Telstra takes out Opensignal 5G speed crown, as Optus edges on availability

5G users in Australia cannot yet hit the 10% mark for time spent on the newest network.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

An Optus 5G installation on a power pole in Sydney.

Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet

Telstra has taken out Opensignal's first 5G user report in Australia, with the incumbent telco offering better speeds on 5G, although the perennial bridesmaid of Australian telcos was able to top it in coverage numbers.

Download speed purely on the competing 5G networks was blitzed by Telstra, which recorded 232Mbps compared to the 170Mbps on the Optus network.

Telstra's lead was further backed up in the download experience test, which takes into account an operator's 3G and LTE networks since 5G coverage is rather lacking at this point in time. In this test, Telstra recorded 52.5Mbps while Optus posted 46.7Mbps.

For the availability numbers, Optus users had a 5G connection 8.6% of the time, edging out Telstra users on 8.2%. Opensignal said the results were statistically equivalent, but it had plaudits for the Singaporean-owned telco.

"This is an impressive achievement for Optus, given that its commercial 5G launch took place in early November 2019, roughly five and a half months after Telstra's," it said.

As Australian telcos continue to deploy 5G networks, Opensignal said it expects download numbers will become dominated by the speeds available on 5G networks, particularly with standalone 5G, which replaces the 4G core used on non-standalone 5G with a 5G core.

Telstra said in May its network was already able to support standalone 5G.

"The 5G experience in Australia is already many times faster than 4G, and we are only at the very beginning of a 5G era that will likely last a decade or more," Opensignal said.

A global Opensignal report in July last year showed Australia was the only country where 4G speeds were better than the much-hyped speeds of 5G.

According to the report, Australia's maximum 4G network speed was 950Mbps, while 5G topped out at 792Mbps.

Tests of Telstra's 5G network conducted in June last year by ZDNet found the network rarely cracked the 300Mbps barrier.

In the period since, repeated 5G tests by ZDNet have failed to impress, but Opensignal said it has seen Telstra's network improve from 157Mbps in May, to 232Mbps in this report.

"It should be noted that 5G availability is not the same as the percentage of Australia's population or geography covered by 5G, given that initial 5G deployments tend to be focused in city centres and the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging users to spend more time in residential areas," the report said.

On Thursday, the Australian government announced that bidders in the upcoming 26Ghz spectrum auction would be limited to an allocation of 1GHz.

"I have directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority to set allocation limits of 1GHz," Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said.

"Success in the mobile market ultimately depends on access to spectrum. Applying allocation limits means that the 26GHz spectrum cannot be monopolised by any one operator."

The 26GHz band, from 25.1GHz to 27.5GHz, is set to be allocated by the ACMA in 29 areas across the country, while the 28GHz band, from 27.5GHz to 30GHz, will be restricted to apparatus licences. The former band will be allocated via an auction and administrative process, while the latter band will only be allocated by an administrative process.

Updated at 8:59am AEST, 16 August 2020: Corrected coverage to availability.

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