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Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone coverage: what is the best network in Australia?

Three to tango.

Brodie Fogg
Nov 09, 2023
bullet7 min read

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Telstra's market-leading mobile coverage is the very reason many Australians choose to pay a premium for the provider's plans. For years, Telstra's title has gone unchallenged, and rightly so.

Telstra's coverage is still the most reliable option for many Australians living outside of heavily populated areas, as coverage in remote Australia can be patchy at best. But over the last decade, the gap between Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone's coverage has narrowed significantly. Now, more than ever, Australians who once had Buckley's chance of receiving a signal with smaller, more affordable networks might find Optus and Vodafone a reliable alternative.

Then there are the MVNOs and their coverage. If you find that you do need access to the Telstra network, you could easily find yourself a viable budget alternative to the network with the best mobile coverage in one of the many providers that use Telstra's wholesale network, such as ALDI Mobile and Woolworths Mobile, which covers around 98.8% of the population.

There are a few steps you can (and should) take before committing to a new network if you're struggling to get coverage or merely looking to switch to a more affordable provider.

How to find the best mobile coverage

  1. Search for your address on Telstra, Optus and Vodafone's coverage maps below
  2. If the maps indicate sufficient coverage in your area, find the best deal by comparing deals from each provider and their respective MVNOs
  3. Sign up for a month-to-month SIM plan or a prepaid plan to test coverage
  4. Not getting the speeds you hoped for? No worries, pick another provider or network and try again. 

Who has the best network in Australia?

If you're going by scale, Telstra's network wins over the competition with 99.5% of populated Australia. Whether you live inside or outside a metropolitan area, the Telstra network is more likely to have your back than the competition.

That said, coverage is rarely the only consideration when choosing a mobile plan. Telstra might have the biggest mobile network, but the gap in coverage between it and the runner up is much smaller than the difference in price.

Speed, price and the perks that come with a given mobile plan or provider are also factors you'll want to consider.

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone coverage in populated areas

The percentages below represent each network's 3G and 4G coverage footprint in Australia. That said, it's important to note that these percentages aren't representative of landmass, rather Australia's populated areas.

How coverage from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone compares
  • Telstra: 99.5%
  • Telstra Wholesale (MVNO access): 98.8%
  • Optus: 98.5%
  • Vodafone: 96%

Now that you know how much coverage each major telco offers, the next questions is how much you're willing to pay to access the coverage provided by each of Australia's mobile networks?

To make finding your answer to this question easier, here's a quick round-up of the big three telcos' most popular SIM plans. It should help give you an idea of how much going with a given network will cost and the call and data inclusions that going with either Telstra, Vodafone or Optus will get you.

Telstra is still the prime candidate for the best mobile coverage, but Optus and Vodafone's plans can often offer almost the same amount value. Be sure to carefully consider each provider's perks and features before making a decision either way.

Still stumped? Be sure to read on for more specifics on each provider's network and coverage.

Photograph of smartphone with Telstra logo on blue background

Telstra vs Optus Mobile: 5G, plans, coverage and value

We pit Australia’s two largest mobile network operators against each other to see which offers the best mobile coverage.

Telstra Mobile coverage map

  • 99.5% of populated Australia
  • Best choice for regional Australia

If you're not completely satisfied with Optus or Vodafone 4G coverage, it might be time to consider switching to the big blue or a Telstra-powered MVNO like MATE.

Before you do, it's worth checking the map below to find out whether Telstra offers sufficient coverage in your area. Our map also includes Telstra 5G coverage, which now covers over 80% of the population.

If your area is swimming in a sea of purple, you should have no issue accessing Telstra's 4G network. Here's a quick look at the telco's prepaid and Upfront SIM-only plans.

And if you're happy with Telstra's still-impressive Wholesale Network coverage, here's a rundown of the most popular plans on other providers who use the Telstra network.

Telstra MVNO coverage
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The map above isn't entirely reflective of the coverage offered by MVNOs that use the Telstra wholesale network. For a more detailed map on Telstra's wholesale 4G network, head over to Telstra's website. And for a closer look at some alternatives, check out our guide to the best mobile providers on the Telstra network.

Telstra MVNO coverage

The Boost Mobile exception explained

Most MVNOs have limited access to the Telstra network. However, Boost Mobile is the one provider that Telstra offers unbridled 3G and 4G coverage too. Boost and Telstra have a strong partnership which gives the MVNO complete access to the best mobile network (in terms of coverage). You can even get 5G on select plans.

Here's a quick look at all of Boost Mobile's prepaid plans.

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Optus Mobile coverage map

  • 98.5% of the Australian population
  • Great for metropolitan areas and populated regional towns
  • Might not service the back of Bourke

Next up, we've got Australia's second-largest mobile provider, Optus.

Optus claims it covers 98.5% of populated Australia. Compared with Telstra's 99.5% coverage, that might not seem like much of a difference. But if we apply those percentages to Australia's total population, the gap starts to look more pronounced. Theoretically speaking, the Optus network reaches 256,900 less people than Telstra. If you're on those unlucky individuals, the absence of coverage from the best mobile network in Australia can sometimes feel like a personal attack.

Thankfully, it's easy to find out ahead of time. There's no need for stressful guesswork when you can search your area in the Optus coverage map above. Take a look and see if your hometown has significant Optus 4G coverage (or even Optus 5G coverage, if you're lucky) with the provider.

If you like what you see, here's a look at Optus' prepaid and postpaid plan options.

As with those piggybacking on Telstra's network, Optus MVNOs have the same coverage as Optus.

Because of this, there's no reason not to compare plans between the two. Best case scenario: It might save you a chunk of change. The only thing you don't get access to with Optus MVNOs are perks like a discounted rate on Optus Sport or the ability to bundle in a new phone. If you're eyeing up an MVNO like Amaysim then it might be worth asking how valuable these inclusions really are.

To give you a sense of the market, here are the most popular plans with other providers on the Optus network with 10GB of data or more.

Optus vs Vodafone
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If you've decided against Telstra, you might be wondering which provider has the best mobile coverage out of the remaining two networks. Take a look at our in-depth Optus vs Vodafone mobile matchup to see which comes out on top.

Vodafone coverage map

  • 96% of populated Australia
  • Often a cheaper choice for metro areas

Lastly, there's Vodafone. It's no secret that network footprint for Vodafone coverage pales in comparison to Telstra and Optus. But if you look at the numbers, the overwhelming majority of Australians can still get a reliable signal on Vodafone nowadays.

The same goes for the various MVNOs (TPG, Kogan Mobile, etc.) who rely on the same network for Vodafone coverage. Like Optus, the coverage of Vodafone's MVNOs is the identical to that of its 4G network.

If you're still worried about whether you have Vodafone coverage in your area,  take a look at your stomping ground in the coverage map below. If your address (and the places you regularly visit) are covered in purple, you should be good to go. There are still other factors that might impact your signal, but the map above is a reliable indication of Vodafone coverage in Australia.

You can also check if your area is one of the few with Vodafone 5G coverage by checking the 5G box.

Confident with that coverage? Then take a look at Vodafone's prepaid and postpaid mobile plans.

Still not sure? No worries. It's best to trial a Vodafone MVNO prepaid or month-to-month SIM plan for a little while anyway. If you're not happy with the coverage, you can always cancel (or, in the case of prepaid, stop paying for recharges) and jump ship to another network.

In the meantime, here's a healthy mix of prepaid and SIM-only deals from other providers on the Vodafone Mobile network.

Still struggling to get Telstra signal?

Telstra's coverage map offers an accurate snapshot of coverage in your area, but there are a few other factors that could impact your signal. Many are simply out of your control, like geographic interference, but there could be issues with your hardware too.

If the handset you're using is a little dated, you might not be able to take advantage of the latest wireless technology. That's why Telstra operates its Blue Tick program, a certification process that highlights handsets that will work best in a rural setting. Take a look at some of the best Blue Tick Phones available.

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone 5G coverage in populated areas

As opposed to 4G and 3G, there aren't any clean percentages available to help us compare and contrast the 5G coverage of Australia's mobile networks.

While Telstra has been loud and proud about achieving a 5G footprint that covers 85% of Australia's population, both Optus and Vodafone have yet to put a comparable number on the size of their respective efforts. That alone can suggest something about where Telstra sits relative to the other two, but without any actual numbers to compare it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about 5G network coverage.

Even if we had access to such clean numbers, those rarely tell the whole story when it comes to finding out who has the best mobile coverage for you. Whether a given provider has the best possible coverage might not matter as much as whether your mobile network covers the specific places that you want (or need) 5G connectivity.

To help with that, we've embedded a map widget that allows you to get a closer look at what areas are covered by each of Australia's big three 5G networks. Click the big orange button, select your desired network provider from the dropdown (e.g. Telstra, Optus or Vodafone).

To find out if you have 5G coverage in your area, use the (+) and (-) icons in the top-left corner of the map to navigate to your area. For example, if you want to search for 5G coverage in Sydney, zoom right in and drag the map with your cursor to zero in on your address.

Mobile coverage FAQs

What mobile networks are available in Australia?

Australian consumers have three major options to choose from when it comes to mobile networks. Ordered by coverage and size, you're looking at either Telstra, Optus or Vodafone. There's also the Telstra Wholesale network, which sits roughly between Optus and Telstra.

That said, you might not be getting access to the entirety of a given network depending on your plan or provider. For example, Telstra MVNOs like ALDI Mobile covers 98.8% of populated Australian areas while Telstra (and Boost) coverage accounts for 99.5% of populated areas. When it comes to coverage, it pays to do your research and double-check the details.

Which mobile network has the best overall coverage in Australia?

When it comes to coverage, Telstra remains at the top with 99.5% of the Australian population said to be covered.

Which 5G network is best?

There are two ways to measure which of Australia's 5G networks is the best.

The first is by speed. In Australia, 5G mobile connection speeds can as high as 1Gbps. Testing done by WhistleOut found that both the Telstra and Optus 5G mobile networks offered average speeds of around 500Mbps. On the other hand, Vodafone came in at around half of what its competitors can muster with around 250mbps.

The other vector that might be used to judge 5G networks is size. When it comes to coverage, Telstra's first-mover advantage puts it ahead of the other options. At the time of writing, Telstra's 5G network is said to cover around 80% of the Australian population. For comparison, Vodafone says that its 5G network is available in over 1000 suburbs but neither it nor Optus have been bold enough to put a percentage to its claims as of yet.

What mobile providers use the Telstra network?

Thirteen providers currently use the Telstra network. We have listed them below:

  • Telstra
  • ALDI Mobile
  • Belong (Telstra sub-brand)
  • Better Life Mobile
  • CMobile Blue
  • Lycamobile
  • Mate
  • Numobile
  • Pennytel
  • Tangerine Telecom
  • Telechoice
  • Think Mobile
  • Woolworths Mobile

What mobile providers use the Optus network?

Fourteen providers currently use the Optus network. We have listed them below:

  • Optus
  • Amaysim (acquired by Optus)
  • Aussie Broadband
  • Catch Connect
  • Circles.Life
  • Coles Mobile
  • Dodo (owned by Vocus Group)
  • Exetel
  • Gomo (Optus sub-brand)
  • iPrimus (owned by Vocus Group)
  • Moose Mobile
  • Southern Phone
  • Spintel
  • Vaya (acquired by Amaysim/Optus)

What mobile providers use the Vodafone network?

A total of eight mobile providers currently offer plans that use the Vodafone network. The list is as follows:

  • Vodafone
  • CMobile Red
  • Felix Mobile (TPG Telecom sub-brand)
  • Kogan Mobile
  • iiNet (acquired by TPG Telecom)
  • Internode (acquired by TPG Telecom)
  • Lebara Mobile (acquired by Vodafone/TPG telecom)
  • TPG (merged with Vodafone)

Does Optus use the Telstra network?

Optus does not use the same network as Telstra because it has its own mobile network.

Does Vodafone use the Telstra network?

Vodafone does not use the Telstra mobile network. It relies on its own infrastructure instead.

Brodie Fogg
Written by
Brodie Fogg
Brodie Fogg is the Australian editorial lead at Reviews.org. He has covered consumer tech, telecommunications, video games, streaming and entertainment for over five years at websites like WhistleOut and Finder and can be found sharing streaming recommendations at 7NEWS every month.

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