Will Australia's 4G pass the iPhone 5 test?

Will Australia's 4G pass the iPhone 5 test?

Summary: Just how will Australian 4G networks cope with the incoming tsunami of iPhone users?

TOPICS: 4G, iPhone, Australia

Judging by the internet's breathless reception of Apple's iPhone 5 launch, there is still much to be said and written about a product that we pretty much knew everything about already.

Whether or not you think Apple's latest device is a cutting-edge epiphany or a pale compromise that provides just enough to come close to its rivals, odds are that it's going to fly out of the stores in Australia, since history has shown we love our iPhones something chronic.

After so many pre-launch leaks took all the surprise out of the actual launch, the only thing remaining to be seen is how long it takes for Australia's fledgling 4G networks to buckle under the additional load they face.

It's an interesting field test for a telecoms technology that was still very much in-the-wings last year and has quickly become priority number one for Telstra and Optus — and could, unless Vodafone gets its act together, be the death of our number-three player.

I don't mean that literally, of course, but time has shown that any carrier without a convincing iPhone offering is going to be ignored by consumers; witness the stampede towards Optus after Telstra dropped the ball on the iPhone 3G launch back in 2008.

Vodafone isn't expected to have any kind of real 4G story to sell until next year, by which time, its two rivals will have locked millions of Australians into two-year contracts that few will be ready to break to port to an untested network from a carrier whose brand — let's face it — hasn't exactly been associated with reliability.

Yes: for now the iPhone 5 is a two-horse race. But Telstra and Optus could face their own reliability problems if the iPhone repeats history and takes the telecoms infrastructure utterly by surprise.

When the iPhone 4S bowed last year, I warned that it represented an escalation in Apple's potential to turn the tap towards data oblivion; the iPhone 5 will do the same, as consumers use new features like streaming music, heavier use of iCloud syncing, use of bandwidth-sucking wideband audio, and other iOS 6 eye candy, such as Apple's graphically-intensive Maps, 28-megapixel panoramas and so on.

Don't forget the people that use the iPhone 5 as a broadband modem, and who are bound to start downloading massive, erm, Linux ISOs to their laptops over their data connections.

This all means data. Lots of it — and that translates into a great big test of our emergent 4G networks. Though 4G is certainly faster than 3G, it will be stress-tested like never before, because ordinary, average consumers will be expecting them to just work.

Talk about how Android phones are better, and how they've had 4G and other new iPhone 5 features for over a year, for as long as you want: 4G only really exists now that Apple has endorsed it for real (as opposed to its poorly contrived iPad 3 marketing).

In Optus' case, 4G has only existed in Sydney, Newcastle and Perth for about a week (a month, technically, if you count its early business plans), and will only flip the switch in Melbourne this Saturday.

That gives Optus just a week before iPhone 5s start flying out of stores, to sort out any issues with its 4G network. And if that network is still suffering the usual teething pains, can't keep up with an explosion of data downloads or consumers complain because they quickly discover they live in what are still quite-large 4G blackspots — well, to borrow a phrase, we may as well say "God save the iPhone". But nothing will save Telstra and Optus.

What do you think? Were you underwhelmed over overwhelmed by the iPhone 5 announcement? And, if you already have a 4G phone, how have your data usage habits changed? Any network congestion issues?

Topics: 4G, iPhone, Australia


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • LOL

    “4G only really exists now that Apple has endorsed it for real”

    I would like to nominate this for the stupidest fanbois statement of the year award. Total garbage....

    As for the general crux of the article, the average iphone buyer is technically illiterate. They will not know if they are on 3g or 4g. They will know their phone supports it maybe. They will know that 4g is better maybe, but that is about it. Will it drive more data usage than existing use? Probably not. The only driver for that would realistically be the bigger screen size., as it makes the device more usable.
    • Ignorant and bias

      An absolutely obnoxious and ignorant claim. Many people with iPhones are more than computer literate. The same can be said for users of Android smartphones, and the opposite can be said for BOTH parties. It is clear that you are not an apple fan, but keep your rubbish opinions to yourself. I am stoked about the iPhone 5s release and most of that excitement stems from its technological specs (and the music player). However, in saying this, I also recognise the samsung galaxy sIII as a great device.
      It is purely a matter of opinion.
      Billie Campbell
  • The average user will just say ...

    Oooh, new shiny thing! Me want!

    Other than that, mark Cowcar's comment up.
    • Who need it?

      iphone = icatchup to the Galaxy (almost) with smaller screen, lower resolution, no card slot, non self replaceable battery & closed shop. But at least it's still a shiny status symbol to attract the yuppies...
  • Android support 4G - NOW

    I agree. What a stupid (apple lover) statement regarding iphones and the perceived 4G loading.
    I have a HTC 4G phone and it works very well. It works well even at 3G.
    Bottom line is, there are already and has been for some time, 4G phones available to petrol heads. If they think they need to slow it down with some average tech, then buy a iphone.

    First the iphone needs to be released and then lets see if it IS 4G compatible this time. Last time apple said their phone was 4G it wasn't. So there is your Track record.
  • I'm confused

    I'm confused because I thought I saw a story about Samsung possibly sueing Apple for breaching Samsung's patents relating to 4G/LTE. Does this have any relevance to the IPhone 5? We all know that Apple stuffed up on its iPad 4G with false advertising, claiming that it's stuff was 4G when it really wasn't to avoid samsung's lawyers, so is this going to be any different?
  • I wont be the only one

    These things will sell like hotcakes and like the first iPhone put the networks under strain. I was with Optus originally but poor speeds made me jump to Telstra. Strange I wasn't stupid enough to not notice that one.
    These comments about sheep baffle me. Android has the greatest market share but android uses aren't sheep and for that matter. The masses are not sheep, the masses like and buy good products hence why most people these days buy a smart phone, not keep their nokia they got in 1998.
  • Amazing.

    Surely someone was sacked for publishing this article .... well blog.
  • 4G connection / conjestion

    My advice: before you sign up with Telstra on 4G plan, check the speed of the connection.
    Buy an unlocked superphone on-line and hook up via prepaid.
    The Stav