Getting the network coverage you want with the best price possible
This article looks in depth at the latest Australian wireless network performance indicators. It has two surprising conclusions.
- MVNOs offer the best pricing
It’s possible to get pricing on the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks which is much better than the equivalent price charged by the tier 1 telcos ( that’s the likes of Optus, Vodafone and Telstra – the companies which actually own and operate the networks ). You can do that by choosing one of the MVNO partners we have identified below. MVNOs are Mobile Virtual Network Operators – they are smaller companies which resell the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks. To you, that means better rates and better price plan deals.
- Coverage has improved recently
Network coverage has changed significantly recently. Vodafone have improved their metro network beyond recognition. Most of the public’s perception is out of alignment with the reality of current Australian network reality.
These network changes have occurred at a time of huge change in the phone phone landscape. 2014 has been one of the most innovative years for telcos in the last decade with substantial leaps forward in product, pricing, offers, network capability and Service Provider availability.
The single most important trend in Australian telco is SIM Only
The single most important trend in Australian telco is the move to SIM Only plans. In the last year alone, the proportion of people buying SIM only plans and purchasing their own phone has increased from 10% of postpaid connections to 25 % – 30%. Prepaid has always been around half the Australian market, and prepaid has always been SIM Only. As a result, up to 7 out of 10 people are piecing together their own SIM Only + handset plan. When you save 30% by doing that, it’s easy to see why.
Getting the best deal on Australian phone networks
Vodafone, Optus and Telstra are the only 3 mobile network providers in Australia in 2014. They own their own networks ( although sometimes, one of them shares part of their network with another. )
In the telecommunications industry, the big 3 are known as tier 1 telcos. All of the major phone companies are making significant, multi billion dollar investments in their networks to improve coverage and provide the latest data ( 4G ) services to their customers. The tier 1 telcos spend billions building and maintaining their networks.
In addition to maintenance, every few years, a new generation of network technology comes out. Originally, GSM was rolled out. That was upgraded with GPRS. That was followed by 3G data, then 4G data. Starting late in 2014 with trials that commenced in July, new 700 MHz spectrum is being trialled by Optus and Telstra which will double 4G speeds and improve in building reception. This constant attention to network provision and upgrade costs these companies a lot of money.
Phone companies who rent network access are called MVNOs
There are other companies which use the tier 1 Telco’s networks. These phone companies are known as MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They often use exactly the same networks as Vodafone and Optus customers receive. One of the secrets of Australia’s MVNOs, however, is that they do not charge anything like the tier 1 telcos for their services. Remember, MVNOs typically offer SIM Only plans. Using them can save you a fortune without requiring that you compromise interest in the network you choose. Here are some examples.
For the best deal on the Telstra 3G network – choose Cmobile
Cmobile use the Telstra 3G network and their plans start at $14.90 a month
Cmobile have a suite of Blue plans which provide discounted access to the Telstra 3G networks.
- Entry level pricing : We recommend Cmobile Blue $19.90 plan. It provides the cheapest entry point for a Telstra 3G price plan in Australia. For less than $20 per month, you’ll get more than a call per day and 100 MB of data.
- Cmobile’s Blue plans are SIM Only – No Contract plans. If you have a phone you love already or are thinking of purchasing one through an overseas provider like Kogan, SIM Only plans are the best way to get the best pricing in market.
- Cmobile’s SIM Only plans do not come with a contract. There is no risk or commitment beyond the month you are in. If you’d like to move up or down the price plan level you’re on – for example, to choose Cmobile Blue’s $39.90 or $49.90 plans, then you can, each month, without penalty.
- If you want to leave Cmobile then you can, that month and without penalty. If you see a better deal from an alternative phone company then you can move to them.
- Cmobile’s support is Australian based and high quality. If you need to call them you will quickly get hold of someone who is competent, friendly, helpful and, our experience was they were funny too.
If you’d like more detail on the Cmobile Blue suite, click here for our full review.
Need to compare Cmobile’s plans with everything else on the market ? – check out our SIM Only page.
For the best deal on the Optus network – choose Amaysim ( 3G ) or Vaya ( 4G )
If you are a super user of your phone – in other words if you’re addicted to using it, you want to use the Optus network and you use a large amount of data then we recommend Amaysim’s $44.90 plan.
- Amaysim use the Optus 3G network.
- Their unlimited plan offers unlimited calls and texts to Australian numbers
- It also includes an incredible 5GB of data.
Research released in July 2014 shows that 96% of customers on the Amaysim Unlimited plan would recommend it to their friends.
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If you use your phone about as much as an average person, then Vaya’s plans might be right for you. Vaya use the Optus network but don’t charge anything like as much as Optus do for access to it. Remember, Vaya use the Optus 4G network so if you have one of the latest smartphones, this plan could be right for you.
- Vaya’s $18.00 per month plan :
Vaya offer a suite of SIM Only plans. The one we recommend is the $18 plan. For $18 per month, you’ll get $650 worth of calls ( that’s around 10 x standard 2 minute calls per day ), unlimited SMS and 1.5GB of data. To get the same on a standard Optus BYO SIM plan would set you back at least twice as much. Note : Optus’ $40 per month SIM only plan costs twice as miuch as Vaya’s provides around 7 calls per day and 1 GB of data. And Vaya use exactly the same network as Optus does !
And, Vodafone have really improved their network
For the best deal on the Vodafone network, choose Cmobile’s red plans.
As you’ll see below, on this page, Vodafone ‘s coverage, especially in the cities around Australia, has improved greatly. Unfortunately, public perception has not yet caught up. As a result, Cmobile have seen the opportunity to get the best pricing and the best network in Australia. Here’s how you can get it.
- Best Vodafone Value : Cmobile’s Red plan at $19.90 is the best pricing available in Australia at the $20 price point on the Vodafone network.
- Transparent pricing : One of the advantages of Cmobile’s Red suite of plans is the transparency of pricing. They have a PAYG option – which offers calls at 12 cents per minute. To put that in perspective, if you are the kind of person who only makes one ( standard 2 minute ) call per day, Cmobile’s red plans will cost yu only $7.20 per month.
- Strong customer care : Additionally, Cmobile’s Australian customer care is second to none in Australia. It is staffed by a knowledgeable friendly support team, the majority of which used to work for Vodafone in Australia.
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 the 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. Take a look at the info-graphic here if you’d like more detail.
The gap between Vodafone and Telstra was never that big
JD Powers is an American research company which conducts an annual report in to the quality of Australian phone networks. In their 2013 report on Australian Network Coverage, JD Powers concluded that the network performance gap between Vodafone and Telstra was not that large. The JD Powers analysis studied 1900 Australians in February / March 2013 and covered the 3 critical areas of national phone usage. Their aim was to determine what phone company has the best coverage across 3 types of interaction : Phone Calls, Messaging ( e.g. SMS ) and Data Download / Upload.
The study finds that the variation in network quality performance among wireless carriers at the industry level is much smaller in 2013 than in 2012. While network quality performance among carriers still varies at the state level, the gap between the highest- and lowest-ranked carriers for the overall industry has decreased to only 7 PP100 in the 2013 study from 11 PP100 in the 2012 study.
That mostly makes sense if you work in the mobile phone industry. Translated in to terms that normal people might understand, the quote means :
- Telstra’s network was the best available
- But the gap between the quality of the Telstra and Vodafone networks was not as big as people thought it was
And, when you include the other elements of the service you’re offered by your phone company, it gets interesting. Looking at customer service from Australian phone companies, Telstra’s is often on a par with Vodafone. In fact, for overall satisfaction, considering all of these variables, price, network quality and customer service, Optus and Virgin Mobile come out on top. 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 2014, 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 frequencies is enabled by the closing down of Australia’s Analogue TV networks last year.
Optus network coverage
Optus’ 3G Network Coverage – 98.5% of the population
- Optus’ 3G upgrade is complete.
- Optus’ February2014 3G upgrade programme boosted metro in door coverage to 94%, up from 70% 2 years ago.
- The upgrade provided better in building coverage.
- Optus’ Cover 1.0 million square miles of Australia with their 3G network.
- Compared to Telstra’s 2.3m
- Optus’ 1.0 million square kilometers make up 12.6% of Australia’s landmass
- Optus Subscriber info :
- Have 9 million mobile network customers.
- Market share : 19.3% ( of subscribers )
- Customer complaints have halved in last 12-18 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 1.8 million 4G customers as of mid Feb 2014.
- That’s an increase of around 30% achieved in just 3 months from the previously reported statustics and shows how fast usage of 4G services is growing !
- Optus cover 70% of the Australian population with 4G services.
- Optus targeted 70% Australian population coverage with 4G by end March 2014 and achieved it
- Optus’ revised target is to reach 75% of the Australian population by the end of 2014.
- 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 rollout will be early 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 realises this – which is why Virgin Mobile perform better on some network reviews with customers.
Optus too, spent $2 billion dollars growing its network coverage in 2013. Optus is also, already offering new technology to its customers, available since its purchase of Vivid Wireless which will further improve 4G speeds.
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.
Asof July 2014, the ACMA have granted Optus a license to do some commercial trials in Darwin and Perth of their 700 MHz frequency.
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 2.3 million square miles of Australia
- Telstra’s 3G coverage includes 60% of the Australian bush.
- That’s 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 more than 15 million mobile network customers.
- Market share : 45.2%
- Spending $1.2 bn per year for at least the next 2 years
- Telstra have 4.5 million 4G customers as of mid Feb 2014
- 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 !
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 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.
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.
What about Vodafone’s network ?
Vodafone’s 3G network
- Vodafone’s 3G network covers 96% of the Australian population.
- Vodafone have 5 million mobile network customers.
- Market share : 9.5%
- Focus of network improvements :
- According to the newly appointed CEO of Vodafone Australia, the network is focused on acquiring customers with above agerage data requirements.
Vodafone 4G Network Coverage
- Vodafone have more than 1 million 4G customers as of mid Feb 2013.
- That’s huge, given they launched their network less than a year prior to that.
- Open Source show Vodafone has the best 4G network coverage & speed in Sydney at 2014 start.
- Had first month of adding customers to their network since 2010, at the start of 2014
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. Unfortunatly, 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 OPne 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. They’re treating every lost customer as the loss of a lover.
It’s a slightly over the top approach but it has a basis in reality. 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 40%.
Vodafone have cut rollout time and covered more area, faster by entering a network sharing agreement with Optus.
Their network focus seems to be working. 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 year, a phone company consortium conduct a survey called the Australian Mobile Phones Lifestyle Index. This year, it uncovered the same result. Telstra’s customers are substantially less happy overall with their customer service experience than Optus and Virgin customers.
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 ?
However, Telstra and Optus are working on squeezing more out of their 4G networks. Telstra managed 150 Mbps in September 2013 using LTE-A. Optus are likely to be first to market with their souped up 4G technology of TDD which they intend to launch late in 2013 in Canberra. The rollout of the 700 MHz network will again increase the speeds customers receive and the quality of the in building experience they get.
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 imporvements 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.