Optus recently launched its 4G mobile broadband service, although “launched” is a somewhat measured term. After extensive testing in the Hunter Valley/Newcastle region of New South Wales, the actual service launched in only two capital cities; Sydney and Perth. Melbourne is on track for a month or two, as is the Newcastle test area, but beyond that, there’s no announced plans to go any further in 2012. In early 2013, we can expect Optus’ 4G coverage to extend to other capital cities, but that means that Telstra will have the advantage — and a much wider 4G coverage zone — for quite some time.
Vodafone, meanwhile, won’t have 4G until some time in 2013. 4G can be very good if you need fast access; not so much in terms of download speed, which can vary, but certainly for upload. If you’ve got large files you need to shift while you’re out of the office, the kinds of upload speeds I’ve managed under 4G have been exceptional — and that’s across both Optus and Telstra’s networks, although to date I’ve only managed to test with trial devices in Optus’ Newcastle test zone. The final retail devices are from a different manufacturer, and given the city-based coverage zones that could be a markedly different experience.
Both Telstra and Optus’ 4G offerings are on the 1800Mhz waveband, and that’s got some physical issues with penetration within buildings. Where do you get large clusters of closely grouped together buildings? At the centre of capital cities”¦ which is where Optus is, at least for the moment.
Still, there’s a very solid upside to Optus’ presence in the 4G arena, even if it’s only across a limited number of sites and may struggle within them, and that’s simply because it acts as a pricing check against Telstra. Neither carrier’s put a price premium on 4G. Given the more data you use, the more you pay that makes a certain amount of sense, but historically, Telstra’s data provisions have always been more costly than the comparative Optus or Vodafone offerings. If you’re wondering about data from other providers such as Virgin or Amaysim, they’re still piggybacking on Optus’ network — there are some virtual providers on Vodafone, but none whatsoever on Telstra to date. Telstra can’t charge different data rates for regional users, but it’s going to have to compete with Optus in city centres, further providing pressure to keep mobile data prices reasonable. If Optus can deliver a good quality 4G experience on top of all that, it’s an added bonus, but either way, it’s good for those of us who use a lot of mobile data.