Which mobile network has the best coverage in Australia: Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone

When it comes to choosing a phone plan, for some of us, mobile network coverage is high on the priority list. If you live in a more densely populated area, it’s likely you’ll not have an issue finding good mobile coverage. But, for those in regional and remote areas, and even some metropolitan areas which somehow seem to miss out on a solid connection, finding good network coverage is vital.

So, if you’re looking for a new phone plan, or are perhaps fed up with your current plan’s dodgy connection, we’ll take a look at the different mobile networks in Australia and hopefully help you to find which network is right for you.

What mobile networks are there in Australia?

There are only three mobile networks in Australia: the Telstra network, Optus network and Vodafone network. Each of these telcos build their own mobile network throughout the country with different technology types. While 4G networks are the most widely available (with 3G still also available), 5G networks are the latest technology type being rolled out on the three mobile networks in Australia.

Keep in mind that not all areas will be covered by all three mobile networks. Likewise, not all areas will currently have access to the different mobile networks, with 5G still being progressively rolled out by the three telcos. For regional and remote areas, the Mobile Blackspot Program is a government-run initiative in cooperation with the three mobile networks, which aims to extend coverage by building and upgrading more mobile base stations.

Which carrier has the best mobile coverage in Australia — Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone

When it comes to the ‘best’ mobile coverage in Australia, there isn’t an easy answer. Clearly, the best coverage for you, might not be the same as the best coverage for someone else. However, coverage can be measured by how much of the population is covered by that network.

Using that metric, Telstra is the clear winner when it comes to mobile coverage with 99.5% of the population covered by the Telstra mobile network (3G and 4G) and 10,700 mobile base stations across the country.

Optus comes in second with 98.5% of the Australian population covered by 3G and 4G (with 97.3% covered by 4G Plus), while Vodafone trails behind the others with 23 million (out of 25 million) Australians covered, which includes 96% of the metropolitan population.

Of course, the best mobile coverage will depend on what coverage you can get where you live and any areas you frequently travel to. It’s for that reason that you should check your address (and other areas you travel to) on the maps the telcos provide on their websites, to see what networks have the best coverage in your area.

Optus offers a Coverage Commitment, so if you have coverage issues on its network, you can cancel and Optus will cover any cancellation fees and any remaining device charges (granted you return the device in good working order).

If you want to compare plans from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, the following table shows a selection of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard advertised monthly cost, lowest cost first, then by data allowance. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These are products which may contain links to referral partners.

Best mobile phone coverage in regional Australia

All three of the mobile network providers have worked at improving regional mobile coverage, particularly in conjunction with the government’s Mobile Black Spot program.

As for which provider has the best regional coverage, since Telstra does cover the widest portion of the population, it does have the widest regional network covered. Telstra also runs a ‘blue tick’ program, where mobile devices have receiver sensitivity tested to see how devices perform for call quality. Devices deemed to provide good voice coverage are given the ‘blue tick’. However Optus is not far behind, with Vodafone still not quite at the same numbers when it comes to reaching regional Australia.

Which carrier has the best 5G coverage in Australia?

When it comes to the rollout of the 5G network, all three telcos have come a long way since 5G first went live in Australia back in 2019.

Telstra is also leading the way with 5G coverage, with 75% of the population covered by Telstra 5G as of June 2021. Optus was the second telco to launch its 5G network, and has over 1,200 5G network sites live as of May 2021, along with one million devices connected to 5G. Vodafone was the last to switch on 5G in March 2020, and states that its 5G rollout is on track to cover 85% of the population in 10 of the largest Australian cities and regions by the end of 2021.

Each of the three networks have rolled out 5G coverage in most of the capital cities and more populous areas and towns. Since 5G is still not quite to the same level of coverage as 4G, if you are looking for a 5G phone plan, you might want to look at coverage maps from each of the telcos first and see which telco has coverage in your area.

How good is mobile coverage from smaller telcos?

Smaller telcos, known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are able to offer phone plans to customers using parts of one of the three mobile networks. Typically MVNOs won’t have full access to the whole mobile network, so you might need to check the network coverage map on the MVNO’s website before signing up.

If you’re looking for providers offering Telstra coverage, Boost Mobile is the only MVNO to be given full mobile network access — in this case, the full Telstra 3G and 4G networks. Other MVNOs may only have access to parts of the network they offer plans on, although most Vodafone and Optus MVNOs should offer full 4G and 3G coverage.

In the case of MVNOs using the Optus mobile network, Optus is currently the only big telco to offer 5G network access to MVNOs, so you can pick up a 5G plan with a smaller telco. However, there currently aren’t too many smaller providers offering 5G at this stage, so choices are limited.

Typically though, in areas where you have easy access to mobile networks, you’ll most likely find that the MVNO covers you pretty well. Regional and remote areas might have a harder time finding if they will have reliable coverage from an MVNO available to them.

To compare plans from smaller tables, the following table shows a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB data, listed in order of standard advertised monthly cost, lowest cost first, then by data allowance. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These are products which may contain links to referral partners.

The best mobile network — the verdict

Considering how wide the coverage from all three of the mobile networks is now compared to a decade ago, there’s a bit more competition than there used to be. While many people might have the idea that one mobile network provides better coverage than another, it’s worth checking the coverage maps of multiple providers. Just because you only had one network available to you a fair few years ago, doesn’t mean that this is still the case.

Overall, the best mobile network will be the network that gives you the best coverage in areas where you live, work and frequently visit. In order to find the best provider and plan for your needs, it helps to compare not only mobile coverage, but also plan prices and inclusions, to find the right plan for you.

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