4G MCG Pre-Grand Final Speed Challenge: Telstra Versus Optus

If you take a 4G device along to the AFL Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this Saturday, Lifehacker’s testing suggests you will potentially see some impressive speeds on both the Telstra and Optus networks. But it will depend on whether you’re seated on the northern or southern side.

To be fair, during the Grand Final itself I doubt anyone will see much in the way of speed or signal. Telstra has invested considerable effort in increasing its 3G footprint at the site over the past 15 months, and has recently added 4G capacity in the area. Optus’ 4G network has only been running for a fortnight, and the only device anyone is likely to use to access it at the ground will be the iPhone 5.

However, every mobile network will inevitably take a beating faced with 100,000 football fans all attempting to use their phones to text, call and share photos every time there’s a break. Some fans will get through; some will curse the lack of any available signal. But that’s big sporting events for you.

Given the newness of Optus’ network and the fact that Telstra claims, I figured it was worth doing some speed tests at the MCG site ahead of the big match. This very much represents a best-case scenario for those networks.While there was a little evidence of Grand Final preparations when I visited on Thursday afternoon, the place was largely deserted. I’ve been experiencing mixed results in my Melbourne 4G network testing over the past week. The MCG is in an area covered by both Telstra and Optus and is relatively central, so it’s fertile ground for seeing how the networks stack up.

My procedure was the same as usual: connecting using 4G hotspots from each provider, then averaging the results from three runs on Speedtest.net. ( For download and upload speeds, higher numbers are better; for ping times, lower speeds are better.)

I ended up doing two sets of tests for one simple reason: on the southern side of the MCG, I could not scare up a 4G signal from Telstra at all, despite repeated attempts and several device reboots. On the northern side (which is closer to where the Telstra 4G serving cell is located), 4G was available. Optus 4G was fine on both sides, but the test results reveal yet again that actual speed is more important than whether you’re on the “superior” network, however you define that.

Provider Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
South: Optus (4G) 66 6.64 2.06
South: Telstra (3G) 59 16.28 1.29
North: Optus (4G) 126 18.32 20.82
North: Telstra (4G) 44 21.60 15.29

Again, while Optus could offer 4G on the southern side of the MCG, its download speed was considerably slower than Telstra’s 3G service in the same location. Optus did offer a better upload speed, though not one that was particularly high. On the all-4G northern side, Telstra had a much better ping time and a higher download speed than Optus. However, Optus’ 18.32Mbps is hardly slouching, and its upload speed was better than Telstra’s.

You’ll clearly get a decent service from both these providers around the MCG, and you’ll inevitably struggle at times if you are there during the grand final no matter which network you’re on. Yet again, we’re reminded that simply because a network is labelled 4G doesn’t make it faster, and that coverage can vary dramatically if you walk a few hundred metres. If you’re seated on the southern side of the stadium, good luck!

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