Vodafone, it’s fair to say, has had something of a public perception problem the last few years, thanks to a series of network outages that saw many customers leave the telco. It’s also been the last to launch a 4G LTE network in Australia, following Telstra’s 2011 launch and Optus’ 2012 launch of 4G services.
If you’re in a metropolitan area — currently Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle and Wollongong — that means you’ve got the choice between three differing 4G networks.
While they’re all 4G LTE 1800Mhz networks, each has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. In terms of data speeds, like most mobile networks 4G can be highly variable; I’ve hit speeds ranging up above 60Mbps download on 4G, but equally hit 3G-like 2Mbps speeds as well — often within just a few minutes of each other.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that most coverage maps are based on limited data; they’re often taken outside premises rather than within the walls of most offices, and they typically don’t take in signal quality, just availability. If you’ve ever struggled to get a signal in an area that should be blanketed with “coverage” you’ll know what I mean.
Telstra’s the longest term player in the 4G game, and that plays out with by far the most deployed 4G sites. If you want 4G speeds in any smaller regional market, you’re looking at Telstra and nobody else at all. That has implications if you travel around a lot and need serious data speed.
Telstra’s always justified its network superiority with higher prices; without a shadow of a doubt Telstra’s network access prices are the highest in the land, although, like Optus and Vodafone, it doesn’t charge a price premium for 4G access.
Optus’ data prices are cheaper than Telstra’s, which is a plus, and while it doesn’t have the regional coverage, there are areas in metropolitan centres where Optus’ coverage maps are larger than those of Telstra or Vodafone. It’s also the first Australian telco rolling out the alternate TD-LTE 4G, at this stage just in Canberra.
Optus’ 4G is price competitive with Vodafone, but it doesn’t have the wide spectrum that Vodafone can bring to bear or the wider coverage across the nation that Telstra offers.
Vodafone’s prices remain constant across its 4G and 3G products, which means, like Optus it’s an inexpensive way to get access to fast data. Where Vodafone’s 4G differs is that it’s secured 20MHz of spectrum in all its 4G broadcast areas, meaning that it has a theoretical higher speed cap and more capacity in those areas than Telstra or Optus. That will depend on the backhaul capacity, however.
Being last to the party means that Vodafone’s 4G coverage area is still quite small compared to those of Optus or Telstra.