Monday 1 June 2020

Nearly Perfect 4G in Australia is Preparing Users for 5G Era

The Australian mobile market is dominated by the three major mobile network operators Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. All three operators provide comprehensive population coverage with their LTE networks and have launched 5G services.All three Australian mobile operators are now investing billions of dollars in their networks annually, with a view to securing new customers and retaining existing ones. Increasingly, consumers are looking to mobile communications for their broadband needs.

In common with most mature markets, in Australia there are significantly more subscribers to mobile services than there are people. Growth is being driven by population increases as well as a rise in the number of people using two or mobile subscriptions – commonly one is for personal use and another for business use. Very slow growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024 with penetration rates predicted to rise only slightly above projected population increase.

Telstra Australia launched its 5G service on the 3.6 GHz band at the end of May 2019 as it had switched on over 200 5G sites since August 2018. The 5G service was available in over 10 cities, including parts of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, Toowoomba, and the Gold Coast. Twenty-five additional cities should be covered before end-June 2020 including the major regional cities in Australia. However, the operator announced it is ahead of its target and 5G services are now available in 47 cities across the country.

Telstra added it has seen a massive expansion in the number of potential customers, growing from 4 to 8 million. Swedish vendor Ericsson has announced collaboration agreements with the operator to provide 5G equipment and upgrade Telstra’s network.

The Australian operator previously acquired spectrum in the 3.6 GHz auction for AUD 386 million (EUR 240 million), giving it 60 MHz of contiguous 5G spectrum in all major capital cities and between 50 MHz and 80 MHz in regional areas.


Telstra has also begun trialling faster millimetre-wave 5G mobile phone technology, which could be up to eight times faster than 4G, in sites at Parramatta and on the Gold Coast as the company announces its 5G network is now available in more than 700 towns across the country.

The trial marks the next step in the construction of 5G networks in Australia. 5G networks in Australia could only use lower-spectrum bands they already had licences for, meaning the much faster mm-wave 5G could not be used in Australia because it needs to use spectrum in higher bands (upwards of 26GHz).

The higher-end spectrum allows data to transfer at much higher rates, and with lower lag in communication to devices. Lower-spectrum (3.6GHz currently) 5G is around two times faster than 4G, but using the higher spectrum, 5G can be significantly faster, just over a shorter distance. Ericsson, the company behind the technology in Telstra’s 5G network, reported earlier this year speeds of up to 4.3 gigabits per second in its lab test.


Rival mobile network operator Optus announced the commercial launch of 5G mobile and 5G residential fixed broadband services covering selected areas in November 2019. 290 5G network sites went live and 1,200 sites were planned by March 2020. Recently, the company announced that by the end of May 2020 customers in parts of the western Sydney suburbs of Bonnyrigg and Minchinbury, Niagara Park on the NSW Central Coast, Cook in the ACT and the Brisbane suburb of Kenmore will be able to order 5G services. The telco is using equipment from both Ericsson and Nokia in its rollout of 5G.

Optus secured spectrum in the 3.6 GHz spectrum auction for AUD 185 million (EUR 110 million) in late 2018.

Optus have now launched a dual-band 5G network in Sydney using the 2300MHz and 3500MHz bands, with plans to extend coverage to Melbourne in the coming weeks.

The operator said it is testing Samsung Galaxy S20 5G devices on the dual-band network, which it claimed in a world first. The network uses Ericsson’s 5G Radio System equipment and Optus said initial findings indicate it has the potential to increase capacity and coverage. They have also worked with Nokia and Qualcomm last year.

Meanwhile Vodafone Australia switched on its 5G network at Parramatta in March 2020. They expect 650 sites in other parts of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra, will be live from mid-2020.

Vodafone Australia has teamed up with Nokia to conduct what the pair are calling the first field test of 700Mhz spectrum in Australia and APAC.  Nokia said the use of low-band spectrum and its AirScale equipment would improve indoor coverage and will be combined with the operators 3.5GHz holdings. 700Mhz spectrum in Australia has previously been used for 4G networks.

Open Signal notes that while 5G may be the focus for Australian operators, 4G continues to play a vital role because it is the network generation that handles the vast majority of users’ traffic and is the technology that most smartphones are using. Additionally, the early 5G networks continue to rely on 4G connections in order to operate because they use 5G non-standalone access. All three of Australia’s national operators have surpassed the 90% mark in 4G Availability and Optus is approaching the coveted 95% mark with a score of 94.9%.

In this report, Open Signal analyze the mobile network experience of Australia’s three national operators in the 90 days starting January 1, 2020. They monitored the network experience at a national level and across six cities, to see how Telstra, Optus and Vodafone performed.

In Opensignal’s regional analysis of six of the largest cities in Australia, Telstra is the operator to beat. The wireless carrier won awards in more cities in each of their metrics than any other operator. In Download Speed Experience, Telstra was the winner in five cities and tied with Optus in one city. They also saw the download speed Telstra users enjoy soar to 73.4 Mbps in Adelaide, which was 26.1% higher than its national score of 47.3 Mbps.

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