While data communications are ever more prevalent, customers still expect excellent voice quality. How do the Australian mobile networks perform in this discipline?
In the communications habits of many users, speaking on the phone has become less important in comparison to internet-based communications like instant messaging or e-mailing. But telephony is still a key feature of every mobile network – and in those cases when people use it, they naturally expect top reliability and a high speech quality.
Australian networks are well positioned for fulfilling these expectations, as all three operators have deployed Voice over LTE (VoLTE). This modern technology helps to better coordinate voice and data communications in the data-centric LTE networks and avoids kludges like the “circuit-switched fallback“ that forces a smartphone to switch to a 2G or 3G connection while conducting phone calls.
Voice: Optus is the champion, Telstra overall second, Vodafone strong in big cities
The drivetests and walktests in the big cities show a high level of reliability and performance in all three networks. Optus is a little ahead in the drivetest scenarios, while both Optus and Vodafone lead by a small margin ahead of Telstra in the walktests.
The ranking order becomes a little more distinct in the smaller towns. Here, Optus leads the field, followed at a small distance by Telstra and, again with a little gap, by Vodafone. The results here are still good. As can be expected, they drop considerably on the roads: Here, Optus and Telstra are still performing quite well, while the score of Vodafone drops to a comparably meagre 49 per cent of the total achievable points.
VOICE RESULTS AT A GLANCE
Overall winner Optus also scores highest in the voice category. In the big cities, Vodafone and Telstra are following closely. In contrast, in the smaller towns and on the connecting roads, the ranking order is clear: Optus ranks first, Telstra second and Vodafone third.
With data volumes growing rapidly and tight limitations on available bandwidth, all operators face challenges in providing a satisfactory user-experience. Which Australian contender manages to best meet the growing demand?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the volume of data downloaded via mobile devices from May to June 2017 was 175,076 Terabytes. This represents a 19.9 per cent increase compared to the same period of the preceding year. For the 26.3 million mobile subscribers of the country, this equates to an average of 2.2 GB of data downloaded per subscriber per month. These numbers not only prove that mobile internet usage is hugely popular in Australia, but also that the typical user behaviour puts a heavy load on the mobile networks and poses a considerable challenge to all Australian mobile operators. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are continuing to spend billions of dollars on upgrading and expanding their networks to meet these demands.
A good mobile internet experience demands quick loading times. This includes the download of different types of web-pages, downloads and uploads of large files as well as the increasingly important reception of video streams from services like Youtube. In order to check the reliability and performance of data connectivity in the Australian networks, one Samsung Galaxy S7 per operator was installed in each of our four test cars and in the backpacks carried by each walktest team.
The phones constantly performed a suite of tests. For most of these checks, success ratios and average session times were logged. For downloads and uploads we also recorded average throughputs. In order to assess typical performance as well as peak speeds, we determined the minimum data rates that are available in 90 per cent of the cases plus the peak data rates that would be surpassed in 10 per cent of the cases. When testing the Youtube performance, besides success ratios, start times and the absence of interruptions, the average received video resolution is another important performance indicator.
All three Australian operators show strong performance in cities
As already observed in the voice discipline, all three Australian operators are strong in the big cities. In the overall results of our drivetests, Telstra is in the lead, followed at short distances by Vodafone and Optus. In the overall result of our walktests conducted in the cities, Vodafone takes the lead, closely followed by Telstra, while Optus ranks third at a distance of three per cent.
A first indication to Optus‘ victory this year showed when the drivetest cars examined the smaller towns. Here, Optus takes the lead, closely ahead of Telstra. Vodafone, that fell back in the voice tests in smaller towns and on the connecting roads, gives a similar picture in the data tests: The distance between the second-ranked Telstra and Vodafone on the third rank is a considerable ten per cent of the maximum points in this category.
Still, a closer analysis of the measurement values shows the comforting result that even when data rates drop, the success ratios are still comparably good – except for the results of video playback on roads in the Vodafone network. But even in the networks with weaker performance values, customers can still expect mostly reasonable connectivity.
Telstra leads in data results on connecting roads, Optus also strong, Vodafone falls behind
On the connecting roads between the cities and towns, Telstra scores a little better than the also strong Optus. Vodafone once more falls behind. In this case, this backlog is not only affected by throughput rates, but substantiates in clearly reduced success ratios too.
For mobile users who regularly need a good connectivity when they are travelling by car between Australian cities and towns, our results indicate advantages for Telstra and Optus.
Data results At a Glance
Telstra is the category winner in the data tests, followed by an also strong Optus. Overall in this discipline, Vodafone falls somewhat behind. However, this result is only due to Vodafone’s limited data performance in smaller towns and particularly on connecting roads. Here, Telstra and Optus achieved clearly better results. In the big cities, all three contenders are very strong.
More than 14 million Australians live in one of the five largest urban areas of the country – which is a whopping 60 per cent of the total population.
Therefore, and in order to support these users by giving them detailed test results about their local mobile network situation, we have taken a closer look at the results in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. With the exception of Perth, the test teams conducted drivetests as well as walktests in these metropolitan areas. In order to facilitate an easier comparison of the individual results, we have converted the achieved points into percentages – compensating the fact, that the absence of a walktest result would otherwise reduce the maximum number of possible points.
As we have already stated, the operators all in all perform strongly in the bigger cities. So, the differences in their results are not huge – but still worth a closer examination.
Sydney: Telstra leads overall and in data, Optus strongest in voice
In Australia‘s biggest city, the market leader Telstra is closely ahead of its opponents Optus and Vodafone. Telstra scores particularly strong in the data tests, where Vodafone ranks second and Optus third. Optus makes up leeway in the voice discipline where it closely leads ahead of Telstra and Vodafone who turn out to be equally strong in telephony. Neither operator is a bad pick for smartphone users in Sydney, but our results allow them to make their choice according to their individual requirements.
Melbourne: Optus scores highest in all disciplines
Optus achieves the highest score in the Melbourne area according to our test results. This operator scores best in voice, in data and thus also in the overall evaluation. Telstra ranks second in voice and overall, while Vodafone is slightly ahead in data.
Adelaide: Local champion Vodafone
In Adelaide, Vodafone takes the lead both regarding the voice score as well as the data score. Overall and in voice, Optus ranks second here, while Telstra achieves the second-best score in the data discipline, but overall ranks third.
Brisbane: Telstra ahead, Optus behind
Telstra achieves the best overall test result in Brisbane and scores especially high in the data tests. In the voice discipline, the differences between all three contenders are small, whereas in data, Optus ranks clearly behind the other two.
Also in Perth: Local champion Vodafone
Perth is the second area where Vodafone is ahead of its competitors both in voice and data. Telstra follows closely with almost equal scores, while Optus falls a little behind with limited data results.