Telstra mobile network fastest, highest quality: Benchmark report

A mobile benchmarking report has named Telstra the top mobile provider in Australia thanks to high call quality, fast data speeds nationwide, and quick call set-up times.

Telstra has held onto the top spot in a mobile network benchmark survey published by testing services company P3 Communications and technology publication CommsDay, with the highest call quality and fastest data speeds overall, followed by Optus and then Vodafone Australia.

The 2015 P3 CommsDay Mobile Benchmark Australia, which compares user experience across Telstra, Vodafone, and Optus, was announced on Wednesday morning at the CommsDay conference in Melbourne.

Each year, the report measures network performance over the three major telcos across Australia, in areas covering 70 percent of the population, including call quality, file upload and download speeds, call success rates, website access, and mobile video quality.

Voice results saw Telstra with the fastest call set-up time in metro areas, at 6.2 seconds, followed by Optus, at 6.4 seconds, with Vodafone trailing at 8.0 seconds. In less-populated areas, Telstra's call set-up time was again the fastest, at 6.0 seconds, with Vodafone just behind, at 6.1 seconds, and Optus at 6.6 seconds.

Telstra also had the highest objective listening speech quality, at 3.7 out of 5, while Vodafone was scored 3.5 out of 5 and Optus 3.4 in metro areas. The results were similar in less-populated areas, with Telstra and Vodafone rated 3.6, and Optus 3.4.

In regards to data, peak downloads in metro areas averaged 46.4Mbps on the Telstra network, with Optus following on 38.3Mbps and Vodafone on 31.7Mbps. For peak data uploads, however, Vodafone was first, on 19.9Mbps, versus Telstra's 18.7Mbps and Optus' 9.5Mbps.

P3 noted that while Telstra's score had improved by 7 percent over its results in 2014 and Optus by 27 percent, Vodafone saw a substantial gain of 40 percent. The testing company attributed this to Vodafone's recent investments in network infrastructure, quality, and coverage.

P3 used a patent-pending system named Antenuatr to test the Australian networks, which simultaneously tests networks on numerous smartphones and can be transported across the country to test specific areas.

"With the Antenuatr technology, P3's testing is even closer to actual end-user experience. But more importantly, the whole set of testing equipment is compact enough to fit in a small suitcase, and very quick to set up and mount in almost any car," P3 Communications MD Marcus Brunner said.

"That has made it possible for us to fly the hardware into any location with an airport, get it up and running in a fresh pair of hire cars within just a few minutes, and immediately begin testing -- putting locations such as Perth within reach for the first time."

Last week, the Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) published its Annual Report 2014-15, revealing that while Telstra and Vodafone have all improved their complaints statistics, Optus has increased substantially.

According to the report [PDF], Optus saw an increase in total complaints to the TIO of 31.5 percent, from 14,144 during FY14 to 18,601 in FY15.

This was Optus' first increase in customer complaints in five years, and was attributed mainly to internet service issues -- internet service complaints grew by 52.4 per cent, landline complaints by 35.2 per cent, and mobile complaints by 24.1 per cent.

Optus has been facing increasing competition on both mobile and fixed-line fronts, with M2 Group announcing plans last week to merge with fibre infrastructure company Vocus Communications to form the fourth-largest telco in Australia, and Vodafone Australia following with news that it had signed a AU$1 billion deal with TPG for mobile services.

The Vodafone-TPG deal will see TPG's 320,000 mobile customers moved from Optus' mobile network across to Vodafone.

TPG's deal with Vodafone follows its acquisition of rival telco iiNet earlier this year in a deal worth around AU$1.5 billion, which will see TPG overtake Optus in customer numbers as a fixed-line provider.

Meanwhile, Telstra and Vodafone all saw an improvement in their customer complaint numbers. Complaints about Telstra decreased by 4.3 percent, down to 55,529 for 2014-15, while Vodafone's dropped by 46.2 percent, from 35,876 to 19,311.

Vodafone's 4G mobile network currently covers 96 percent of the metro population, while Optus claims that its nationwide 4G network covers 90 percent of the total population, and Telstra lays claim to 94 percent of the Australian population. However, according to a report by OpenSignal last week, which calculates "time coverage" -- the amount of time a customer's phone spends actually connected to the 4G network -- Vodafone covers 77 percent of the population, Telstra 76 percent, and Optus 70 percent.

The OpenSignal report also claimed that in regards to speeds, Telstra is the 21st fastest mobile network provider worldwide, at speeds of 23Mbps; Vodafone is in 37th place and Optus is in 43rd place, both with average download speeds of 19Mbps.

Optus on Wednesday welcomed the release of the P3-CommsDay report, with a spokesperson telling ZDNet that its continuing network investments are paying off.

"Last financial year, Optus invested more than AU$1.5 billion in its mobile network, including acquiring new spectrum, expanding 4G coverage, boosting network capacity, and switching on new towers," the spokesperson said.

"During 2015, Optus has introduced 700MHz spectrum to expand its 4G Plus network nationally, rolled out LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation in more areas to boost 4G speeds, provided 3G HD voice, which has improved the voice quality of Optus-to-Optus mobile calls, and launched Wi-Fi calling via the Optus WiFi Talk app.

"Our customers are enjoying the enhanced speed and capacity of the Optus 4G Plus network in metropolitan and regional areas across Australia, and we are delighted our efforts have been reflected by the 2015 benchmark results."

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