Optus 4G equal to ADSL2+, tests show


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)


  1. Wireless networks of any sort are often great ——– while there are very few users on them. Once they get a bunch of users on, though, everything slows down. I think it’s therefore a bit misleading to say Optus 4G is equal to ADSL2+, because the copper network with ADSL2+ can inherently handle millions of users at good speeds, whereas once Optus 4G gets millions of users on it, performance will be _nothing_ like ADSL2+.

  2. “and out to the suburb of Newtown”. Spoken like someone who tries not to go west of the Eastern Distributor wherever possible ;)
    Have a great day everyone.

  3. So wireless broadband has finally caught up to ADSL speeds (so long as there’s no-one using the network). Yay. But unless you really need to be mobile, the value is still not there. $75/month gets you a mere 20GB of quota on Optus 4G, but $5/month less (!) gets you 150GB/month on their naked ADSL. $80/month buys you 500GB on ADSL, but the most Optus will even sell you on their 4G network is 20GB/month.

    We all know the reason for this: the capacity is just not there on wireless, and it never will be (thank you Claude Shannon).

    • Exactly. It seems counter-productive to offer us such fantastic speeds while not significantly raising data allowances at the same time. It means the main use I have for LTE (tethering to my iPad or laptop) is not a real option, as at LTE speeds I could chew through my monthly allowance in a matter of hours. And there’s no way I can justify a cost as high as $70 a month just for a measly 20GB of mobile data.

      I look forward to the day when $50 a month will give me 50GB minimum on LTE. Even if the network is so congested by that stage that I’d only achieve an average of 20mbps up and down, I’d still be genuinely excited about it. Until then its an expensive novelty that I’d rather go without and just stick to HSPA+ if it means I pay less per month on my mobile bill.

      Getting LTE should feel like a massive upgrade from 3G and unleash you from 3G’s downsides. Unfortunately the same low data allowances that have been associated with wireless for years, look set to continue on LTE; so while the latency and speed are great, the freedom to use it as intended just isn’t there for heavy users.

      • @Simon

        Good luck ever getting that sort of quota from LTE in the next 4 or 5 years. It’s just not feasible. The idea with low quotas on wireless networks is to purposefully artificially limit downloads over a network to prevent massive congestion. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they offer higher download packages for those who wanted to pay??

        • You’re right, and I do get the whole network management thing. I’m not asking for unlimited data, I’m just asking for something more reasonable. I certainly don’t expect those prices to occur overnight.

          • @Simon

            I think the problem is, Telstra and Optus have seen what’s happened in the US (huge contention and total blackspots in whole counties for data) and then seen VodaFail in 2009 and are being VERY cautious about how they proceed with data.

            The fact is, Australia has only some 16 500 cells in total, across all providers (Telstra about 8000, Optus about 5000, Vodafone about 3500). That’s crap all to cover the 1.8 Million SqKm most of our population is spread out over. And thats the problem- to give decent data capacity and hence allow higher quotas for decent prices, you need more cells. That costs lots more money. And in a market as small as Australia, there just isn’t that money available, ESPECIALLY with Telstra wanting a MINIMUM 30% profit….

          • That’s a good observation regarding the US; I certainly agree. We’re lucky to have a mobile carrier like Telstra who for the most part deliver a consistently good service, even if you do pay significantly more for it. The thought of being lumped with a congested carrier like AT&T (or CDMA on Verizon) in the US, by comparison is a nightmare.

            As I’ve said previously I’m not hanging out for LTE anyway. It’ll be great when I get it I’m sure, but for now HSPA+ is fast enough for my mobile needs, so it all comes down to what phone I choose to buy next. LTE won’t be a majorly decisive factor, with so many other things to consider (and with Tasmania’s 4G coverage being rather patchy at this point).

  4. That said, credit where credit is due. As far as I can remember, Optus 3G was _never_ fast, even from the beginning, so it’s good that Optus has put its money where its mouth is and actually built a 4G network capable of fast speeds.

  5. The question is, why are you doing speed tests with a pocket wifi device? They are usually slower then USB modems.

  6. Well done delimiter for taking the time to actually go and test the speeds and not just quoting other peoples results.
    Very impressed with the upload speeds of 4G. I had no idea. It could make certain cloud services a lot more useful.

  7. “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.”

    Im not surprised, the network is a week old and almost no-one is using it yet!

  8. I think the real test will be in about 1 years time when there are several hundred thousand people on it.

    As people can see from the Speedtests I did tonight- 4G is JUST as susceptible to congestion as 3G. My 4G and 3G speeds were almost on par at about 5.5-6Mbps. At peak hour (5:30pm) that’s what you’d expect.

    Crucially however, there are MANY more 3G towers to spread that load and only a scattered few on 4G that give the same relative speeds. So only time will tell if BOTH networks can handle the strain….

  9. This only goes to show that there is no need for an expensive National Broadband Network. Nobody will ever need anything faster than what can be done wirelessly over 4G. And we can use taxpayer money to reduce taxes for those hard-working, high-earning millionaires that do so much for the Australian economy.

    /sarcasm off.

    So now I need to buy a 4G phone? I’ll have to discuss that with the family treasurer – keep giving me reasons for the upgrade, Renai.

  10. Nice speeds, too bad there’s barely anyone using 4G at the moment, wait till everyone shifts across and do another test at 6PM please, we’ll see its true speeds when its actual been put to use.

  11. My own real world tests of Telstra’s 4G network in Morayfield just north of Brisbane achieved 63.9 Mbps down and 23 Mbps up. My ADSL is just 7 Mbps down and 0.2 Mbps up. I use my 4G for most of my website development work now. It is just so much faster!

  12. An excellent baseline article giving us the Optus 4G equivalent of the fast transit times you get on a deserted highway.

    Let’s hope the newly reinvented (“no weasel words”) Malcolm Turnbull won’t resurrect his plans for a wireless-heavy universal broadband solution.

    Telcos are desperately seeking ways to maximise Wi-Fi offloading of mobile data traffic, because this is the only way to mitigate the effects of congestion due to increased take-up, as Vodafone famously found.

    Apps doing automatic camera uploads are already starting to eating into my upstream bandwidth. Not complaining, just observing.

    • An excellent baseline article giving us the Optus 4G equivalent of the fast transit times you get on a deserted highway.

      I can remember when the M2 first opened (i lived in Sydney at the time) and it used to be super fast even in peak hours, by the time i moved states 2 years later, the M2 was a barely mobile carpark in peak hours!

  13. Renai, have you (or anyone else here) tried an Optus MVNO SIM to see if they also have access to the 4G network on 4G devices?

    Optus seem to be saying that 4G will work on any existing post-paid 3G SIM in a compatible handset, and Virgin have come out and said the same thing now – so has anyone confirmed whether this is also the case with Amaysim, TPG, Boost, Liveconnected, Dodo or iiNet?

    Would try the test here, but we’ve been shafted to wait another week. ;)

  14. Renai, it would be interesting if your team can collect two different set of test results drive testing Optus 4G network during peak 7am-11pm & off-peak hours 11pm-7am to check the actual available bandwidth during off-peak hrs against the peak hrs results shown above. I believed Optus Business customers had access to Optus 4G network a few weeks ahead of public announcement hence if there are two set of results at least we can compare how their new 4G network is performing throughout the day.

  15. It might be faster than ADSL2+, but you’ll go broke using it like ADSL2+

    On ADSL2+ 10Gb of data costs me $4 per month. Therefore I can have 150Gb for $60.

    On Optus 4G 10Gb of data costs me $35 per month. If I want 150Gb with Optus it will cost $2675. ($75 for 20Gb + 130Gb at 2c/Mb)

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