news Vodafone Australia chief executive Bill Morrow claimed this week that the telco’s 3G mobile network was as fast as that of Telstra and significantly faster than that of Optus, in yet another sign of the company’s confidence that its technical capabilities are catching up with that of its competitors.
In a briefing held on Tuesday morning with the media, Morrow showed journalists a chart generated with data sourced from Internet speed checking site speedtest.net which purported to show that earlier this year, Vodafone’s 3G network speed had made rapid advancements, to the point where it was equal with the 3G network operated by Telstra and significantly faster than the network operated by Optus. There were no actual speed labels on the graph, however, so it is unclear just what Vodafone considers to be the average speed of its 3G network.
Morrow was asked: “Are you actually saying that your 3G network is as fast as Telstra’s right now?” “Yes, absolutely,” the executive replied, noting that although the speedtest.net data was not publicly available, it could be purchased from the company.
If the speed claims are accurate, they would reflect a significant change in Vodafone’s technical capabilities over the past 12 months. In mid-September 2012, Vodafone said at the tie that its 3G network was at that stage capable of achieving speeds of just 0.5Mbps to 5Mbps, with average speeds of 1Mbps. At that time, both Telstra and Optus had delivered significant speed improvements on their networks that were driving theoretical speeds up to 20Mbps, using the HDPA+ standard.
At that time last year, Vodafone had planned to launch the HSPA+ standard on its 3G network, labelling the technology as ‘3G+’.
Morrow said it was “absolutely” true that Vodafone had been able to increase the speed of its 3G network in just one year to the point where the average speeds the telco was seeing were on par with Telstra and better than those seen on Optus’ network.
The executive said in March the company had been able to deliver a significant speed boost on its 3G network due to deploying new radio equipment to a significant number of its mobile towers, as well as using a lower mobile frequency to deliver longer signal range and boosting backhaul to its infrastructure. “Those things naturally came together and gave that boost,” the executive said.
The centrepiece of Vodafone’s 3G network upgrade is a sizable contract the company signed with Chinese networking vendor Huawei back in February 2011 that was to see the telco install new radio equipment at all of its then-8,000-odd mobile base stations around Australia. The new network was to be capable of maximum theoretical speeds of 42Mbps.
Morrow’s comments this week are only the latest set of claims Vodafone has made regarding the speed of its mobile infrastructure. In a statement released in mid-July, Vodafone noted that Internet metrics firm Ookla had conducted speed tests by thousands of Samsung and HTC smartphone users in the first week of July and had found that its 4G speeds were the best in Australia, courtesy of the specific advantages of the wireless spectrum it owns.
“Vodafone customers averaged a download speed of 48Mbps across parts of Sydney, ahead of Telstra and Optus, both of which had an average download speed of 26Mbps,” the telco wrote. “Similarly, in Melbourne, Vodafone was well ahead of the competition, with an average data speed of 41Mbps, compared to Telstra with an average of 30Mbps and Optus with 23Mbps.”
The company’s chief marketing officer Kim Clarke said the telco was “proud to be able to offer our 4G customers in Sydney and Melbourne the fastest data speeds in town at an affordable price”. “We only launched our brand-new 4G network last month so customers can expect our coverage to grow; in fact by the end of 2013 we plan to triple the number of network sites from launch,” Clarke added.
However, Telstra quickly bit back at Vodafone, issuing the company with a legal threat over its claim that it had “the fastest 4G network in Australia”.
Do I believe Vodafone has the fastest 3G network in Australia, better than both Telstra and Optus?
Look, I will say that it’s theoretically possible, given that the telco has rebuilt its entire network from scratch with brand new equipment over the past several years, as well as the fact that it has lost hundreds of thousands of customers and thus has a lower network burden than its rivals, especially Telstra, which has been soaking up Vodafone customers like nobody’s business.
However, personally I won’t 100 percent believe Morrow’s claim until I see some evidence. It’s one thing to have the theoretically faster network. It’s quite another in the real world, where mobile networks have to cope with everything that customers can throw at them, consistently, in a world of continually growing data usage. There is no doubt that a lot of the complaints around Vodafone’s infrastructure have started to die out. But I don’t quite believe the company’s claims that it’s neck and neck with Telstra, at least not yet.