Vodafone announced its first 5G network sites last week, and with a new 5G handset in tow, I headed to Parramatta to see how Vodafone’s 5G network performs. Vodafone held the announcement until it had some good 5G handsets in its range to promote, and with the retail launch of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 5G variants the carrier had everything good to go.
And so the launch came and went, and Vodafone’s 5G network went live. I actually first caught a glimpse of it last weekend, flying back to Sydney from Melbourne, when my phone (which I thought had been in airplane mode.. woops) picked up the 5G signal as we flew over Parramatta.
However, as phone signal in a plane often is, it was too fast and too fleeting to actually use it.
So, this weekend, my son and I drove down to Parramatta to find the elusive 5G coverage and to try it out for myself.
From a cursory glance, Vodafone’s coverage map is pretty accurate – we found consistent 5G coverage within the marked coverage area, and it dropped off pretty quickly upon leaving it, too.
The 5G symbol is pretty distinctive on Samsung’s handsets too – it shows in a small box-type icon, unlike 4G which is shown just as text. You can see the 5G logo in the story image above, and also in the speed test results below.
So, where can you get this coverage? For now, it’s in and around Parramatta, NSW only, and even then, only some parts of it – definitely not all. At the moment, it’s advertised as 5G Outdoor coverage, and while I was sitting in a car – legally parked, of course – it worked just fine. Those in the coverage area may even find access inside their houses, but likely moreso at windows or doors rather than in the centre of the house.
As you can see above ,the coverage mostly centres on James Ruse Drive, from roughly Victoria Road down to the M4 Motorway. It extends east into Rosehill a little, and west towards the Parramatta CBD (parts of it), and some of the North Parramatta residential area. Residents of the Holroyd area also have some coverage.
However, as noted above, the coverage drops off pretty quickly outside the “green zone”. As you’ll see, though, Vodafone’s 4G coverage in the area is rather good.
I tried out the service across three sites within the coverage area – parked up in North Parramatta, then just off Victoria Road, and then pretty much smack-bang in the middle of the coverage area, and the results were really mixed.
The first speedtest was so quick I didn’t actually grab a screenshot – it was doing around 140Mbps down, and 40-50 up, but this was in a VERY particular spot. Even moving around within the car killed that speed. So, I called it an outlier and moved on.
The speed test results I did screenshot weren’t quite so quick; an average of 60Mbps down and 33Mbps up. These speeds aren’t terrible – for mobile broadband they’re in fact perfectly serviceable – but it didn’t really set my world on fire. I expected triple digits, for sure:
The good thing, I guess, is that these speeds were good and fast, but they weren’t hundreds of megabits fast. VoLTE worked fine so I could place calls and stay on 5G coverage, and browsing the web felt a lot more responsive, even if the throughput speeds just weren’t that quick.
What was surprising, though, was that when 5G coverage dropped and I went back into a 4G coverage area (near the top of the 5G coverage map), the 4G speeds were significantly faster than the 5G speeds … which was odd:
Unlike the 5G coverage, the 4G coverage very quickly started to resemble my home internet / NBN speeds – in fact, they were slightly faster downstream, and almost 60% faster upstream. I thought I might have been getting some lingering 5G coverage when I saw the speeds, but no, the screenshot makes clear that we’re looking at straight 4G coverage here.
I don’t want to say I feel underwhelmed, but at the same time, it’s hard to feel all that impressed by these 5G speeds. I know Telstra has 5G coverage in the Parramatta area, so I tried that while I was there, and it wasn’t significantly better (or worse) so the speed could be as much a function of the geography of the area as anything else, especially given Telstra’s 5G network has been in play for quite a bit longer.
I’m sure that Vodafone’s 5G network coverage and speed will improve over time, but for now, it remains very much a work in progress rather than something most people will get much usage (or speed) out of.