Who has the Best 5G? Optus or Telstra?

Best 5G coverage

Optus now holds the crown for fastest 5G speeds, while Telstra has the widest 5G coverage

Australia’s 5G race continues to heat up as the latest Systemics-PAB report indicates Optus 5G average download speed is 22 percent faster than Telstra’s.  Just last year, an Opensignal report indicated that Telstra had the fastest 5G speeds in the country.

However, while Optus holds the current 5G speeds title, Telstra now has the widest coverage in Australia. And while these two powerhouse telcos make leaps in Australia’s 5G market, TPG Telecom (Vodafone) lags far behind in all 5G categories.

So who has the best 5G network in Australia? Well, answering this question depends on what you value the most – speed or coverage. We’ll address them all in this article, so read on to find out which network is best for you.

What to expect from 5G – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone

Since its commercial launch two years ago, Optus and Telstra have been the 5G frontrunners in Australia. Optus launched its fixed home wireless 5G network with its Expression of Interest campaign, then Telstra followed with mobile 5G. Both were only available in select areas.

It wasn’t until after a Federal judge approved the TPG Telecom/Vodafone merger that the newly formed merged launched their 5G network. However, their launch was very limited, and still is. In fact, Systemics PAB’s tests found that the telco’s 5G coverage was only 6 percent of the population. Because TPG Telecom are so far behind in coverage and 5G in general, we’ll focus on Optus and Telstra.

The most recent report we have on the 5G market comes from Systemics PAB. Here’s a look at their numbers, to give you a quick idea of Australia’s 5G networks in a nutshell:

Australia’s 5G networks

Remember though, these numbers are only based on Systemics PAB’s report, which covered a 1600km drive across Sydney and Melbourne and tested with a Samsung Galaxy S20 5G smartphone. Under different circumstances, the numbers may vary, but the conclusion will likely remain the same.

5G Speeds

The 5G hype has mostly been about download speeds. Before launch, we were promised speeds of up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE. However, it’s going to take time to get there, and telcos are working hard towards it. In fact, we’ve seen average speeds increase since launch.

For instance, last year, Opensignal concluded that Telstra had the fastest 5G speeds in Australia. The exact results showed Telstra’s 5G network averaged download speeds of 232Mbps, over 36% faster than Optus’ 170Mbps.

This year, however, Systemics PAB shows Optus 5G speeds are ahead of Telstra’s – at least where there is coverage. And apparently, Optus has lower latency as well. So if you’re you believe the best 5G plans mean the fastest download speeds, then Optus is currently your best bet for now.

5G Coverage

But what good is speed if you don’t have enough coverage? While we bought into the 5G hype based on fast speeds and low latency, none of it really matters if coverage isn’t that great.

Right now, Telstra 5G has the widest coverage in Australia. However, although Systemics PAB’s report indicates Telstra has 76 percent coverage, that only applies to the 1600km stretch within Sydney and Melbourne that the firm explored.

In reality, Telstra claims their 5G coverage is 50 percent of the country, and they hope to have 75 percent by the end of June. So if you consider the telco with the widest 5G coverage and availability as having the best 5G plans, then Telstra might be the better option right now.

To check if Optus has 5G coverage in your area, head on to their website to check the coverage map. For Telstra’s 5G coverage, you’ll find a coverage map on their website as well.

Final words – Things might change

Remember, these results simply record 5G as it stands today. They can easily change in a matter of months, if not weeks.

Recall Opensignal’s study found Telstra’s 5G to be the fastest in Australia just last year, but Optus now holds that crown this year. Opensignal also had Optus slightly edging out Telstra in 5G coverage last year, but Telstra now holds the coverage crown.

Australia’s 5G environment is dynamic, and it will be that way for a while. In fact, the ACMA is set to auction off spectrum in the 26GHz band for 5G use, popularly referred to as mmWave. This spectrum promises super fast 5G speeds, so any of the three major telcos can end up with the fastest 5G in a matter of months.

But for now, the best 5G in Australia depends on your needs. If you’re all about speed, Optus takes the cake. Availability? Telstra, then. But with both telcos offering some really fast 5G speeds and decent coverage, perhaps any one will do, so it all boils down to your preference.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.