news A series of new speed tests on Optus’ fledgling 4G mobile network in the Hunter region of NSW appear to show the network has the potential to be at least as fast as Telstra’s 4G network, reversing earlier results which had appeared to show Optus’ infrastructure was much slower than that of its rival.
Several weeks ago, a real-world comparison test conducted by Lifehacker purported to show that Optus’ 4G mobile network, which has so far only been rolled out in Newcastle and the Hunter region of NSW, does not deliver anywhere near the speeds possible on Telstra’s rival 4G infrastructure, despite claims by Optus that the telco was planning to build “the best-performing network in Australia”.
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 network, which is theoretically capable of download speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, and upload spees between 1Mbps to 10Mbps. Recent real-world tests using HTC’s 4G One XL handset on Telstra’s network in Sydney have shown 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 at at close to 14Mbps. We recommend you click here to check out the full test results.
Over the past several days, however, new evidence has arisen that shows Optus’ 4G infrastructure has the potential to at least match Telstra’s network – or even exceed it in places.
Firstly, in an article published on July 9, technology magazine TechLife provided a forward highlight of the results of its own tests of Optus’ 4G network, noting that while Telstra still had “the 4G crown”, Optus’ 4G infrastructure was “neck and neck” with Telstra in most of the magazine’s testing. “The basics look very good, especially considering Optus is still in “trial” phase,” the magazine noted.
In addition, Whirlpool user ‘breaker’ has published an extensive series of tests of the network, including screenshots from the Speedtest.net site regularly used to test broadband networks in Australia. The tests, ‘breaker’ wrote, regularly showed speeds between 20Mbps to 30Mbps, with some built-up areas showing lower speeds between 10Mbps and 18Mbps. These speeds are comparable with the performance of Telstra’s 4G network in tests done by Delimiter in Sydney.
However, the news also gets 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.
There are a large number of factors which could affect the differing speeds between the two networks.
Optus’ 4G network in Newcastle is based on equipment from Huawei, with the telco reported by a number of sources to be currently evaluating bids from the Chinese company and a number of other suppliers for its full 4G rollout, while Telstra has long standardised on equipment from Ericsson. It’s not known which supplier has the more powerful network equipment in practice, although both Ericsson and Huawei rely on the same wireless standards for 4G services — and the 4G networks of both Telstra and Optus use the same 1800MHz spectrum band.
Other factors may include the quality of the receiving equipment. Both Telstra and Optus are believed to use mobile broadband dongles from Sierra Wireless, although Telstra also has a number of other 4G handsets available from major vendors such as HTC and Samsung.
Another factor is the quality of the backbone links to mobile towers. All of Australia’s mobile carriers have placed a large emphasis on linking mobile towers to fibre backhaul links. However, Telstra has a large amount more infrastructure available than Optus and Vodafone, as Australia’s former monopoly telco.
Lastly, Telstra’s network is in production status, with the telco having connected several hundred thousand live customers to it nationally, while Optus is still testing its 4G infrastructure in the Newcastle and Hunter region as a precursor to deploying 4G more widely in the second half of this year.
Very interesting – we’re currently seeing wide variances between the speed tests coming out of Optus’ new 4G network in Newcastle and the Hunter region. One publication claims the speeds are inferior to those of Telstra’s 4G network, while another claims they’re broadly neck and neck. In addition, Whirlpool poster ‘breaker’, who appears to have done the most widespread testing of the network, hasn’t compared it with Telstra’s network in the same areas, but has shown consistently better results than we’ve seen from Telstra’s 4G network in Sydney.
So much is in flux at the moment with this infrastructure – not least the fact that Optus hasn’t yet connected many 4G customers to its new network infrastructure. It will be fascinating to see how the new network performs as things stabilise. If Optus can consistently maintain the results which ‘breaker’ is seeing, it will be very good news for Australia’s many mobile broadband users indeed. We may finally be seeing a mobile network to rival Telstra’s Next G infrastructure – and likely at a cheaper price.
Optus chief Paul O’Sullivan’s claim that Optus is planning to build “the best-performing network in Australia” may have some merit after all. If so, we’ll be applauding the SingTel subsidiary’s efforts.