Adelaide 4G Shootout: Mobile Data Is A Pig

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.

Adelaide 4G Shootout: Mobile Data Is A Pig

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?

Adelaide 4G Shootout: Mobile Data Is A Pig

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.


    • I think you need to read the article properly — it compares 4G delivered via Wi-Fi to 4G delivered directly to a phone. As Alex notes, you often do better with a phone, but in both cases you’re using 4G for your connection.

      • My comment still stands. The extra overhead of WiFi makes it a moot comparison. You are not comparing 4G v 4G, too many other variables in the WiFi hotspot units.

        • I do take your point, but I see the comparison as fair; both Telstra and Optus sell those exact WiFi hotspots as 4G units; it’s a like-for-like comparison within that framework. 4G still underpins it, and for somebody using those units, that’s what you may see (within the admitted and oft-repeated mantra that wireless can be variable)

        • There is an Optus and Telstra 4G WiFi point in there, so its perfectly fine article, the direct is more of a here is the kind of difference you can expect if you use direct.

          Since i have to buy a 4g wifi point today for my dad who is coming to aus (mel and adl) this was a good and timely article for me. I woul dhave gone optus myself though except when i was in adelaide over christmas, Optus 3g cuts out around the kitchen of my grandparents house (and 4g doesnt appear any better). So its gonna have to be a Telstra 4g WiFi ($149 with 5gig for first month).

  • The reason why Optus is slower is because they have enabled LTE on only 4 sites (80 King William St, 104 Frome Road, 186 Pulteney St (all Adelaide CBD) and in North Adelaide, 62 Brougham Place).

    By comparison Telstra have LTE on over 20 sites in the Adelaide CBD alone. (i counted 22/40)

    You have more chance of congestion in Adelaide on Optus LTE than you would in Melbourne or Sydney – Optus LTE isn’t even available at the Adelaide Airport as yet.

    Nothing against Optus though, something is better than nothing and it wasn’t supposed to be here until April or May of 2013.

    The conversion of LTE into WiFi signals has a hard limit of 35mbps in the current devices. This is why you will see a better result with the phone, because even though it can never get there, the phone’s technical limit is 100mbps. I have pushed over 90mbps though, before LTE started getting used (just after Christmas either Telstra changed something or lots of people got new toys)

    Your result is interesting for Telstra though. On my Samsung Galaxy S3 I regularly see results well over that, but naturally time of day and location etc – and you were in quite a busy location at any time of day. I see indoor results of between 20-35 and outdoor results of between 30-40. Since early December I have not been able to achieve a result above 40mbps, even at very quiet times of the day or night.

    I live in the northern suburbs, and on the way home Telstra’s current LTE coverage gets weak at Sefton Park – I always see 1 bar of 4G there, and then as the bus pulls away it drops out altogether.

  • “as well as out into the bay, for some ill-defined reason. Are Adelaide’s surfers constantly online or something?”

    Probably something to do with the geography. Or the water reflects RF signals well. Sitting on a beach on Kangaroo Island recently, I got 4/4 bars from a NextG tower over 50km away on the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.

  • Hello I frequent Kangaroo Island fortnightly and have never received Next G Service there I am assuming you mean 3G Not 4G I use a Samsung galaxy note 2 and an IPhone 5 both on Telstra Next G LTE and $g whatever you need to call it. anyway when is Telstra going to push LTE /4G services into the area it pretends that LTE is available in onm its service map it says it is available this is a breach of service contract in my eyes.

    Because we ride bikes right through these areas and have but 5 times engaged LTE services erratically for one single day back in early January and since then Nothing. the closest to Adelaide LTE is available is Mile End about a mile around the Adelaide suburbs That is 1 Mile from Adelaide Then Their is No Service from LTE and systems drop back to 3G Why did we bother upgrading It was all a marketing stunt. Superfast speeds . I recorded the commercial what a load of RUBBISH

    fix IT AS IVE ALREADY SPOKEN TO the TIO AND THEY ARE not HAPPY WITH Telstra AT ALL. Worse than vodafails stuff up.

    Members of the north Adelaide club east Adelaide club west Adelaide club and south Adelaide club sum up some 1900 Plus members who have all discussed this in length. So WASSUP TELSTRA. GOT 4G in the western ,eastern southern areas. NOPE! 1500 to 2300 people cant be wrong. this is without a petition. BUT! if you’d like one I’m sure I can arrange it.

    Adelaide bicycles.

    Kind Regards

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