Vodafone 4G 5-City Speed Test: So Much Variation, So Much 3G

Is Vodafone's 4G any good? It entirely depends on where you're located. Our five-city speed tests show the CBD areas of Sydney and Brisbane offer impressive speeds, but 4G doesn't have as much of a speed boost in Perth, Adelaide or Melbourne, and lower-speed 3G coverage remains the norm at airports.

Lifehacker tested Vodafone's services in Sydney and Melbourne ahead of the customer rollout earlier this month, and one thing which became apparent was the reliability of the service varied hugely depending on which parts of the city you were in. On occasions, 4G was blisteringly fast in Sydney, but at other times you would be lucky to scare up a 3G signal of any description. Performance in Melbourne was also noticeably worse than in Sydney.

All mobile network signals vary; it's to be expected that performance won't be uniform. With that said, the speeds which Vodafone can offer at launch are likely to be as good as the service gets, since speeds will drop as more users sign up.

Having already seen big differences between Sydney and Melbourne, we decided to test out Vodafone's performance across Australia's five biggest cities over the last week. In each city, we did two tests: one in the CBD where 4G signal was readily available, and one at the airport. We've only quoted 4G figures for the CBD, but that doesn't mean the signal was widespread; in several cities, we had to walk a number of blocks to find an actual 4G signal in areas that were said to be covered.

While airports have often been a focus for 4G rollouts (Telstra ensured airports were covered in its original launch), Vodafone hasn't yet covered any of the airports in those cities. Even if you argue that people who regularly use 4G at airports are also likely to have access to free lounge Wi-Fi, testing the speeds there demonstrates the difference between 4G and 3G in those cities. Almost everyone using a Vodafone 4G device will be on 3G for a fair chunk of the time.

For each location, we used Speedtest.net and averaged the performance over three tests. For download and upload speeds (measured in Mbps), higher figures are better. Download speeds are relevant if you want to access large files or streaming media content; upload speeds matter if you're trying to share lots of photos or video. Ping times (measured in ms) demonstrate the latency of the network; the lower the better.

Location Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps) Ping (ms)
Sydney CBD 4G 46.14 16.9 29
Sydney Airport 3G 8.85 1.38 61
Melbourne CBD 4G 26.44 2.03 62
Melbourne Airport 3G 15.09 1.51 39
Brisbane CBD 4G 61.54 14.51 60
Brisbane Airport 3G 5.06 2.5 37
Perth CBD 4G 11.94 4.82 131
Perth Airport 3G 5.81 2.9 47
Adelaide CBD 4G 6.49 2.22 107
Adelaide Airport 3G 2.75 1.8 59

What can we deduce from these numbers?

  • The 4G speeds in Brisbane and Sydney are impressive, and better than most ADSL customers in those cities will experience. Melbourne also has solid numbers, but had by far the most variable signal, so we can't get quite as excited by the outcome.
  • The numbers in Perth were quite low, and in Adelaide even lower still. Indeed, Melbourne and Sydney gave us better 3G speeds than Adelaide could manage on 4G.
  • If you can't get 4G, 3G is likely to perform much worse. Brisbane Airport, for instance, offered one-twelfth the speed of the Brisbane CBD.
  • The ping times were fairly consistent. Perth and Adelaide had higher numbers (above 100ms), which might cause problems for gaming or video applications.
  • Outside Sydney and Brisbane CBD areas, upload speeds were much more consistent between 3G and 4G connections.

Let's be clear: even at the lowest speeds seen here, casual browsing on your phone will be fine. Video would be more of a challenge, especially in the slower cities.

As ever, the key lesson is this: don't be swayed by potential maximum speeds when considering mobile broadband and data speeds: what matters is the speed you can actually get. Based on these numbers, Adelaide and Perth residents might want to think twice, and Melbourne citizens might want to muse on why their city (Australia's second-largest) gets such relatively poor treatment.

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Comments

    your columns are supposed to be DL-UL-Ping

      Ouch! Thanks for the column error spot, fixed now.

    Angus, what device did you use to test 4G speeds ?

    I think you have got the column headers wrong?
    Perth 131 Mbps upload - I suspect that is the ping :-)

    Vodafone has 4G coverage outside the CBD, where Telstra/Optus doesn't seem to have it. 40Km outside of the CBD, by the beach, I managed to get over 100Mbps down, and 43Mbps up (best case). Most of the time, uploads where greater than 20Mbps and downloads above 80Mbps. But no interference and no one on the network, will do it. When I tested it in the CBD, I got the same results as you. You can see my results here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0As08FNOuklVrdGJCZ1V6ajlaZDUtWExIMTN1cDB6elE#gid=0

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