Is 5G worth the extra cost?

Australian 5G experience

Opensignal reports that the Australian 5G experience is improving, but it has a long way to go before it is a reason to upgrade to a 5G handset and the extra 5G data cost.

Opensignal’s report uses real data, which is sufficient to extrapolate to all of Australia. Every time a 5G handset enters 5G tower coverage (or 3 or 4G), it records the event, slowly building a map of 3/5/5G coverage. All figures are from July to September 2021 and are adjusted for user numbers not to skew results.

Availability versus reach

Availability is how often a user can access 5G instead of 3 or 4G. It is a measure of population coverage. 5G Reach is a measure of geographic coverage.

Telstra’s availability leads with 15.9% (Telstra claims 75% coverage) and reach (geographic) at 4.7%. The lead is due to the recent re-farming of 3G bands to 5G Low band, which has greater distance but similar speeds to the 3G it replaces.

Optus has upped its game and has 7.4% availability and 3% reach. It is also re-farming 3G to provide more but far slower coverage.

Vodafone is focusing on city coverage and is at 5.8% availability and 2.4% reach. And Vodafone is still expanding its 4G network – smart move.

Quality of service

It is a new network with the latest tech and latest handsets, so you expect decent quality of service. This shows that all three networks are pretty much the same in terms of video downloads, games, and voice.

As lower-cost handsets gain market share from the flagships, we may see quality decline due to different antenna signal strengths. Already in our reviews, we are finding significant signal strength differences between Systems-on-a-Chip (Qualcomm, versus Exynos and MediaTek) and their antenna systems.

Download and Upload – improvements

Speeds are increasing as more 5G handsets join the OpenSignal test. Optus leads at 272.4/15.8Mbps, Telstra at 229.6/17 and Vodafone at 153.2/12.5.

Why the disparity? While Quality of Service is similar, the fact is that Vodafone’s network has far fewer towers, so there are more of its users experiencing marginal speeds. Optus has been the leader in capital cities, where more of its users are closer to its towers.

What about the regions?

While all Telcos perform well in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, Regional Australia is largely untouched. Telstra and Optus are focusing on 5G for major cities and reinforcing 4G in the regions – don’t expect that to change this decade!

GadgetGuy’s take

GadgetGuy has always said that when 5G phones/plans cost the same as 4G ones, change will happen. Just as it did with 4K TV and will do with 8K somewhere in the future.

Our recent Best Android phones $100-1000 – most are now 5G guide shows that 5G handsets are now down to $299 and 4G dominates the $150-299 bracket. It is a no brainer to buy a 5G handset.

But the 5G mobile data and voice plans are still a huge issue. Apart from Telstra, Optus (and a couple of its resellers) and Vodafone (ditto), the majority of resellers only have access to 100Mbps capped 4G speeds and no VoLTE (voice calls over 4G) or Wi-Fi calling (voice calls over the internet).

5G is expensive (compared to 4G). Telstra’s lowest cost 5G plan is $65/80GB per month. Compare that to the average 4G spend at MVNO (mobile 4G resellers) of $10 to $20. Check out our Cheapest SIM Plans.

Telcos want to milk 5G as long as they can to get a return on their investment. So, if you want 5G, you will pay dearly for a service that you can access between 5.8 and 15.9% of the time – the rest is 3 or 4G. And step outside major cities, and 5G is something you can only dream about.

Meanwhile, networks are still very much a work in progress. Telco’s are now rolling our low-band 5G that is not much difference in speed to the 3G or 4G it replaces and needs a recent 5G handset to use it. Speeds are also an issue as they are nowhere near the promised 20Gbps mmWave high-band (usually 1Gbps) or the 1Gbps sub-6Ghz mid-band (usually 100-300Mbps).

So yes, buy a phone, but no, don’t get a 5G mobile voice/data plan until they are a similar cost to 4G.

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