage at home and, especially, in terms of integrating with your existing address book / contacts sets this apart from Skype, Viber and the other wifi calling apps. We’ve reviewed the concept of WiFi calling and Optus’ app specifically here.
Telstra do have the best network coverage in the bush
Telstra 3G network coverage
In addition to the information contained in the info-graphics on this page – key facts about Telstra include :
- Telstra Cover 2.4
million square miles of Australia
- Telstra’s 3G coverage includes 60% of the Australian bush.
- That’s around twice as much of Australia as the next best on the list – Optus.
- Telstra’s network coverage represents 30.6% of the Australian landmass.
- Telstra Subscriber stats :
- Have 16.4
million mobile network customers.
- Market share : 53%
- Spending $2 – $3 bn per year on network improvements at the moment.
Telstra’s 4G network coverage
- Telstra have 7.7
million 4G customers
- Telstra cover 96% of the Australian population
- Offer the fastest 4G network coverage in the world according to a recent survey.
Telstra topped the charts in a recent 4G service survey with 64% availability and speeds of 24.5 Mbps 58% of the time. We beat South Korea !
- Telstra’s 4G network was also tested in the recent Opensource report.
- Telstra customers were in 4G signal for 76% of the time
- And, when they were in coverage, they received speeds of 23 Mbp
- ( Where streaming High Definition video takes approximately 5 Mbps, and streaming Ultra High Definition 4K video requires approximately 25 Mbps )
It was back in 2008 that Telstra took the remarkable steps it did, to invest in it’s network and differentiate itself with that attribute. In many ways, it was the genius of the CEO at the time, Sol Trujillo who insisted that the Telstra ‘Next G’ network would be the best in Australia and was prepared to spend the money required to make that happen.
Telstra are ahead in their network performance and are spending more on improving it than the competition. The AFR report that Telstra is spending ‘unprecedented amounts’ on network investment. And it’s paying off. Since mid 2011, they have grown the number of customers on their network by the better part of 1m customers. Telstra now have more than 15 million mobile phone customers on their network.
Cleverly, Telstra have kept their 4G network to themselves. They sell 3G services to providers including Boost and Cmobile. However, they save their 4G network for their own customers.
Together, these steps enable Telstra to charge a premium for their network services. Their price plans are routinely $10 – $15 per month more expensive than the other networks. This poses a couple of natural questions.
- Do you live in a bushland area where you will use the edge in network coverage that Telstra has ?
- Is that benefit worth putting up with their bad customer service and high prices for ?
Telstra’s 4G network coverage
4G or LTE networks are cheaper to operate once established and offer more efficient use of the wireless frequencies the phone companies have bought access to. To you, that means a 4G phone will give you a better network experience.
Telstra started rolling out their 4G services in November 2011, long, long before the other Australian phone companies. By mid 2013, they covered 66% of the Australian population. Their target was to cover 85% by the end of the 2013 calendar year and they hit that milestone. In fact, they completed it a week early. They now cover 96% of the Australian population
of the Australian population with a 4G signal and are targeting 99% coverage by 2017.
Telstra paid $1.3bn for access to the 700 MHz frequency in May 2012.
Similar to Optus but on a slightly larger scale, Telstra are rolling 4G coverage out in 6 cities as part of their 700 MHz commercial trial. Telstra have also been granted the license for this by the ACMA. Telstra’s trials will commence in Griffith, Mildura, Perth, Freemantle, Mt Isa and Esperance.
And, again, like Optus, Telstra are playing with double speed LTE / 4G. Telstra have some places already in Australia where the double fast 4G service is already available. Confusingly, Telstra do this under a different name : 4GX or 4GEXTREME, although the technology employed is very similar to Optus’ FDD capabilities and trials.
Finally, Teltra impressed all those watching in 2015 with the rollout of their national WiFi network. Back in July 2015, Telstra released 4000 WiFi hotspots nationally. This project will deliver faster speeds for those who use WiFi rather than Telstra’s cellular network by splitting the traffic between both fixed and cellular connections. It provides an easier way to scale to the rapidly rising growth of data on their network. It also provides a solution which ties Telstra broadband customers ( who can use the national WiFi network hotspots for free so long as they share their own with the public ) in to Telstra’s fixed and mobile services for longer. Telstra’s scheme is not unique in the world. It follows well trodden paths in the UK and USA. However, strategically, it’s brilliant and the national rollout of the initial batch of 4000 hotspots was done at light speed ( considering it was Telstra managing it. )
What about Vodafone’s network ?
Vodafone’s 3G network
- Vodafone’s 3G network covers 96.00 %
of the Australian population
- They cover 0.5
square Kms of Australia with a 3G signal
- Vodafone have 5.3
million mobile network customers.
- Market share : 53%
- Focus of network improvements :
- According to the newly appointed CEO of Vodafone Australia, the network is focused on acquiring customers with above average data requirements.
- Vodafone say they are spending around $1bn each year on network improvements.
- Vodafone’s publically stated 4G information is sparse
- Although they have said they cover 96.00 %
Vodafone 4G Network Coverage
- Vodafone have more than 2.0
million 4G customers
- That’s huge, given they launched their network more than a year after their rivals.
- Open Source showed Vodafone had the best 4G network coverage & speed in Sydney in January 2014.
- Had first month of adding customers to their network since 2010, at the start of 2014, demonstrating the turn around in their network performance.
- If you’d like more information, you can see our infographic on that report.
- And, in a more recent Opensource report, Vodafone’s 4G network did well
- Vodafone customers were in 4G signal for 77% of the time
- And, when they were in coverage, they received speeds of 19 Mbp
- ( Where streaming High Definition video takes approximately 5 Mbps, and streaming Ultra High Definition 4K video requires approximately 25 Mbps )
In a nutshell, Vodafone have so much ground to recover on network and network perception that they’re focusing on the cities first. As you will have seen on this page, in many major Australian cities, Vodafone already claim the fastest 4G networks. They’re improving that with their 850 MHz frequency. It’ll deliver an immediate benefit to their existing customers. Unfortunately, this is a short term benefit and the truth is that, ultimately Vodafone will have to invest in 700 MHz spectrum at the next frequency auction, if they want to keep pace with Optus and Telstra.
Vodafone have held access to the 850 MHz frequency for some time and are only now, in late 2014, redeploying the asset. Using their 850 MHz frequency, Vodafone expect their 4G to cover 95% of the metropolitan area by the end of 2014.
There is a very real difference to consumers in all of this. The majority of existing smartphones can use Vodafone’s 850 MHz frequency. The same is not true for Telstra and Optus’ handsets. No phones from Apple, Sony or Nokia will work on the new 700 MHz frequency that the two bigger rivals are offering. ( Some phones from HTC – e.g. the HTC One M8, Samsung including the Galaxy S5, and LG including the G3 will work. ) If you want the benefits of better in building coverage and better bush coverage.
Vodafone’s network improvements are paying off for new customers. The ‘Vodafail’ tag they received in 2010 is finally leaving them following one of the biggest corporate turnarounds in Australian history. The good thing is they know it and they’re working on the problem. Bill Morrow, the ( now ex ) CEO of Vodafone recently changed the company’s internal focus away from numbers and focused staff on the emotional aspects of their relationships with customers.
Vodafone have not yet invested in a national WiFi network in the same way Telstra have. Neither has Vodafone yet released a WiFi calling app like Optus has. What they have done, however, is invest nearly a year in migrating their entire network to its core IP network. This investment will underpin Vodafone pushing further beyond their 96% current coverage capability to provide more coverage to more people. It will also provide easier access to VoLTE ( Voice Over LTE – a way of sending your voice call over the IP network for quicker connection and better call quality ) as well as other IP based services.
Comparing Complaints About The Networks
Vodafone have undertaken a huge network investment since the peak of their problems. They’ve recently spent $1.7 bn on network improvements. The sum of these improvements have reduced customer complaints to the TIO, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman ( that’s the last line of frustration for Australian consumers to complain to ) by 50%. Complaints about the quality of Vodafone’s service are now in line with the other major phone companies in Australia.
|Complaints to the ( per 10,000 SIOs -Services in Operation, Source, TIO )|
|Complaints to the TIO Jan - Mar 2014 ( per 10,000 SIOs )||19.3||5.4||7.1|
|Complaints to the TIO Jan - Mar 2015 ( per 10,000 SIOs )||8.6||7.3||6.9|
Vodafone have cut roll-out time and covered more area, faster by entering a network sharing agreement with Optus.
Vodafone’s network focus seems to be working in a variety of ways. NPS, a measure of customer satisfaction, for customers who joined Vodafone since 2012 is much better than customers who were with them during the worst of their network problems. Before the iPhone crashed the Vodafone network, their NPS was an industry leading +18. At its worst, Vodafone’s NPS fell to -11. For customers who joined since 2012, NPS is positive – which means people would actually recommend the Vodafone network.
Vodafone is a huge international brand and they’re taking a responsible approach to accepting new customers. They check coverage in your area for you and if it’s not good enough where you live and work, they recommend you go to another network. Perhaps that’s why they’re now prepared to offer the Vodafone Network Guarantee.
Overall satisfaction & the best network in Australia
Every month Canstar Blue publish their survey of a number of indicators as to phone company performance. Recently, it uncovered some interesting findings. All the major phone companies have exactly the same level of overall customer satisfaction.
Phone company network comparisons
Australian phone buyers have to make trade offs. They have to decide what the best combination is for them of price / network / service.
- In the bush, Telstra have the best network. They cover 60% of bushland areas with their 3G network. If you want the best pricing on the Telstra network, we recommend Cmobile and Boost.
- In metro areas, Vodafone are just as strong, if not stronger than Telstra. And, as the recent Open Source report shows, Vodafone has better network coverage and speeds on it’s 4G network in Sydney.
Network coverage complaint levels
The ‘regulator’ is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or TIO. With the reduction in complaints about both international roaming rates and excessive data charges, as a result of positive improvements the phone companies have made to the way they charge, complaints are substantially down.
This chart represents the same thing, of course, backward looking. Canstar blue rate overall customer satisfaction as equal across all the major phone companies.
Determining who has the best network in Australia is not nearly as simple as it was. The gap between the best and the worst Australian network was never nearly as big as people think it is. And now, Vodafone are the best in metro areas. In the bush, Telstra is the safest bet.
The choice on which is more important ( cost or a small network quality improvement ) is a very personal decision. This article is designed to help you weigh up the elements of the trade off which are most important to you. Our suggestion is that, in many cases, especially if you need a 3G SIM, you can get a better deal on whichever network you want access to by choosing an MVNO.
What’s next for Australian network coverage ?
For the average user, the 4G networks of all 4 of the top Australian carriers can be considered of roughly equal speed in my view.
Some users receive peak speeds which might be higher here and there and those tend to be what’s reported. There are a variety of factors influencing how fast the data will come down to your phone including how many times you’ve dropped it ( did you damage the aerial ? ), how far you are from the nearest base station, how many other users there are on that network at the same time ?
Industry analysts say that 5G – the next network, beyond 4G, is just around the corner. Scheduled for the 2020s, 5G is already being worked on by the consortium of industry specialists which delivered 4G. 5G is likely to deliver more of the same sorts of improvements that 4G did.
- Lower latency speeds :
The time to get the response to your query – whether it’s a search or a request to begin a file download will be even faster than you’re already used to.
- Efficiency :
The move towards the Internet Of Things where everything from your watch, to your phone to your child and your car are all connected to the internet is going to require the ability to support more network connected devices, including phones. This will require more efficiency from the 5G network.
- Higher speeds :
4G speeds are staggering to most people. They’re analogous with your hme broadband fixed line connection. 6 years from now, they could be an order of magnitude faster again.
We also have in depth phone company comparisons
Network decision / price may be the most important aspect of your decision today. However, there is, of course, more to choosing a phone company than the network component. We have reviewed each of the major Australian Phone companies in depth, covering everything from how they treat their customers, to special offers and unique elements of their plans. You can access the comparison articles by reading ‘Australian phone company reviews’
COMPARE SIM ONLY PLANS IN AUSTRALIA
5G In Australia – Closer than you might think
Each of the major phone companies agree that 2020 is the year they will launch their 5G phone services.
The vast majority of Australians have smart mobile phones these days. But even the earliest adopters of phone technology have only had 4G ( link to ‘what is 4G ) data speeds in their phone for 4 years. As we covered above, Telstra was first to launch. Vodafone came to market with 4G much, much later, in 2014. Even so, the major phone companies have already started making promises about 5G. Each of the major phone companies agree that 2020 is the year they will launch their 5G phone services.
What 5G means to you
5G appears to be a different, more considered technology evolution than those that preceeded it. The essence of the move from 2G ( GPRS ) to 3G and then 3G to 4G was simply giving you faster data speeds. The data throughput they offered was often many times the facility of their predecessors. It became possible with 2G to download webpages, albeit slowly. 3G gave us stuttering or poor resolution video. 4G provided superfast video.
It is, perhaps, noticeable that really, these were the only benefits people were provided. For all it’s marketing machismo, the telco industry really only said ‘IT’S FAST!’ They said it a lot of different ways but that’s all they said.
5G will be deployed in to a disrupted world. Now, the internet is being used for applications that require more than just a fast dumb pipe :
- Low power :
The Internet Of Things has become a reality, connecting things to the internet like Coke Machines and cars that previously never were. These devices can be extremely small and may not be large enough to support substantial batteries. 5G is being designed to operate in a way which provides as much data throughput ( speed ) as is possible without requiring too much from devices’ batteries.
- Prioritized traffic :
5G will be in use when driver less cars are on the roads. Updating it’s own position and sharing information with other driver less vehicles might mean a requirement to secure very fast access to the internet. Similarly, emergency services around the world ( notably the UK ) which previously ran their own network to arrange police and ambulance attendance very obviously need to have prioritized access to the information they need. 5G is likely to have prioritized access for different types of user. The police and emergency services will be at the top of the list coke machines at the bottom.
- Faster downloads :
Data speeds are staggering on 5G. You will be able to access extremely high quality data in quantities which will allow you to completely download an entire film in seconds. It’s more likely we will download movies and video clips than stream them because it’ll be so fast and easy and it will improve the experience of watching them.
- Faster streaming :
For applications such as video discussions with friends and family and telecommuting, you can expect high quality transmission and uninterrupted service. Again, it is likely that this sort of use will be prioritized. Expectations of latency ( delays ) in one on one communication are high. We become frustrated if we have to wait a few seconds to get a response from a person in a conversation. This sort of communication is likely to be assigned a higher priority over a 5G network than, say, a coke machine making a request to be restocked.
- More efficient :
As we’ve said, there are going to be more things attached to the internet. Most estimates put the number of connected devices at around 15 bn. By 2020 there could be 50 billion. In technical terms, the requirements that are passed on to 5G are to be more efficient. 5G needs to use no more spectrum than was previously afforded 4G but to deal with more than 3 times as many connected users.
5G from Vodafone
Little is really known, beyond the conceptual capabilities, constraints and considerations in building a 5G network. Vodafone often benefit from their international scale by being invited to contribute to the definition of standards in the industry. Although it’s hard to believe it now, in Australia, globally, Vodafone built some beautiful 3G networks which set the standard.
Their network team and CEO have talked about 5G but have not yet said anything edifying.
5G from Telstra
Mike Write, in charge of networks for Telstra has talked publically in very high level terms of the advantages we have outlined here.
“We’ve always been very aggressive in adopting new technology because it’s more efficient and we can show clearly it’s a lower cost to deliver more [data], customers get the latest technology and they get a better experience,”
Experience, brand and the deep pockets of Big T suggest they will go large, early, and cover a lot of Australia when they deploy 5G.
5G from Optus
Optus have ( surprisingly ) made perhaps the most intelligent comment on 5G so far. They’ve talked about the importance of 3G.
Stuart MacIntyre, their network chief said :
“3G is still critically important to so many of our customers, so we’re upgrading our network in terms of 3G and 4G together,”
Unsaid is that they will be deploying as much as they can for 5G at the same time. When 5G comes out, there will still be a lot of people on very old phones. Just like Microsoft with XP, 3G phones will have to be turned off at some point.
Summing up 5G
Who would be a phone company ? A few short years after spending billions of dollars covering Australia’s largest continent with 2G, they rolled out 3G. Then 4G. Now 5G.
Whether we as consumers realise it or not, these network evolutions are substantial changes. They act as a backbone facility for technologies which couldn’t exist without them. When more than half of all searches and webpage views are on phones, it’s hard to imagine that YouTube or Pandora be as successful without the facility to operate on mobiles or that Google Maps would be as useful.
Albeit subtly, our already very high expectations will be raised further by 5G. At the moment, when we click a link, choose an option or decide to download a page on the internet, we expect to wait a few seconds.
5G will land in a 2020 Australia which is becoming used to fiber optic data speeds from the NBN. We’ll be used to internet interactions without delay. Everything online, whether you’re at home, outside or in the car, will become instantaneous.
We already live in a world with an expectation of immediate gratification. Add in the subconscious belief that every request you make will receive an instantaneous response ( along with the associated frustration you’ll have when it doesn’t because of a technical glitch ) and the biggest contribution 5G could make to the world is an increase in stress and potentially, the number of heart attacks. At least the ambulance will be able to transmit your bodies functioning parameters efficiently as you make your way to the hospital.
December 2015 Spectrum Auctions
The December 2015 spectrum auctions gave a strong hint as to the strategies and capabilities of Australia’s major players. The government raised over half a billion dollars selling 1800Mhz spectrum to Optus, Telstra, TPG and Vodafone.
There appears to be a reasonable amount of significance to the bidding profile. Their spend levels shows Vodafone is still cash strapped. Despite the monies around from their internal ‘Project Spring‘ ( the projects that used the monies freed up by the sale of Verizon ) Vodafone was still comprehensively outbid. In many ways, this is making an existing problem worse. As we have seen elsewhere on this page, Vodafone has still not publically announced it’s 4G national coverage levels as a proportion of population. If they’re behind Optus and Telstra and and going slower, they obviously don’t intend to compete with either of them, in the short term, in the bush.
Optus on the other hand appear more than willing to compete with Telstra on network. Optus have said that they’re going to match Telstra for coverage before. This bidding profile suggests that they’re actively investing to do it now.
Network coverage is about balance. Telstra cover more than 1m square miles more than Optus for a 0.5% of population coverage increase. That footprint does, of course, cover travelers and people who temporarily find themselves in the bigger footprint area. From what we’ve seen in this, the latest round of bidding, it appears that Optus has the right balance bidding for this extra capacity outside cities. And it looks like Vodafone will only be focused on metro coverage for the foreseeable future.