When Telstra announced on January 14 this year that "one in two Australians now had access to 5G coverage" in the areas they live, work and travel through, it also announced some other interesting stats that show the breadth and depth of its 5G network.
Telstra has already announced that this figure will grow to 75% of Australians by mid-year, but as of January 14 2021, Telstra has more than 750,000 5G devices on the network, and says it is "adding thousands of new 5G devices every single week as more customers take up new devices".
The company also notes its network is "growing every week with 2,650 Telstra 5G sites on-air across the country, as well as coverage in more than 100 cities and towns and more than 2,000 suburbs across Australia with selected areas of Telstra 5G coverage".
So when you can't fight on the coverage metric, you fight on another one, in the areas that you do offer 5G coverage. Optus says it is especially proud of its 5G speeds in Sydney and Melbourne, pointing to "two tests" that put the average Optus 5G download speed 22% faster than Telstra, in both cities.
The news comes from Matt Williams, the Optus MD of Marketing and Revenue, in a blog post entitled "Optus out in front for 5G speed", where he states: "I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - you can’t claim to have Australia’s best 5G network if it’s not the fastest.
"At Optus we already know we are working hard to build Australia’s fastest 5G and this week two 5G benchmark tests have clearly shown Optus is out in front - smashing 5G mobile download speeds in Sydney and Melbourne.
"In fact, these two drive test benchmarking reports show we’re significantly faster than our biggest competitor with one report showing Optus’ average 5G download speed is 22% faster across independently selected routes in Sydney and Melbourne – Australia’s two largest and most populous cities.
"We’ve worked hard to deliver a 5G network that can achieve ultra-fast speeds for our customers. We’re sweating our spectrum assets, using cutting edge technology and investing heavily to deliver customers a true 5G experience - which is why we have asked for one carrier to formally remove their 5G advertising claiming ‘Australia’s best 5G’," Williams continued.
The blog post from Williams continues below, but at this point I did want to note that if you're in a part of Sydney, Melbourne or anywhere in Australia where there's only Telstra 5G, then you're already getting the fastest 5G possible from your location in that area, and when Optus gets there, then speed test comparisons can begin again.
In addition, the dirty little secret of 5G is one that telco's don't want to talk about, which is that 5G upload speeds can be very slow. 5G download speeds can be very fast, but when you swithc back to 4G only and do a comparative speed test, you will find that 4G upload speeds can be much faster, and 4G can be as fast or even faster sometimes than 5G, which seems surprising, although the 5G network is still not yet complete.
Telstra's network is also better in general. Where I am as I type this article, there is no 5G coverage from anyone, or at least, not yet. The Telstra 4G coverage is giving me 64.6Mbps download speeds and 4.13Mbps upload speeds, while my Vodafone 4G is delivering 4.56Mbps download speeds and 3.75Mbps upload speeds, so the quality of your network certainly always matters and can differ across the country.
A comparison with an NBN 100 FTTN connection over Wi-Fi that I've just connected to at the same location is giving me 80Mbps download and 37.6Mbps upload speeds.
For other 5G speed test comparisons, Telstra 5G back on 30 October 2020 gave me 80Mbps download speeds and 6.96Mbps upload, while the same phone and SIM switched to a 4G only connection gave me 81.2Mbps download and 8.10Mbps upload. I've also seen speeds of just under 500Mbps download on both the Telstra and Vodafone 5G networks in Canberra, although Vodafone's 5G coverage is tiny in Canberra compared to Telstra's, while Optus does have much wider 5G coverage than Vodafone and is competing much more strongly with Telstra.
Another test saw me get 135Mbps download on 5G and 6.04Mbps upload, but the same speed test a minute later on 4G saw 168Mbps download speeds and 8.86Mbps upload speeds.
Still, as the 5G network continues growing and the technology improving, 5G speeds can only get faster, with even 6G technologies already under development despite being what's expected to be around a decade away from the first true 6G deployments showing the 2020s truly will be the decade of ever more, better and faster 5GX-type improvements from all the major players and eventually the MVNOs, too.
So, to return to Williams' blog post, he explains Optus's formal demand that they remove their 5G advertising campaign claiming 'Australia's best 5G', where he states: "For Optus, this isn’t about stripping our competitor of their self-declared title – this is about being transparent with the Australian consumer, ensuring that they get access to all the facts.
"At Optus we have been open from the outset with our 5G rollout, offering our customers a world-class 5G network that we plan to build as Australia’s fastest. When it comes to 5G it’s all about speed and we have the necessary assets and partnerships to deliver this.
"We have been out in front early, pushing and testing our 5G network with technologies like Dynamic Spectrum Sharing and Carrier Aggregation to ensure we are delivering Australians a future proofed 5G network.
"It’s also been important to us that as we have commercialised 5G our customers don’t have to pay a premium to access it. Optus 5G mobile customers can access the network for the same price as our 4G customers and we believe that our 5G Home Internet plan is the most competitive in market. In fact, even if you don’t want or feel you need 5G at the moment, there is still no need to pay more with another carrier.
"But back to the independent 5G testing. Completed by Spirent and Systemics PAB in Sydney and Melbourne, the test routes covered locations across both metropolitan areas from the CBD, suburbs and major roads. All routes were independently selected by Spirent and Systemics based on 5G availability.
"The results speak for themselves with the Systemics report showing Optus has the fastest average 5G download speeds across both Sydney and Melbourne combined, at 362 Mbps. Optus also recorded the fastest top speed from a single test, measured at 1,431 Mbps", with a footnote at the blog post stating these results are "taken from Systemics Benchmarking Report December 2020".
Williams concluded with a final pitch: "So, what does this all mean for the average Australian consumer. It’s simple really – if you want a true 5G experience that delivers the fastest 5G then switch to Optus!".
To which you can only point out that the fastest 5G in all the other areas Optus isn't available is already the fastest 5G available to you in those areas, but for those mainly living and working in the Optus 5G coverage areas of Sydney and Melbourne, the Optus deal is strong, especially with Optus offering 500GB for $65 per month, outclassing Telstra's 180GB per month for $65 offer.
Again, if you want to see the 5G label on your phone in more places, with the coverage area growing every week, Telstra is the only network, but Optus is certainly working hard to compete, and I urge you to do your own speed tests to keep an eye on how much faster or otherwise 5G upload and download speeds really are compared with the 4G network in your area, giving you the ability to choose what's best for you where you are when you need it.
However, if the fastest 5G speeds in Optus 5G coverage areas of Sydney and Melbourne that you want, and which Optus is also actively growing, and the 500GB $65 plan you'd likely go for with an Optus SIM, and if the rest of the Optus 3G and 4G network across Australia meets your needs, which for millions it already does, then Optus hopes you'll certainly be tempted.
Optus is 5Gunning for your business with 5Gusto in what it hopes is a 5Genius move to 5Give you more. Whether you 5Get the deal at with Optus or 4Go it by sticking with your current plan and provider is up to you, but the mobile revolution we've all lived thorough the last 20 years has now entered Level 5G.
We even saw this week the launch of realme's 7 5G smartphone, which at A$499 RRP, is the most competitive locally launched 5G smartphone, and a sign that soon you won't be able to get a phone without 5G, unless it is one of the super cheap $99 Androids at the supermarket, and even that will change one day, too.
And while today's 5G will look like two tin cans and a piece of string to children and users of the future, with 6G already on the 2030 horizon, the reality is simple.
5G is finally on the scene in a big way, with the end of 5G's beginning finally reached and the exciting next chapter of ever greater global 5G deployment unfolding.
5G's growth will continue accelerating more rapidly now, as Telstra races to be the first with effective nationwide coverage, and ongoing competitive imperatives seeing 5G networks expanding and growing as quickly as the telcos are able to continue their rollouts, along with all the regular maintenance, updates and upgrades all of each telco's infrastructure and networks are constantly undergoing.
And let's not forget the coming glut of satellite broadband choices in a few years that, combined with ever better 5G and beyond, faster Wi-Fi standards and even other ways of mesh networking between devices that we still aren't really using but which are coming, ensures connectivity and high speed broadband from everywhere, will be a true commodity.
5G. It's so far from the final frontier, it's not funny, but it's a frontier we're finally crossing, in ever bigger numbers.
These are our shared voyages in the great UniversalShip called Life.
Our ongoing mission is to explore new ways of working together, to seek out new understanding and civilised new ways of respecting each other, living to our best potential, trading quality goods and services with each other through a sound monetary system, leaving the place in a better state than we found it, doing the right thing, helping our fellow humans, and harnessing the world's only truly unlimited resource - our problem solving brain power - in humanity's quest to get as fast a 5G mobile cellular connection as possible, to boldy go faster than you've ever gone before, and to figure out 6G, 7G, and every other G after that.
Until then, may all your 5G dreams come true, and may even faster endless data speed caps on Telstra, Vodafone and arrive to Optus sooner rather than later, and if a 5G phone isn't yet in your life, chances are high that one soon will be, with Gartner predicting 35% of this year's predicted 1.5B smartphone sales wil be 5G models.