Optus has taken the crown from Telstra for the first time in four years, in a benchmark test comparing Australia’s three leading mobile network operators across voice and data services.
The P3 Connect Mobile Benchmark Australian test gives each network a ranking based on measurements across nine large cities, 19 smaller towns and 6400 kilometres of major roads, and provides a grading for networks based on the quality of two categories: voice and data.
Optus was the most improved network over 2017, taking out the top score for voice and improving its data score, giving it an overall ranking of 887. This is the first time it has achieved the top ranking, largely as a result of its improvements in regional areas.
It improved 50 points from the previous year to overtake Telstra’s score of 884 out of 1000. Last year, Telstra was awarded top spot overall and this year it remained the top network for data.
Vodafone, the third network ranked, scored 817.
While all three networks performed well for reliability and performance in major cities, there was significant difference in smaller towns.
In these areas and their connecting roads, Optus was leading the pack, the report found.
For the majority of measures, Optus and Telstra were neck-and-neck with their results.
Vodafone fell behind on some measures such as video playback during some road tests and data on connecting roads.
In Sydney, Telstra was “closely ahead”, with the final report showing strong results in data tests, followed by Vodafone and then Optus.
In Melbourne, Optus scored highest for every category.
Optus Network managing director Dennis Wong said the result was due to independent and transparent network testing across a range of mobile network factors.
“The result shows that Optus’ consistent and holistic approach to network investment and improvement across metropolitan and regional cities and towns, along major roads, highways and in remote locations is paying dividends,” Mr Wong said.
“The best-in-test result reflects our particular focus on improving our regional service following our $1 billion investment commitment to regional Australia in July this year.”
But while Optus is cheering at the success, Telstra is crying foul – with a Telstra spokesman saying it did not participate in the survey and “despite having won the survey for the previous three years, we have consistently pointed out shortcomings in the methodology”.
In 2015 when the network won top spot in the survey, Telstra’s Mike Wright said he had “respect” for the engineering capability and methology of the survey, but described it as “half the story” – as it was limited to outdoor drive testing with limited regional and rural areas included.
A different benchmarking survey undertaken by Systemics for Telstra found it had the fastest mobile network of the three after driving 41,000 kilometres around Australia, and a survey from Ookla, which operates speedtest.net, found a similar result.
A Vodafone spokesman said the benchmark showed small margins between each carrier in built-up areas.
“The days of a one-horse race are well and truly over,” he said.
“With millions of Australians also paying the dominant provider over-the-odds rates for a mobile service they could be getting elsewhere at a much cheaper price, now is a timely reminder that if people aren’t looking at what they’re getting for their mobile budget, it’s their bank balance that is missing out,” he said.
He said it was crucial customers consider price, inclusions, expiry periods, international roaming and customer complaint levels.
Hakan Ekmen, the managing director of P3 Communications, a German mobile-testing specialist, described all three network operators as continuously improving.
“The ongoing investments on upgrading and expanding their networks to meet customer demand let the market develop more and more towards an outstanding performance,” he said.