After months lagging behind its competition, Vodafone has joined the 4G arena in Australia. Is it any good?
What Is It?
It's Vodafone's 4G network. It got turned on a few days ago for about 30,000 customers and more are being invited onto it in the near future. You can check out the coverage maps right here, and the plans don't cost any extra than your standard 3G plans.
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle and Wollongong are the lucky cities with 4G coverage now available, with more coming soon.
It's so refreshing to see Vodafone journey from being the centre of the telco world's anger, into the butt of everyone's jokes and finally into something that you might actually buy.
That's right: Vodafone 4G has its impressive moments.
We haven't had a chance to get out into the rest of the nation and do a full speed test of Vodafone 4G, that will come soon, but we've been covering Sydney like nobody's business.
We went out into some of Sydney's most congested areas to test the network, including Circular Quay, Pitt St Mall and Central Station, as well as some out of the way suburbs around the airport. Speeds ranged from 10Mbps down right up to the fastest speed observed in Mascot of 42Mbps down. Upload speeds ranged from 2Mbps at their worst in-building in Circular Quay up to 21Mbps up in the on-street residential testing.
It's worth noting that in other network tests we've observed the network firing at an astonishing 107Mbps down using 20MHz of contiguous spectrum.
Here's a graph of those tests:
The most impressive thing about Vodafone's 4G network is how it's built. Vodafone has the most amount of spectrum available to its 4G network, being 20MHz, which means it’s able to deliver faster speeds and better performance during congested times. Other networks like Telstra and Optus have only half of the spectrum available that Vodafone does, so congestion can become an issue during peak times — something we've seen during our long-term observation of the networks.
Whether or not Vodafone's 4G can stand up to a rabid user base of speed-hungry smartphone users remains to be seen, but it's nice to know that Vodafone spent the extra time between its competitors launching 4G and its own launch to think about this sort of stuff.
Vodafone's 4G also falls under the company's new "Network Guarantee": can't get coverage within 30 days of signing your contract? That's cool. Bring it back to the store and Vodafone will let you out, no charge.
The reason I say it has impressive "moments" is because the network is exactly that: momentarily impressive.
In-building coverage can leave a bit to be desired at times, with only one bar travelling with you from the street to your desk, bedroom or kitchen, and speed tests sometimes fluctuated pretty wildly from really great speeds to really awful ones.
It's not an endemic problem that will plague the network the way Vodafail did — those days are long gone — it's a teething issue that comes with any new 4G network.
Telstra and Optus exhibited the same issues when they first launched 4G networks: spotty coverage, weird in-building issues here and there and not enough speed to go around, but it fixed those. Telstra in particular has had over a year to get its issues right and its well on the way to being the best network in the country. Imagine what Vodafone can do with a year.
Should You Buy It?
Vodafone has spent its time on this one, and you might think that the delay will put Vodafone in a position similar to Telstra or Optus for its day-one 4G network. That's sadly incorrect and a misconception I think a lot of people will walk into Vodafone stores with. You need to realise that coverage is still developing and the network still has teething issues here and there.
That being said, however, if you are in a coverage area with a compatible handset, reboot your phone and enjoy the sweet reward of your Vodafone-patience, and know that it's only going to get better from here. Even if you're not on Vodafone and thinking about switching back, it's worth checking out the plans and coverage maps to see if it's for you. That's right: Vodafone is now worth considering as a 24-month purchase.