Vodafone have come to the 4G party very late.  Telstra has been touting its 4G network for well over 12 months, and Optus joined in late last year.  From this week Vodafone customers can access the new Vodafone 4G network and when they do – they’ll be impressed by the speeds.

With so many Telstra customers bragging about their 4G, and the well reported loss of customers in recent years – Vodafone has a mountain to climb to win back customer satisfaction and get people talking about their network.  With that in mind you might have expected they would have rushed to the 4G party as soon as possible.

Spectrum availability wasn’t the problem, in fact – if you ask Vodafone, they’ll tell you they hold some of the most valuable spectrum of all the major carriers – more on that later.

But no, according to Vodafone they’ve been focussing on the continued upgrade of their 3G network, and roll out of their 3G+ network to ensure they had the coverage people expect, and the fallback network from 4G was at least enough to keep customers happy.

For the last week or so I’ve been using the Vodafone 4G network to put it through its paces – it’s pretty impressive.

During my tests I’ve used a Sony Xperia Z handset with a Vodafone supplied SIM on the 4G network, while at the same time I ported my own number to Vodafone to get an absolute real-life experience – firstly using the HTC ONE then with the iPhone 5.

I’ve been on the Vodafone network for some time – using MVNO network Red Bull Mobile, so I’m no stranger to the reception and speed issues of the Vodafone network over the years.  There’s no doubt in my mind it’s improved – I’m just unlucky to own a house in a shocking dead-spot, and have a desk at work that provides almost no coverage. In both cases walking just a few meters gets me all the reception I need.
First and foremost what I’ve noticed is the seamless transition from 3G network to 4G and back is as any user would expect.  I live in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and work on the lower north shore of Sydney.

During my trials I visited the Sydney CBD as well as my regular daily commute from Hornsby to Artarmon. Because I was looking so much at my phone’s reception, I reckon I can basically pin-point almost all the Vodafone 4G towers – I did feel like I was getting 1 or 2 “bars” of coverage more than I was full coverage and there is no doubt that the speeds I got were directly related to the coverage I was getting – or distance from transmitter.

Staggeringly, I was able to get a speed-test in excess of 100Mbps – not something I had expected in a real-world test.

Now at this stage I can hear plenty of people saying “yes, but there is no-one on the network” – well, let me tell you I did these very same tests on the Telstra network some time ago when it first launched, and as this tweet shows – I was getting excited about 30+Mbps speeds, and can remember seeing just a few at 50Mbps.

In recent months I’ve had speeds of 60Mbps in rural areas (Dubbo) on a Telstra 4G USB Dongle. Just tonight I asked a few people on Twitter for some real-world speeds from Optus and Telstra. I got responses ranging from 20 to 55Mbps. Looking at some consistent results I was seeing averages of 30Mbps with Telstra.

Screenshot_2013-06-11-16-28-58 (1)By comparison, with my trials across three phones and across 166 different speed tests I got an average of 53Mbps downloads and 22Mbps uploads.

Of those 166 tests, 66 of them achieved download speeds above 60Mbps. Fifty of them were below 40Mbps. That’s a pretty good strike rate when connected to 4G.

Overall, it’s hard not to be impressed by the speeds being achieved on the Vodafone 4G network.

One reason for the staggering speeds being offered by Vodafone is the unique network spectrum they have. Using two 20MHz slices of spectrum, Vodafone essentially have space for faster speeds and more users – thinking of it like a traditional highway, it’s great construction with basically double the lanes of the other networks.

Given the issues in recent years capacity issues are unlikely to slow the network down any time soon, but even when the customer rate returns to growth for Vodafone (assuming it does) there is plenty of space for everyone.

Overall, I think Vodafone still have a lot of work to do to grow their network. More towers, continued 3G improvement across the network is crucial for customer retention.

If anything, the “30 day guarantee” Vodafone recently started offering might just be the perfect thing for new users right now. Port your number, check out the 4G coverage in your regular areas and if it works for you – stick to it, if not, switch back!

Vodafone is transitioning existing customers as of this week, with new customers being welcomed to the network from July. So if you’re a long suffering Vodafone customer – they are repaying your loyalty with early access to jump on the phone and get switched over now if you have a 4G capable device.

For my mind, I wish I lived at the Caltex service station on the Pacific Highway northbound near Mowbray Road Chatswood – because that’s where I got that 100Mbps+ speed and was able to get regular 80Mbps+ speeds. As I say, if you’re in the right spot, this network is blisteringly fast. Easily the fastest 4G network in Australia – if not the world.