Best 4G network: Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone

Networks launch their 4G weapons in the mobile war but which is best for you?

Australian 4G networks

Australia has always been at the forefront of new mobile technology rollouts, and 4G is no exception. Initially rolled out by Telstra late in 2011, both Optus and Vodafone have now joined the LTE party, rolling out their own versions of the next-gen technology.

Still, that 12 month head start means that Telstra is still the network to beat in terms of 4G coverage, although both Vodafone and Optus are committed to the task.

Given the Australian thirst for faster speeds, transitioning customers to 4G has been a fairly easy task for all three networks. The battle lines now seem to be drawn over not just coverage areas, but speeds and exclusive devices.

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With that in mind, what do these networks have up their sleeves for the immediate future? Here is our run down on what you can expect.

Best 4G Coverage

Let's face it, 4G is going to be of no use to you if you don't have access to it. Telstra has been pushing hardest in its rollout, covering 66 per cent of the population at last count and looking to expand that figure to 85 per cent by the end of the year.

Optus took a slightly different approach to its 4G rollout, launching exclusively around the Newcastle area in April 2012. Since then, the service was expanded to capital cities and key regional hubs, around the country. While Optus hasn't announced exactly what percentage of the nation can get a 4G signal, it has promised that it will hit 70 per cent of metro users by the middle of 2014.

Vodafone is the latest telco to join the 4G competition, and because it's the last to market, it's keeping quiet on exactly what percentage of users can expect coverage.

What Vodafone has instead focussed on is its contiguous spectrum, which allows for greater bandwidth. This means that it can easily support category 4 devices like the Huawei MediaPad 10 Link tablet, as well as coping better under strain.

Best 4G price

The best part about 4G in Australia is that none of the networks is charging a premium for the faster speeds. In most cases, all you need is a 4G smartphone like the Galaxy S4 or Xperia Z to enjoy the faster speeds, although some customers with older SIM cards might need to upgrade.

The biggest challenge with 4G in Australia is the limitation on data caps. Despite the fact that data speeds have been drastically increasing thanks to 4G technology, the data allowance on plans has actually gone down over the past few years.

While included data has reduced, the telcos are starting to actively change the way they charge for excess usage.

Telstra's Every Day Connect plans start at $60 a month, including 1GB of data. $80 a month will get you 1.5GB of data, while $100 a month offers 2GB of data. If you want more than that, you'll have to spring $130 a month, which includes 3GB of data.

Of course, the Every Day Connect plans include the purchase of a new handset (although you may need to pay a small repayment on top of the base amount). If you're happy with the 4G phone you have, or you prefer to buy your phone outright, Telstra also has Every Day Connect BYO plans.

These phone-free plans start at $50 a month with 1GB of data, and go up to $60 a month for 1.5GB, $80 a month for 2GB and $100 a month for 3GB.

Additional data packs are available for the heavy downloader, with $5 a month delivering an extra 250MB, $15 a month giving 1GB, $30 a month adding 3GB and $60 a month purchasing 8GB of additional data.

Optus's plans are a little bit more confusing. There are SIM+ plans, which start at $25 a month (which includes 200MB of data), but offer the benefit of not locking you into a contract for two years. The $40 SIM plan includes 1GB of data, while the $65 plan includes 2GB. You can add the cost of a mobile to that as well if you like.