Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Which mobile network?

Two of the main questions I have had about my move to Tasmania have been "what's your internet connection like" and "what's mobile coverage like." More on the first issue later, but the second one is extremely important, as we have no landline phone at home. There is a Telstra phone cable at the roadside on our property, but apparently it would cost several thousands to get a trench dug to bring the cable up to the house and wire up the house. That's why many people here use wireless and mobile.

For the past week or so I have looked like a major gadget geek, often seen with an iPhone 3GS on Vodafone's 3G network in one hand and an HTC Desire on Telstra's Next G (provided free of charge by Telstra under their social review program) in the other. Simultaneously pressing on the screens with my thumbs. I've been trying to determine which mobile network is better for my needs.

My expectation was that Next G would be better, just based on reports from others, as well as Telstra's legacy obligations to service regional Australia and how they market the Next G service. Here's what I've found:
  • At my home, which is 5km and 480m up a hill from the west bank of the Huon River, it doesn't matter much which network I use. Both have the same signal strength most of the time and I've had no problems with either phone or internet use on both networks. Voice quality is surprisingly good. This is kind of funny because the Vodafone reception I get here is way better than at my old house in Sydney.
  • As soon as I start driving down the dirt road towards town, I get "No Service" on Vodafone, but still have two bars on Next G. Once I hit the bitumen, which is about 400m off the main road (see picture of 'Old Road' in the post below) I have two bars on Vodafone 3G and four on Next G. In Franklin town centre (e.g. at the cafe or pub), I generally cannot connect to the internet on Vodafone. What, no Twitter or Facebook updates on what I'm having for dinner??
  • Between Franklin and Hobart along the A6, there are also stretches where I get no Vodafone signal but at least a weak Next G signal at the same spot.
  • In and around Hobart and Kingston, Google Maps responded noticeably quicker on the HTC Desire than the iPhone. Overall, web pages load noticeably faster on the HTC Desire on Next G.
This leaves me with a decision to make. I can still work from home just as well on the Vodafone 3G network as I can on Telstra's Next G. But if someone calls when I'm down the road at the post office, they can't reach me. Outside of work, there will be a lot of places I can't make or receive calls (those important ones like 'can you bring home some milk?'). And that is frustrating not just for me but for those trying to contact me. And then there's the social media addiction to consider, navigation and so on. Next G wins.

Which is kind of sad because I've been a happy Vodafone customer for many years, mainly due to receiving good customer service. And a concern because my OH's experience last year of switching to Next G and then trying to cancel the service was unbelievably bad. But I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, because as part of the social review program for the HTC Desire I have been very well looked after by Telstra folk.

Not being a techie person I haven't used any special testing tools to come to my conclusions, and I have no idea exactly how much I can attribute to the handset and how much to the mobile network. This has simply been my hands on experience.

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