Travel

Adelaide 4G Shootout: Mobile Data Is A Pig

Optus jumped ahead of its own schedule when it launched parts of its Adelaide 4G service late last year. That gave me the chance to put it head to head with Telstra’s existing 4G service on a recent trip there. The results surprised me.

Image: ali_martin

We’ve said it before, and no doubt we’ll say it again, but mobile network data speeds can and will vary depending on location, time of day, network load and the specifics of the device you use. Adelaide, at the current time of testing, presents an interesting challenge. There’s no doubting that Telstra has the largest overall 4G rollout of sites in Australia, and by quite a large margin, but in the markets where Optus operates, it typically has a larger single footprint — which means if you’re in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Newcastle, Optus’ 4G service extends a little bit further than Telstra’s service, at least according to the coverage maps.

That isn’t the case right now in Adelaide, where Optus’ early rollout has left it with a much smaller coverage area for 4G data, although it’s also worth pointing out that the gap between coverage maps and reality can often be quite stark. I was staying in Glenelg, where I saw no sniff of Telstra’s 4G coverage, despite the coverage maps suggesting I should see plenty of 4G — as well as out into the bay, for some ill-defined reason. Are Adelaide’s surfers constantly online or something?

In order to be well inside coverage zones for both Telstra and Optus, I headed to Adelaide’s Rundle Mall to test 4G data speeds, which means if you saw a bald guy muttering at a Galaxy Note II near the pig statues last week, it was probably me.

I used three different methods of connectivity to test the relative speeds of Telstra and Optus’ networks. My baseline was a Samsung Galaxy Note II connected to Telstra’s 4G network, because it’s my in-use phone at the moment. The two competing devices were Telstra’s Mobile WiFi 4G hotspot and Optus’ 4G WiFi Hotspot. Both hotspot devices are the type available on postpaid contract; Telstra also offers a pre-paid WiFi hotspot manufactured by ZTE, but my testing used the Sierra Wireless hotspot instead.

Why throw the Note II in there? Simply because I’ve noticed over running many of these tests that the connection speed you see over WiFi-delivered 4G is often lower than a direct 4G connection, and I was curious to see by how much.

Provider Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Samsung Galaxy Note II: Telstra (4G) 40 28.25 20.74
Telstra WiFi Hotspot (4G) 48 17.85 20.46
Optus WiFi Hotspot (4G) 62 12.93 18.72

As I’d expected, the direct connection on the Note II trumped in most cases (although it was close for uploads with the hotspot), but what I hadn’t quite expected was that Telstra would beat Optus’ coverage; typically where I’ve tested in the past Optus has been quicker, with the caveat that Telstra appears to have a lot more 4G customers to serve. Not so in Adelaide it seems, although the caveat on the Optus side is undeniably that it has only rolled out part of their 4G network so far.

Lifehacker Australia contributor Alex Kidman is probably more interested in mobile data speeds than is actually healthy. The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.