4G Showdown: A day of Speedtests in Melbourne

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I’ve wanted to do a comparison of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for a while now, but it wasn’t really fair.

Comparing Vodafone with Telstra and Optus when Vodafone didn’t have LTE? It would have been a bloodbath for the already battling telco. Now that Vodafone’s LTE network has launched, there’s an even playing field for all three of Australia’s network operators.

Vodafone invited me to try their LTE network a few days before it launched for their existing customers. I never got around to using it until the 13th of June, which just happened to be the day they started enabling LTE for select groups of their customers.

To try and gauge the quality of Vodafone’s shiny new network upgrades, I spent the entire day, from 8:30AM to 5:30PM, roaming Melbourne’s inner city areas, comparing the bandwidth available from each radio network operator, with the following method:

Device: 3x Apple iPhone 5s, each with an Optus, Vodafone and Telstra SIM with LTE access.
Carrier settings: Telstra 14.0, voda AU 14.1, OPTUS 14.1
Methodology: v3.0.1 of Ookla’s Speedtest.net iOS app, set to test with each telco’s respective server. All three iPhones started the test in the same location, within 30 seconds of each other.

I’ve uploaded all my results to the above Google Map, showing the location, time, bandwidth and latency of each Speedtest run. Scroll around and see where I travelled that day, and at what time (particularly the peak hours). The headline figures, the averages of the day’s results are as follows:

CarrierDL AvgUL AvgLatency
Vodafone25.5Mbps9.0Mbps 117.9ms

The raw data is available in CSV form here: reckoner_speedtests_13_06_2013.zip

I guess you didn’t see that coming, did ya? I sure didn’t! Vodafone has the highest average download speeds out of the bunch. Of course, there’s more to assessing the quality of the network than these numbers, so let me point out some of my observations regarding these results.

Vodafone’s network is new. On the day of testing, Vodafone told me “we have tens of thousands of customers on the network”, so while it’s not like it’s empty, it is still fresh. Over time, we can expect to see the backhaul demand increase, that’s just natural as Vodafone attempts to get a return on their investment by going after new customers.

Looking at the raw data, you can see that Telstra was the most consistent, with decent speeds everywhere. Vodafone had a few bad patches where speeds and latency were awful. So even though Vodafone has a higher average speed, it crapped out in a few places, which was countered by the significantly faster speeds during peak times over Telstra & Optus.

There were very few times when Vodafone had an insufficient signal or bandwidth. Their LTE coverage is sparse versus Telstra and to be honest, will probably never match Telstra, particularly in regional areas. But metro LTE coverage will ramp up quickly. Optus however, had a lot of issues in fringe LTE areas, where it would often switch back and forth between 3G and LTE rapidly, giving no data at all as a result.

A big surprise for me was Optus in general. How they’ve managed to escape the crucifixion Vodafone received two years ago is beyond me. Average speeds are half of Vodafone’s! It’s hardly a good showing for the #2 telco and they need to lift their game significantly if they don’t want to end up with their own Optus-gate-fail-whatever.

Overall, I have to say I’m very impressed with Vodafone’s rollout so far. I’d love more coverage in the western part of Melbourne, as that’s where I live and hang out. Currently there’s no Vodafone LTE between Footscray/North Melbourne and Melton – a huge gap! And it would also be nice to get more detail on how exactly you can get access to the 4G network (right now it seems to be invite only for existing customers), and for Vodafone to release mobile broadband modems as soon as possible.

Would this pull me away from Telstra? Right now, probably not. I think Vodafone are on the right track, but for where I hang out the most, there’s simply no LTE, where as Telstra does provide it. It is wonderful to have an extra LTE provider in my mobile broadband toolkit however, particularly one as speedy as Vodafone is currently. If they can carefully manage their backhaul, combined with their 20MHz of continuous spectrum, Vodafone are on to a winner and will surely see their fortunes reverse.

I’m very open to feedback regarding these tests, so if you have a better methodology you’d like me to implement, please let me know via the comments, or email. I’m more than happy to spend a few more days running around Melbourne doing various tests!

Also, Vodafone have made available to me their Technology Program Manager for LTE/4G – so if you have any questions regarding Vodafone’s LTE rollout, particularly ones about the technical aspects of the network (put your RF engineer hats on, preferably not tin foil) and I can put them to Vodafone and post them here.

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Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

Founded by James Croft, along with Peter Wells and Anthony Agius they created what would go on to become one of Australia’s most highly regarded and award winning independent tech blogs.

With its uniquely Australian voice Reckoner is committed to offering a “no-holds-barred” approach to its writing. Beholden to no one but its audience. Reckoner’s goal is to remain completely transparent and honour the trust it’s built with its faithful readership.

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