Sydney residents, I feel your pain ! Despite years of complaints about Optus’ network being oversold in Australia’s largest city, the problem is now spreading to regional cities as well. 3 years ago when the first iPhone launched in Australia, I signed up for a 2 year contract with Optus. It was clear Optus had the best value for money deal of any Australian Telco.
Each successive iPhone version meant selling that iPhone for close to the amount of the early termination fee and upgrading to the latest model. Every time Optus was still offering the best deal and service in Albury Wodonga was fantastic. The last 6 months has been a very different story.
With a 2GB data cap each month, on a typical month I’d chew threw around 900Mb. The iPhone 4 unlocked free tethering to computers, so you’d expect data use to increase. Those developers amongst us are already running iOS 4.3 can now use the Wi-Fi hotspot feature, so again you’d expect data use to increase.
Instead the exact opposite has happened. Optus’ 3G network is so congested that my monthly data usage has dwindled to less than 100Mb per month. Smart phones today are extremely data intensive, so much so that making a phone call actually comes in as a very low priority, but I am now dropping calls, while last year this wasn’t ever an issue.
A typical scenario was to use my iPhone to stream internet radio over 3G, what used to be a seamless un-interrupted experience, has now become a heavily buffered, constantly interrupted experience. Audio streams are now so bad that I’ve essentially stopped trying.
Many iPhone owners will take advantage of dead time in-line to check Facebook and Twitter or triage email.. with the painfully slow Optus network, inevitably you end up giving up on the task. The spinning circle can only entertain you so long.
There’s also been speculation that business traffic is being prioritised over consumer traffic, also impacting the speed of the Optus 3G network. Speaking of 3G.. despite the iPhone 4 adding support for 3G on more Optus frequency, it seems my phone spends more time dropping back to 2G than ever before.
To demonstrate just how bad things are, lets take a look at some speed tests.
|22/08/2010||1.61 Mbps||0.13 Mbps||346 ms|
|13/02/2011||0.03 Mbps||0.01 Mbps||505 ms|
If you want to try it for yourself, try standing next to another iPhone 4 user on Telstra and watch them score 3-4Mbps down.
After discussing the issue on twitter (I’ve posted a number speed tests over the months), I received a call from Optus representative. They explained that there was indeed congestion on towers in the area. During the conversation, they also discovered that a problem had been identified with a couple of the towers.
Before you start thinking this explains the dramatic degradation in network performance, these issues were only discovered in the last month or so, not the 6 months that the network had been failing.
Previously I had been a promoter of Optus’ network and as an influencer a number of people now signed up to 2 year contracts with Optus. Naturally I now feel terrible about recommending them and won’t in the future.
During the call, I also enquired what the solution to the congestion was, more towers was the response. I was then told a new tower was planned for the area, but couldn’t be given an ETA. So with no end in sight to the issue, Optus users in Albury Wodonga are now left in 2 year contracts with essentially unusable phones.
Since the iPhone launched, Telstra has made a fundamental shift in their approach. While they used to charge an arm and leg to get on the best network in the country, their plans are now very competitive. For the same money, you can get 1GB of data with Telstra vs 2GB with Optus.
I’d take 1GB of usable data over 2GB of unusable data, every day of the week. To add insult to injury, Optus is running a TV campaign at the moment promoting how “Good” their network is, which offers new users a satisfaction guarantee. This means if your not happy with Optus, you can cancel your contract without ETF. If Optus was truly confident in their network, they would offer this same deal to existing customers as well.
There’s really no excuse for overselling a network. I understand there is short-term financial incentives for a company to do this, but in the long run, customers will (and should) go elsewhere. Network monitoring tools provide bandwidth load data, while extrapolating this data would provide information of when to expect the need for a new tower to be built.
While Telstra is forging ahead with 4G / LTE rollouts, Optus is stuck trying to throw band-aids on a completely broken 3G network.
Optus, fix your damn network.