Is Optus 3G almost as good as Telstra?


Analyst house IDC today claimed Optus’ 3G mobile broadband offering was only 4 percent behind Telstra’s Next G offering across a range of criteria — despite acknowledging Telstra’s network was on average 60 percent faster.

The group conducted 2,000 independent tests over a nine-month period to produce a comprehensive report on mobile broadband performance in Australia. The full report costs $3,500.

“IDC’s research showed that Telstra scored more highly than its competitors, with average download speeds nearly 60 percent faster than its nearest rival and no network fallback to 2G encountered. The user experience on Telstra was often similar to a good quality residential fixed broadband connection,” said the group’s telecommunications market analyst Mark Novosel in a statement.

“Optus’ performance soared in 2009, scoring similarly to Telstra, although slightly more network fallback was experienced. However, performance was fairly consistent and well above both of VHA’s networks,” he added.

The analyst stated that Optus’ 3G network now provided a viable alternative to Next G, for anyone willing to sacrifice some coverage and speed in favour of cost savings. “However, Optus was only 4 percent behind, after demonstrating a strong improvement in performance across all metrics assessed, having improved 20 percent from 2008,” he said.

In general, Novosel said average speeds across the entire mobile broadband ecosystem had improved by 68 percent since 2008 — reaching 2.94Mbps. Upload speeds also surged — the average upload speed measured in 2008 was 1.24Mbps — compared with 460Kbps in 2008.

The news came as Telstra today took a stab at Optus on its Exchange blog on the issue of mobile coverage.

“Telstra’s competitors are still trying to catch up with Next G. If you live in the country or like to go bush often like I do, then it pays to check out the coverage – especially if you’re thinking of buying products like the new Apple iPad,” wrote Rod Bruem, corporate affairs manager for Telstra Business — the company’s SME division.

He pointed out that some devices might not support Optus’ 900MHz spectrum networks, which it predominantly uses in rural areas, and highlighted a network coverage map produced by Telstra which he claimed showed poor coverage on Optus’ part. “This map shows just how inadequate the Optus 3G 2100 (MHz) coverage really is,” he wrote.

However Bruem might have bitten off a little more than he could chew.

“Look, as a Telstra Customer, I am really disappointed you would stoop to gutter politics with articles lined to mislead consumers of the real facts … Stick to customer service please. It’s this sort of stuff that makes me even more inclined to switch to the opposition,” wrote the first commenter under Bruem’s post.

They later pointed out the new Telstra iPhone 4 does support Optus’ 900MHz network and claimed Bruem’s post was a return to the form of Telstra’s poisonous Now We Are Talking blog — set up by former CEO Sol Trujillo and shut down under new CEO David Thodey. Optus has been invited by email to respond to Telstra’s statement — any statement will be added into this story.

Image credit: Telstra


  1. Optus are to be commended for working diligently to increase their network converage. However, all the coverage in the world is useless if there isn’t the capacity to support mobile data properly. 7am in Brisbane this morning I checked email – my 3.5G phone always drops back to GPRS. Yet my associate next to me can stream video on her Telstra NextG phone. Arghg. Here’s a good thread to read:

    • Yeah I’ve had the same experience, it is why I am shortly to switch to Telstra Next G rather than continue to use Optus. Tests will show what tests will show … but I have heard so many complaints from people who are using Optus that it just isn’t funny. Whereas, when those same people switch to Telstra, they acknowledge they pay more, but never have a problem with their service.

      Not saying IDC’s tests are wrong … just saying that the word on the street is a fair bit different.

  2. “4 percent behind Telstra’s Next G offering” on what scale using what units of measurement? Oh. “A range of criteria”. In other words, some pseudo-scientific waffle that we have to pay $3500 for.

    Sorry, but I’ve used both networks in equivalent environments on and off for the last two years. A 4% difference is statistical noise. It should be negligible. But from a user’s perspective Telstra’s Next G shits all over the Optus network. And of course, to balance that out, Next G is more expensive than Optus. You get what you pay for.

    Disclosure: Telstra gives me free stuff, like the current month of free Next G access. Thank God.

    • +1 to this. I don’t see how you can possibly justify the “4 percent” behind label when there’s a 60 percent difference in speed. It just doesn’t stack up. And yup, the word from virtually everyone I’ve talked to is that Optus’ network is just not doing that well at the moment … blackspots, dropouts, slowness, etc etc. And God forbid you should try to access the network at some form of sporting venue where there are stacks of people. Just forget about it.

  3. Telstra have every right to point out where they are better than Optus. I can drive from Sydney to Coonabarabran and only lose signal a couple of times momentarily on NextG. On Optus i just turned the phone off after Lithgow as the coverage was abysmal.

    • It’s bizarre because five years ago Optus was really pumping money into the network, while now they have been very quiet … they just don’t seem to be investing in it at the same rate as they used to. In the cities, an additional problem is that they won so much of the iPhone market that it looks like their network is getting swamped continuously … I often have problems in the Sydney CBD, for example.

      I’d like to see Optus come out with a big publicity splash and announce a stack of new investment in the network to fix the problems. But I guess they would have to get the money approved which would take a looong time.

  4. My roomate on optus has disabled 3G entirely on his phone, he simply misses too many calls with it enabled. The phone won’t ring, it just goes straight to message bank, even with it showing apparently 4-5 (max.) bars of signal.

  5. Chad, if you’ve got signal that sounds more like an issue or configuration (ie. automatically sent to voicemail) with the phone itself.

    But regarding the topic, I’ve been on Optus for a while but only picked up a smartphone (Motorola Quench) a week ago, main observations thus far.

    Positive – Price, you can get this phone at zero cost on a $19/month plan, and generally the prices are great regardless. Speed, when I’m in a 3G coverage area the speed is fine, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t done a speedtest, but general browsing I don’t notice any real lag and the whole experience is smooth.

    Negative – Coverage Density, I live on the Central Coast and work in Sydney and this is the only place I have used the phone thus far, I have not had an area where I have noticed and drop in coverage, however, I walk 2m inside my front door and the 4-5 bars of 3G coverage I have are gone and I’m on GPRS.

    • Yeah Optus have previously flagged that phone misconfigurations could be the cause of some of it in my personal case… but I just don’t really buy it. Why? Because I used to catch the bus to work, and my iPhone 3G used to drop out at exactly the same point on the route every single goddamn day. So I just know that Optus doesn’t have coverage in that area. Really annoying.

  6. As a long time Optus ‘sufferer’, I have to say I don’t agree with this reports findings.

    The facts are that Optus 3G coverage in WA is at best patchy, and the metropolitan area is an abomination. A train trip which takes in our northern freeway will see you flip from 3G to 2G and back again no less than seven times travelling at freeway speeds. There’s at least three coverage blackspots of at least a 1km radius, and when you are on 3G the network speeds are consistently poor.

    I take the same route on Telstra, same handset, same battery, identical conditions – and the performance far exceeds that of Optus. No swapping between 2G & 3G networks, no bottlenecks on data, no black spots – not a thing.

    And – I’ve been doing this on and off for two years – and these results haven’t deviated one iota.

    And going beyond the metropolitan area is even worse. I won’t travel outside the metro area without a spare Telstra prepaid SIM because coverage is virtually non-existant. Yes, this means I pay a premium on call diversion charges, but if this is what I must pay to retain decent coverage and the possibility of staying connected on voice and data – then its a price I’m willing to pay.

    Sorry, but something really stinks about this IDC report – because in real world conditions the statements in my case just don’t hold true.

  7. It would certainly be interesting to see exactly how they tested in this report … but I’m not going to pay $3,500 to find out. But certainly the number of people that I have witnessed continually complaining about Optus’ network (and I have to say, I don’t see the same intensity or volume of complaints about the 3G networks operated by VHA through its Vodafone or 3 brands) would seem to illustrate that there are problems with Optus’ infrastructure that it urgently needs to work on.

  8. It’s possibly slightly off-topic here, but since the Telstra blog article was about their rural coverage, I’ve commented about their lack of rural coverage in S.A., the dangers involved, and asked when NextG will catch up with the old CDMA service Telstra shut down. There’s another detailed comment on that blog from a rural resident. Telstra has been deliberately reducing services to us for years, and we’d love a viable alternative.

    • Yup the rural complaints about CDMA vs Next G are still sticking around. There is no doubt that Telstra did the right thing by replacing the CDMA network with Next G, it is a 200 percent better service. But that’s not true for everyone — a lot of people had received CDMA where they couldn’t get anything else — and you do still see quite a few complaints about this.

      Probably Telstra should set up a dedicated blog or something to deal with the problem, or a support line etc — or both. Maybe they already have.

      • I don’t see how a dedicated blog or support line is going to solve the problem of not having mobile coverage in areas where we used to have it. The only thing that’s going to solve that problem is creating the infrastructure for wider coverage.

        • What I meant is, Telstra could have an avenue like a blog or a helpline where people could help it pinpoint the blackspots, and then allocate more towers in that area. It’s not like a few extra, highly targeted towers to fix some blackspots would be a big deal for Telstra, it just needs a good way for the public to feed information in.

          • Well Telstra has been making quite a few moves in this direction recently … particularly through social media. Their Twitter accounts, the Telstra Exchange blog and so on.

  9. I have an iPhone 3g with Optus, and recently I bought an iPad that I run on Telstra’s network. The difference in connectivity is like night and day. I carry the two with me almost everywhere I go, so I’m able to compare the differences in network connectivity (I’m assuming there aren’t too many differences in the devices themselves as far as 3g connectivity is concerned).

    I commute on Melbourne’s trains every day, and I had given up using the Internet on my Optus iPhone because the coverage was almost non-existant. I used to think it was just physically impossible to have a reliable 3g network on a moving train.

    Well, until I bought the iPad and connected with Telstra. The Internet just keeps on working on the trains. And it’s fast too. Night and day.

    • I’ve had pretty much the same experience. I have an Optus iPhone 3G and a Telstra Next G mobile broadband USB modem for my MacBook Pro. I have taken both all around Australia over the past six months on quite a few trips, and while I’ve yet to have any problem anywhere with Next G, Optus coverage is literally all over the place.

      When you hear the same story from a dozen people a month you start to believe Telstra’s marketing spin.

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