First impressions of Vodafone's 4G network

It's up and running, so what's Vodafone's 4G network like to use in the "real world"?

Earlier this week, Vodafone finally switched on its long-awaited 4G network.

It's a few months behind its competitors, but on track for its own predictions. Or, at least it's more recent ones; Vodafone had previously suggested it might have 4G up and running in 2011 (PDF).

As has been discussed, the Vodafone 4G service is different to most, running on 20Mhz of bandwidth rather than the usual 10MHz. The telco has likened this to a "highway" with twice as many lanes to carry traffic.

Certainly, the speeds we'd seen under controlled testing were extremely fast — up to 109.9Mbps . But how does the service fare in so-called real-world testing?

First, a few caveats: this isn't exactly real world. The real tests for Vodafone will come when a far greater customer base has moved over to 4G. At the moment, it's only existing customers with the right plans and the right phones who can access the service.

Our fastest recorded speed was 92.6Mbps.(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

But let's look at how we've found the network in its first few days of operation. In the interests of full disclosure, we've been testing in the Sydney area, using an HTC One SV supplied by Vodafone for the purposes of this test. We're also not calling this a review; it's very much a hand's-on first impression of the service.

If we had to use one word to describe the long-term evolution (LTE) experience, it would be "capricious". The speeds we saw could vary wildly just by moving a few metres.

In Summer Hill, roughly 8km west of Sydney's CBD, we saw download speeds of just around 6Mbps to 7Mbps. Roughly 50m up the road at the train station, we recorded the highest speed we've seen to date, 92.6Mbps.

In the CBD itself on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool streets, we recorded our lowest download speed: 36Kbps. Yes, kilobits per second. Two blocks further up, it was back to 45Mbps.

Anecdotally, it also felt as if the network suffered a little from building penetration issues — we seemed to get better speeds outdoors than in. We certainly haven't done enough testing in rigorous enough conditions to call this more than just an "anecdotal experience", however.

Our lowest speed was 36Kbps.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

Similarly, upload speeds never got much past 20Mbps, and were more likely to be in the 10Mbps to 15Mbps bracket.

When the 4G was flowing, the average speeds we saw were between 35Mbps to 45Mbps — an excellent download capacity by anyone's standard. But when the 4G coverage wasn't so hot?

Well, you need to remember that when you're not in an area covered by Vodafone's 4G network, you're back on the vanilla Vodafone network, which hasn't exactly had rave reviews from users.

Our sense is that if you're a Vodafone customer in the right area, then the launch of the 4G network is a breath of fresh air. The current low congestion combined with the technical specs makes this a zippy network (at least for downloads).

But for the moment at least, there's nothing here that would have us recommending anyone jumping ship from their existing telco at the moment.

All that said, it's early days for the network, and we'll be continuing to monitor how it progresses in the coming weeks.

 

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