Smiling woman using mobile phone, wearing green dress

5G network awards highlight Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, but which telco is actually best?

Australia’s three mobile networks have been put to test to determine which telco is first in 5G — with mixed results. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have all taken top spots in various 5G categories, making it harder to narrow down just which one is the ‘best’ 5G provider in Oz.

Mobile analytics company OpenSignal has released its latest Mobile Network Experience Report, which looks at the real-world network performance experienced by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone customers, particularly on 5G. The report is based on data gathered over a 90-day period between January 1 and March 31, 2023, and compares the average speed, coverage, and availability offered by each network provider. 

As expected, Telstra took the lead on both 5G reach and 4G coverage, and also offered the overall fastest download speed experience. However, underdog carrier Vodafone won OpenSignal’s 5G Availability award, in addition to being the best telco for 5G gaming.

5G experience: Vodafone wins for voice app and gaming, but Optus dominates downloads

Source: OpenSignal

OpenSignal’s report covers several categories, including the overall experience of mobile users, as well as 5G-only, network coverage and consistency. 

This quarter, Telstra and Optus were joint winners of the best 5G Video Experience, receiving a respective 76.8 and 76.6 points out of 100. 5G Games Experience went to Vodafone, with the telco earning 80 points for its multiplayer mobile gaming .

Vodafone also beat out Telstra and Optus for the best 5G Voice App Experience, offering the consistently-strongest call quality on ‘over-the-top’ apps such as WhatsApp, Skype or Facebook Messenger. However, Vodafone fell significantly behind on 5G download speeds: the telco lodged a 106.8Mbps average, behind Optus’ impressive 229.6Mbps, and Telstra at 215Mbps. 

OpenSignal’s report also includes two Consistent Quality awards, which measure how often a user on each network can access the speed, reliability, and low latency required to support both common use, and more demanding activities such as live video streaming and online games. Telstra received both the Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality awards, with Vodafone in second place. 

5G coverage: Telstra’s network strong, but Vodafone stays available

Source: OpenSignal

Telstra took first place for 5G reach, scoring 5.2 points on OpenSignal’s 10-point scale. The telco was closely followed by Vodafone at 5 points, and Optus in third with 3.9 points.

While Telstra is the clear winner for the size and reach of its 5G network, Vodafone is superior for 5G availability. OpenSignal reported that Vodafone users with a 5G phone can access 5G signals 30.8% of the time, ahead of Telstra at 19.2%, and Optus at 12.1%. Obviously, the time spent on 5G networks will depend greatly on a user’s location, but it may be a worthwhile point of comparison for customers in metro areas with strong 5G coverage.  

Outside of 5G, Telstra offered the best 4G coverage experience with 9.8 points out of 10, beating out Optus’ 9.4 points. Overall network availability was almost too close to call: Optus won out with 99.4 points out of 100, followed by Vodafone’s 99.3 and Telstra with 99.2.

Best networks: state-by-state

OpenSignal’s report also highlighted which of the three networks was best for each category on a state-by-state basis, including the best option for overall network availability (the proportion of time users have a 3G or better mobile signal). While the results were similar to the overall country-wide analysis, the top networks for each state are below.

State 5G Download Speed Download Speed Experience 5G Reach Network Availability
New South Wales Optus Telstra Telstra/Vodafone Optus
Victoria Optus Optus/Telstra Telstra/Vodafone Optus/Telstra
Queensland  Telstra Telstra Telstra Optus/Vodafone
South Australia Telstra Telstra Telstra/Vodafone Optus/Vodafone/Telstra
Western Australia  Optus  Optus Telstra/Vodafone Optus/Vodafone/Telstra
Northern Territory  N/A  Optus N/A Optus/Vodafone
Tasmania N/A  Telstra N/A Telstra

Which telco’s 5G network is best?

While OpenSignal’s research offers some specific insights into which telcos a leading certain aspects of the Aussie 5G race, the results make it difficult to narrow down a single provider as the go-to pick for coverage, reliability and speed.

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all showed clear strengths in this latest round of testing: Optus dominated on download speed and overall video and gaming performance, while Vodafone made impressive gains in the 5G Availability and 5G Games categories. Telstra received the most awards overall — seven, to Optus’ six and Vodafone’s four — including Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality, which the has won in every report since April 2022.

The distribution of top spots among the three networks, as well as the close results, is overall good news for Australian mobile users. Generally, there’s no one standout ‘bad’ choice for customers, although your individual experience will depend on factors such as your location, how you use your mobile data, and congestion in the area. So for Aussies with access to all three mobile networks, your pick of phone plans and providers may come down to other factors, such as pricing and included value.

However, if you do prioritise the fastest download speeds, you may prefer to go with Optus or Telstra, both of which offer twice the average 5G speed when compared to Vodafone. If you’re looking for the widest 5G availability and coverage, as well as overall consistency, Telstra may be your best bet thanks to its strong performance in each category.

Overall, if you’re in the market for a new mobile plan and want 5G access, make sure you’re across the coverage available where you live and work, and don’t be afraid to ask around to see how family or friends in your area feel about their current telco. This can help you find the network and provider with the 5G phone plan that best meets your usage and budget needs.

Compare 5G mobile plans

The following table shows a selection of published postpaid SIM plans with 5G access on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

The following table shows a selection of published prepaid SIM plans with 5G access on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

Tara Donnelly
Utilities Editor
Tara Donnelly is an internet and mobile expert - sectors she’s spent a decade covering - and also oversees energy and consumer technology content. She holds a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Canberra and has shared her expertise on national media including 9 News, 7 News, Sunrise and the ABC.

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