Do Optus iPhones “constantly drop out”?


blog The Daily Telegraph has launched what appears to be an all-out attack on SingTel subsidiary Optus, claiming the telco’s mobile coverage is the pits. This is probably the strongest paragraph in an article full of complaints:

The Daily Telegraph tested an Optus iPhone 3G in varied buildings and conditions in suburbs on all sides of the CBD, including Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Erskineville and Balmain, in an apartment building, a house, a backyard and an office block. In each the signal failed, the phone did not receive calls or was so distorted as to be useless.

Now, Optus has done much to improve its mobile coverage since its much-publicised problems several years ago when the iPhone first launched in Australia — the telco is basically constantly throwing cash at its network. In addition, it seems as if the Daily Telegraph’s testing wasn’t precisely scientific … the newspaper could have used multiple iPhone 4 handsets instead of a single legacy iPhone 3G to do its testing.

But nonetheless, this is more or less the problem Optus is facing right now. In a basic litmus test of its mobile network, that mobile network will often fail. I have a number of friends and family using Optus network, through its own brand or that of its subsidiary Virgin, and the Daily Telegraph’s story is a common one. It’s not just a perception that Optus’ network is still suffering problems in metropolitan areas — it’s reality.

The really difficult thing is to know what precisely Optus needs to do to resolve its ongoing issues. Modern telco networks (particularly 3G mobile networks) are incredibly complex beasts, and “fixing” its network is in reality a task composed of literally of hundreds of thousands of smaller tasks. Only Optus can really say what’s going on here and what needs to be done. We wish it the best of luck with that task, as we do its similarly poor performing rival Vodafone. In the meantime, of course, there’s always Telstra.

Image credit: Delimiter


  1. Because of Optus’ poor coverage at my house (I live less than 10 minutes from the CBD) I own 2 phones. A cheap prepaid feature phone for voice calls and my iPhone for everything else. Although Telstra plans are getting better, they haven’t hit the sweet spot for me to convince me to ditch the candybar phone and go all Telstra on the iPhone.

    • Telstra pricing is actually pretty good these days — I haven’t looked closely recently, but I certainly haven’t noticed any real difference to my bill from when I used to be with Optus.

      • In a nutshell my issue with Telstra pricing is data – I use 2-4 gigs a month depending on what I’m doing. Telstra still treat mobile data as a premium product. To be fair, its not by much but when you’re on a budget that is as strict as mine, a $20pm increase makes a huge difference.

  2. Surprisingly I’ve had relatively few problems (by Aussie telco standards) with phone calls on Optus, but regularly people complain that my text messages either haven’t got through to them, or I haven’t received theirs. It happens alarmingly frequently, particularly around Earlwood which is less than 12km from the centre of Sydney and yet we barely register one bar of 3G reception. I’d wager one in four either don’t get sent or received.

    In any event, while they may be improving by throwing money at their network, the clearly have a ways to go.

  3. Speaking from first hand experience both myself and my wife have iPhones with Optus. She has a 3G and I have a 3GS. We’re constantly having problems with calls dropping, voice calls turning into a strange daffy duck voice, and SMS which can often be delayed by 6-12 hours.

    Where we work – Macquarie Park (North Ryde NSW) – it is a big problem. We will often go without 3G for hours at a time. Sometimes we can fix it by switching the phone to airplane mode and back again but after a period of time it will drop off again. I also have the same issues with my Internode MIFI 3G router which uses the Optus network.

    We’ve lodged complaints with Optus and Internode and in both cases Optus has acknowledged problems exist in our area but can not commit to any sort of fix. I’ve verified this with workmates on Optus and they are also having the same issues mentioned above.

    At home my Optus access is slightly better but 3G is still awfully slow. I suspect it is time someone created an website as I feel the problems with the Optus network are more serious than they will admit. We are contemplating the switch to Telstra because of the problems we are having with Optus.

    • Additionally I find it ridiculous Optus is suggesting window tinting is causing issues. A workmate who sits next to me in the same office is using an iPhone 3GS with full 5 bars and fast internet. His phone is using the Telstra network. Once again Optus engaging in smoke and mirrors to hide the fact their network is in a very poor state. I suspect they have made little to no investment in network infrastructure here in Sydney.

      This is not a one off either – we’ve struggled with their network for some 10 months now. The last 4 months have been especially bad.

  4. Yes:

    – common to have data issues even when the phone nominally has reception
    – common to have delays after you hit dial before it actually starts dialling (several seconds at least at times)
    – common to have garbled audio after the call is answered, requiring a redial
    – common to get “user busy” when trying to dial, even when they are not (business IVR for example)

    All of these things are way less common on Telstra (we previously had 4x Optus iPhones in the house- now 1x Optus, 1x Voda & 2x Telstra).

  5. I used to have similar issues with iPhone 3G & Optus, especially losing 3G and turning airplane mode on and off, but upgraded to Samsung Omnia 7 (Windows Phone 7) and do not have any of these issues anymore… maybe the iPhone is inferior, not Optus?

    • It is interesting that it appears to be only iPhone users complaining. It is possible that the antenna isn’t that great in the iPhone and then the Optus network is so so. So you end up with issues on the iPhone

    • Haha no….nice try. It’s just there are more iPhone users exist that Windows Phone 7 users. Trust me, the Optus factor is the major player in these complaints, speaking from experience! A long, frustrated experience!

  6. First off, yes Optus 3G does have issues, I have no coverage in my home (albeit I’m on the Central Coast). Most of the time my phone is forced to 2G where I have no issues. High data usage people may have issues with that, but if you’re typically just using the phone for voice or things like twitter you won’t notice a difference.

    That said, could you get any more unscientific then this test.

    – Optus had poor/no 3G coverage in these areas, how did the other carriers perform in the same areas?
    – The handset used was an iPhone 3G, when he did have coverage it had distorted voice or didn’t receive calls, did they only use a single handset (it sounds like they did), are they sure this handset wasn’t itself faulty?

    I would take that article with a grain of salt, all proper tests involve multiple handsets, multiple carriers, with multiple sims swapped between the handsets to match conditions for each test.. And of course the test goes beyond “geez that voice sounds a bit bad” to testing actual data throughput.

  7. I dunno… I’ve got a Galaxy S with Optus and I’ve never had any of these problems. Probably the only issue is I lose data connectivity on the bus when going over the Harbour Bridge, but other than that, it’s fine. Never dropped a call, never lost an SMS (that I know of). Maybe Optus just cripples the iPhone on their network?

  8. I’ve had no problems with the optus network, it generally performs better than telstra for me (I’m in cairns though). People forget that it’s telstras use of 850mhz that lets them perform better in urban areas – optus needs to migrate their 3G to the 900mhz frequency that they currently use for 2G, not just build a shitload of towers.

  9. The iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS both have 2100MHz and 850MHz (as used by Telstra NextG and the USA carriers) radios for 3G. Optus uses 2100MHz and 900MHz (as used by European carriers).

    2100MHz does not penetrate buildings very well. It’s NOT to do with window tinting or anything else, it’s a high frequency and gets caught quickly. 850MHz and 900MHz gets much further as they are lower frequencies. Simple physics.

    Optus are increasing their 2100MHz coverage, but slowly. Check their website for details. The 2100MHz coverage is called Optus SingleBand. Their 2100/900Mhz coverage is called DualBand.

    You can see the problem here? When you’re using a 3G or 3GS and you’re out of 2100MHz coverage, you don’t get 3G. You fall back onto GPRS over GSM, which is REALLY slow.

    The iPhone 4 has 2100MHz, 900MHz and 850MHz radios, so the iPhone 4 should (theoretically) work fine inside buildings. If it doesn’t then it just comes down to Optus crappy network.

    • The frequency is indeed very important- Telstra NextG is 850Mhz & Voda is building an 850Mhz metro network as well (some towers have been live for a while now).

      Optus does have both 2100 & 900Mhz 3G (voda has soem 900Mhz 3G as well) but importantly its all rural, Optus does not have 900Mhz 3G in metro areas (hobart not withstanding- its hobart & they only just turned it on).

      So, in Sydney, 2100Mhz 3G & GSM are all Optus has. The 2100Mhz 3G network is seriously under provisioned & no 900Mhz 3G exists here :).

  10. Well I had the opposite experience recently. I have a Telstra iPhone 4 and my wife has am Optus iPhone 4. We were on the east coast of Tas for a week recently (Spring Beach near Orford) and my Telstra iPhone was basically a brick with very little coverage whereas my wife’s Optus iPhone had 2 bars all the time and was able to receive calls, make calls, access the internet etc with no worries at all.

    I never thought I would see somewhere that the Optus network is better than Telstra but this was one!

  11. I have put up with optus for 3 year with iphones (been a customer for 12 years) and last month was the last.I was halfway through my contract and my 3G/call drops was so bad that optus canceled it with no cost. i had ONE BAR all the time in concord, 20 minutes from the city. now to 3G, it was terrible everywhere my home, work (stanmore) and hombush (the pub). when i turned 3G off i had full bars on 2G. optus could not argue that a tower closest to me hadent been upgraded to 3G and it was searching for a tower further away. Hence the ONE bar. they said because of one customer they werent going to spend $50000 to upgrade it.
    everybody knows telstra have the best network but the worst customer service (even a director came out and said this the other day) but nobody unless you have changed from optus to telstra will know how incrediable the difference is. its created another dimension for the iphone.
    give optus the flick. ( I do give optus credit for letting me out of my contract no questions asked)

  12. want to do a great test, book a downstairs room in the canberra hyatt, put several different carrier’s iphones on a table, go out of the building and send SMS txts to them. RSA did that a while ago. Optus, voda, virgin all sat there, no texts. Telstra received every one. The curtains were open, the sun was streaming in and the windows aren’t tinted.

    The hyatt is a known black spot. perobably why so many companies hold events there. you can’t get a signal to call out during the event.

    • Telstra 850GHz has a better potential to penetrate buildings even a lot more than 900GHz. Also, they do have a lot of in building networks in malls, corporate buildings etc. If u want reliability than telegrams the only way

    • Telstra 850GHz has a better potential to penetrate buildings even a lot more than 900GHz. Also, they do have a lot of in building networks in malls, corporate buildings etc. If u want reliability than telegrams the only way

  13. I find that every network has their pros and cons, I find that my house is in the middle of town and the amount of wireless Internet and radio stations, Alas I have a black spot only on my property -.- I have noticed lately however my 3G coverage for Internet has significantly slowed for no apparent reason (maybe an increase in users?) it does work faster 12am onwards (except Friday and Saturday nights lol) and I have also noticed suddenly my phone will say no service every couple of minutes, though as soon as I sent a text or make a call it reverts to 4 or 5 bars?
    Technology *shakes head*
    Im buying a satellite phone once my contract runs out, I just think people blaming Optus have to realize that they still do a pretty pod job. If their coverage doesn’t work well in your area, find a provider that will.

Comments are closed.