Across Australia, 5G coverage and availability depends critically on where you are and what telcos are available in your area. Three telcos take the helm in Australia — Optus, Telstra and Vodafone — with all receiving pretty commendable results in a recent report.
The report, conducted by independent communication analyst Opensignal, looks into overall mobile network experience and analyses data from millions of Australians (and their devices) every quarter. Opensignal collected the results presented in the October report between July and September 2023.
Outcomes of the results were quite surprising to say the least, with each telco leading the way in different categories — and making it harder to determine the ‘best’ provider overall in the process. From 5G availability, regional coverage and new categories including 5G “experiences”, here’s how the telcos stacked up:
Winners across 5G availability, regional coverage and more
Vodafone managed to fend off the competition and continue its winning ways when it comes to 5G availability. Since last April's report, the mobile operator has strengthened its 5G availability across the five regions analysed. (No 5G data was recorded for any mobile provider in the Northern Territory and Tasmania.)
While some may assume 5G availability relates to coverage, Opensignal says this metric refers to how long you remain connected to a 5G signal after the initial connection has been made. The data found that Vodafone users remain connected 39.7% of the time — up 8.9 percentage points since the last report — whereas Telstra users experienced an active 5G connection 19.1% of the time and Optus users fell behind at 14.5%.
However, for 3G/4G availability, Optus outshines Vodafone, with the telco accessible in six out of seven regions (excluding the Northern Territory). The providers also share three-way recognition for availability in NSW and Queensland. Optus and Vodafone were joint winners, scoring 99.2 percentage points, and Telstra ranked only a mere 0.1 percentage points behind at 99.1.
Opensignal does not specify reasons for 3G/4G availability, but we can speculate the results mean there are more feasible connection options now for regional and rural areas — and less reliance on Telstra to access mobile coverage in those areas.
If you’re less concerned about how long you maintain a 5G connection and instead want to know which network provides the fastest speeds, then Optus is the clear choice. The telco ranked highest overall for 5G download speeds for the fifth report in a row, as users continue to see the fastest downloads on average. Optus speeds triumphed with an average of 226.5Mbps across the three month monitoring period, followed by Telstra at 201.9Mbps.
Somewhat deceiving results
It's worth mentioning that despite some of these big wins, results can actually be quite deceiving. An example of this is Vodafone's success with 5G availability but also recording a significant downfall with download speeds.
Vodafone outranks the other providers in terms of 5G availability, yet only records subpar download speeds of 102.5Mbps — considering these speeds are roughly on par with 4G mobile connections, it begs the question why you’d sign-up to Vodafone for its 5G service. Regardless of availability, having 5G coverage ultimately depends on download speeds for it to function at its best.
Unlike its competitors, Optus won the most awards for overall 5G experience in the regional breakdown. The telco came out on top for 5G Gaming experience, ranking 81.7 points and winning across all regions analysed.
Telstra, however, does have a strong claim to the overall experience crown, with its results often only slightly behind Optus. When comparing availability, Telstra is almost on par with Optus in terms of its individual results.
Ultimately, we would advise looking rather thoroughly at these results and (carefully) studying providers’ coverage maps to make a meaningful judgement on what provider is best for you.
If you’re after the best coverage, you might be better off signing up to Telstra or if you’re keen to achieve faster speeds, Optus could be a solid bet. Otherwise, if you’re looking for the best chance at maintaining a steady 5G connection, Vodafone could be your top contender.
At the end of the day, nobody's perfect and 5G in Australia still has a long way to go. With no clear answers to the question of who has Australia's best 5G mobile experience, what's the best option for you will more than likely depend on where exactly you need coverage.
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Lucy Scotting is a digital content writer for Tom’s Guide in Australia, primarily covering NBN and internet-related news. Lucy started her career writing for HR and staffing industry publications, with articles covering emerging tech, business and finance. In her spare time, Lucy can be found watching sci-fi movies, working on her dystopian fiction novel or hanging out with her dog, Fletcher.