Speed demon: Cat4 LTE tested on Vodafone in Sydney

Across Australia, 4G is the thing to have, as telcos roll out the fastest mobile broadband speeds. Vodafone has finally caught up, one of the last telcos to do so, and it’s also one of the first with the latest type of 4G, Category 4.

Built to push out speeds of up to 150Mbps, Category 4 LTE is a type of 4G that few people can access.

Currently, Telstra and Vodafone are the only two providers of the technology, with Telstra rolling it out gradually across Australia, first in Adelaide and Brisbane, with Perth being added slowly, too.

Interestingly, Vodafone reached out to us last week to tell us that its 4G network – the one it recently launched – technically supports the Category 4 technology, and in more places, including where GadgetGuy operates: Sydney.

The catch to achieving these ultra high speeds is that you need a device that can latch onto the Cat 4 compliant networks, and there is only one of those heading to Australian shores in the next couple of weeks: the Huawei Ascend P2, a Telstra exclusive (at least for the moment) of which we’re currently reviewing.

We’re already aware that we won’t be able to get Cat 4 speeds in Sydney, but since we now know that Vodafone’s new 4G network can push these speeds out in our hometown, that means we can test the Ascend P2 with a local Category 4 network.

And that’s exactly what we did this week, churning through around 3GB of data just on speed tests alone, comparing it to one of the faster Category 3 LTE devices we have in our possession.

What will Vodafone’s network achieve against Telstra’s, and which will come out faster?

Sydney buses: our roving test facility.

It’s worth noting that we only have one Cat 4 device to test with, which is a shame, because while Telstra’s Cat 4 network isn’t live in Sydney, we still would have preferred to do our testing with two identical devices.

That said, we chose a device for the comparative Telstra test that we knew could pull top speeds, which is why we went with the HTC One, a handset that has managed a top speed of 88Mbps on the Telstra 4G Cat 3 network in our presence (earlier this week, in fact).

Note: for all of these tests, the HTC One running Telstra Cat 3 LTE is on the left, while the Huawei Ascend P2 running Vodafone Cat4 LTE is in the middle, with a geographic location on the right. Larger images of these can be found in the gallery at the end of the page.

First tests were on July 22 in the morning, and in the city close to Chinatown, we saw Vodafone’s 4G speeds pull around 50Mbps down and 15Mbps up, while Telstra saw 20/24 comparatively.

Closer to the CBD, however, Vodafone and Telstra started getting closer to each other, with 43/22 for Telstra and 41/14 for Vodafone. A few seconds later, an extra test revealed 53/17 for Telstra, and 43/14 for Vodafone.

Obviously, Vodafone on the Huawei Ascend P2 isn’t pulling Category 4 speeds in excess of 100Mbps, at least not sustained, although we did manage to get closer to 100Mbps than we had ever seen outside Sydney’s Central Station, with a speed of 93.58Mbps.

Later on, we saw our metre momentarily hit 112Mbps, but it wasn’t enough for a sustained speed, pulling back to 75.50Mbps down.

Central Station on George St: where Vodafone's Category 4 LTE seems to present itself best.

Impressive, that’s for sure, but is Vodafone faster? We took another day of testing to see.

For day two, we took the same routes, taking more snapshots as the two devices competed against each other, unaware of the little game we were playing.

Near Sydney’s Broadway shopping centre, Telstra managed speeds of 57/33 and 29/21, while Vodafone pulled 67/5 and 66/12, essentially edging out Telstra for download speeds in this area.

As we travelled closer to the centre of town, Telstra pushed back, pulling down 46/14 against Vodafone’s 21/14.

You can see the stats and locations in more detail in the gallery below, but the question as to which network is faster can’t be answered with a simple “yes, XXX is faster.”

Rather, they’re both about as on par with each other, with different locations yielding faster speeds for each.

One consistent result could be worked out from our testing, however, and that was Telstra’s upload speed seemed to be consistently higher than what Vodafone yielded.

At one point, we weren’t sure if this was the smartphone handset itself, but in trying a Telstra SIM with the Ascend P2, we’ve discovered faster upload speeds there too, essentially qualifying that overall, the upload speeds appear to be better on Telstra.

Of course, there are more factors here, such as different phones, different times of the day, and of course how many people are using each network.

Ultimately, this test should be performed in more cities than just Sydney, and a true Cat 4 test should be made in places where Category 4 LTE is working on both networks, not just Vodafone’s.