news A new series of real-world usage tests conducted on Optus’ 4G network have shown the brand new next-generation currently performs on par with legacy ADSL2+ broadband in terms of raw download speeds and latency, and offers significantly better upload speeds.
Optus this week opened its new 4G network to consumers in Sydney, Perth and Newcastle, with a launch in Melbourne to follow in mid-September. The company has some 600 4G towers located around Australia, and has also started selling 4G mobile broadband USB dongles and prepaid devices, along with a popular 4G version of Samsung’s Galaxy S III handset. Debate over the speeds possible over the new 4G infrastructure has raged over the past few months while Optus’ 4G network has been being tested in Newcastle.
When the telco announced its Newcastle 4G rollout, Optus was believed to have been seeing download speeds up to 50Mbps on the 4G network, with upload speeds up to 20Mbps. It recently said the network was capable of typical download speeds ranging from 25Mbps to 87Mbps. This — on paper — compared favourably with Telstra’s rival 4G network, which is theoretically capable of download speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, and upload speeds between 1Mbps to 10Mbps. Recent real-world tests using HTC’s 4G One XL handset on Telstra’s network in Sydney have shown top-end speeds of around 35Mbps down and up between 15Mbps and 25Mbps.
However, real-world tests conducted in the Hunter region by Lifehacker of the 4G networks of both Optus and Telstra consequently showed that Telstra’s network was consistently faster — regularly achieving download speeds in excess of 30Mbps in the region, compared with Optus’ network, which topped out at close to 14Mbps. That evidence was then contradicted by Whirlpool user ‘breaker’, who published an extensive series of tests showing regular speeds between 20Mbps to 30MBps, with some built-up areas showing lower speeds between 10Mbps and 18Mbps.
The news also got better for prospective Optus customers. ‘breaker’ also published some tests showing that Optus’ 4G network speeds can regularly range up to 60Mbps – which is significantly faster than Delimiter has been able to achieve on Telstra’s network. In addition, latency on the network (commonly referred to as ‘ping times’ was sufficient to allow the tester to play online games such as Battlefield 3. “Had a game of BF3 with the lads for over an hour, no issues,” ‘breaker’ wrote.
Yesterday Delimiter conducted a new series of tests on Optus’ 4G network in inner areas of Sydney, ranging from Randwick in the inner Eastern suburbs through to several locations in the busy Sydney CBD, and out to the suburb of Newtown in the inner West. The results of those tests are shown in the table below:
The tests were conducted using an Optus’ 4G Wi-Fi access unit, connected to a MacBook Air laptop via 802.11 Wi-Fi. The MacBook Air then used the Speedtest.net website to connect to an Optus server, and measure the results.
What they consistently show is that Optus’ 4G network infrastructure is consistently capable of providing download speeds in between 13Mbps and 20Mbps, which is close to where most Australians are able to achieve on ADSL2+. ADSL2+ tops out at 24Mbps, but most Australians are not able to achieve speeds anywhere near that level.
When it comes to latency, Optus’ 4G network provides comparable speeds to ADSL2+. For example, Delimiter was able to achieve consistent latency of between 22ms to 26ms on the Optus network, compared with 18ms on our office ADSL2+ connection. All of these speeds are sufficient for demanding time-sensitive applications such as Internet gaming.
One area which Optus’ 4G network consistently outperformed ADSL2+ was in the area of uploads. Typical upload speeds on ADSL2+ are vastly inferior to download speeds — for example, Delimiter’s office ADSL2+ connection was only able to achieve upload speeds of 0.79Mbps in testing, compared to upload speeds consistently around 15Mbps on Optus’ 4G network. If you need to upload big files, you are probably better off doing it via 4G rather than via your ADSL2+ connection — you’ll get a much better result.
In real-world user testing of applications, Optus’ 4G network also performed very well. The fast latency meant that when browsing the web on our MacBook Air, loading times were near instant for any website, and the experience felt very comparable to using an ADSL2+ connection. Delimiter was able to watch YouTube videos streaming at 1080p with no difficulty, and only a slight buffering time, as well as high resolution streaming video from StarCraft II gaming site GomTV.
In comparison to Telstra’s 4G network, Optus’ 4G network appears to offer quite similar performance in general. For example, in the same location in Newtown, testing Telstra’s 4G network on a HTC One XL smartphone using Wi-Fi tethering to the same MacBook Air using the same Speedtest.net application (to Telstra servers, to minimise any external network transit time), Delimiter was able to achieve average download speeds of about 22Mbps, with average upload speeds being about 11Mbps.
However, there were two significant differences between the 4G networks of Optus and Telstra.
The first is good news for Telstra. In testing, Delimiter regularly sees Telstra’s 4G network perform in certain spots at a much higher level than Optus’ network. Delimiter did not see Optus’ network get above 22Mbps in our testing yesterday, for example, but it is common to see Telstra’s 4G network push up past 35Mbps in less congested spots. This performance is usually not evident in the Sydney CBD, where Optus and Telstra appear to be neck and neck right now in terms of speed, but it is evident on the CBD fringes and in suburban areas.
Delimiter regularly tests a HTC One XL on a bus on Anzac Parade and run Speedtest.net on Telstra’s 4G network, showing speeds of around 35Mbps. In fact, this same performance was evident yesterday. Although there have been reports of Optus’ 4G network pushing as high as 60Mbps, this performance has not been evident in Delimiter’s testing so far.
Secondly, Telstra’s 4G network appears to be currently demonstrating higher latency — between 50ms and 60ms in Delimiter’s testing yesterday in Newtown, compared to a better latency of between 20ms and 30ms on Optus’ network. On Anzac Parade we saw Telstra 4G latency of between 40ms and 50ms. It is possible that this higher latency on Telstra’s network is due to the significantly increased numbers of real-world users — more than 500,000 — using Telstra’s 4G network. In comparison, Optus is believed to have only a few thousand users at most.
There are two major takeaways from this testing we conducted on Optus’ new 4G network yesterday. Firstly, the network as it currently stands today provides performance at least comparable to current ADSL2+ fixed broadband networks, with the exception of upload speeds, where Optus’ 4G network far exceeds that of ADSL2+.
When it comes to comparisons with Telstra’s 4G network, Optus’ network currently appears to be neck and neck with that of Telstra in terms of pure speeds that you will usually see when using it. However, right now, Optus appears to have better latency, most likely due to the fact that there is virtually nobody using Optus’ 4G network yet. And Telstra appears to have better potential for really high speeds above 35Mbps in some areas, due, no doubt, to the fact that its 4G network is built on a better overall foundation, with more substantial backing infrastructure such as fibre backhaul networks. Telstra also has a lot more 4G towers than Optus — meaning that although it has a tonne more users, it also has more towers to service those users.
The real test of Optus’ 4G network will come in six months to a year, when it has enough scale of users (hopefully, several hundred thousand), to compare it more realistically to Telstra’s 4G network. Right now, Optus’ 4G network speeds are awesome, as is its latency. But will we be able to say the same in six months? A year? Only time will tell. Telstra, to its credit, has already answered that question in the affirmative — its 4G network is still performing excellently, despite the strain its under. Let’s hope Optus will be able to say the same.
And wait … wasn’t there a third mobile telco in Australia? Voda-something? Oh, wait. Vodafone doesn’t have a 4G network and isn’t planning to have one for at least another six months. Oh well.
Coverage maps of Optus’ 4G network can be found below:
Image credit: Optus (coverage maps)