This is Austria's best cell phone network

03/03/2022 05:00

Markus Mandau

Small quake in the Alpine Republic: The Austrian Telekom subsidiary Magenta places itself ahead of the former state-owned company A1 in our network test and thus replaces the previous leader. One reason for this is the rapid expansion of the Austrian 5G networks.
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This year we carried out the network test in the Alpine republic again under the stress of the corona pandemic. However, the mobile networks are coping well with the changed situation and are coping with everyday life and network expansion without any problems. In Austria, the former state-owned company A1 and the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary Magenta have been competing for the top spot for years. Network operator Drei is gradually catching up behind the two and delights its customers above all with low tariffs. The competitive situation is increasing for the new 5G technology, which is picking up speed in Austria. Compared to our last test, the availability of three along our test route has increased by almost 16 percent, A1 is almost 9 percent and magenta has improved by more than 8 percent.
The growth rates related to the entire network, on the other hand, look modest. We determine the progress of the networks by inserting last year's measurements into this year's advanced rating scheme and comparing the result with the current measurements. Three improves by almost 4 percent, magenta comes to 3 percent and A1 brings up the rear with 2 percent. This small difference between Magenta and A1 is enough for the Telekom subsidiary to overtake and win with a narrow lead. Overall, Magenta received a school grade of 1.2, a more than solid "very good". The market leader A1 follows closely behind with a 1.3. Although Drei remains in last place, it also convinces with a very good 1.5.
New leader: Magenta overtakes A1 and wins the overall ranking ahead of the former state-owned company. Three confirms the very good impression of the previous year.


UMTS shutdown is not an issue in Austria

The fact that, with the exception of 5G, the mobile phone networks are only increasing moderately is due to the LTE networks in the Alpine republic, which have been well developed for some time. The network operators did not implement any major innovations in the last year, such as switching off the old UMTS radio technology, as happened in Germany. The networks would do very well in everyday life without UMTS. We only collected a few samples with this radio technology on our test smartphones. If you have an LTE-enabled mobile phone that does not yet support 5G, you will almost always be served with LTE in Austria.
Of the Austrian network operators, only A1 has given a specific date: the curtain for UMTS is expected to finally fall at the end of 2024. The frequency spectrum intended for UMTS is gradually being distributed to the more modern radio technologies. Magenta is checking the situation, but has not yet given a date. At Drei, the voices are more reserved, probably out of consideration for customers who do not have an LTE-enabled smartphone. On the other hand, this "UMTS dividend" in Germany has ensured that the wireless networks have become faster. But the Austrian network operators traditionally have fast networks and are not necessarily dependent on the freed spectrum in the UMTS frequencies. A1 in particular is reticent and does not use band 1 at 2,100 MHz for LTE at all.
Year-on-year comparison: Overall, all networks improve only moderately. In the 5G expansion, on the other hand, there is a lot of dynamism.


Magenta passes

Nevertheless, in a cross-country comparison, we measured the fastest download rate for A1 at almost 140 Mbit/s. This is followed by a densely packed middle field, led by Deutsche Telekom with 114 Mbit/s, followed by Vodafone with 109 Mbit/s. Only then does the Austrian test winner Magenta come with 102 MBit/s, and Drei achieves an average of 95 MBit/s. Last by far is the German O2 network with 65 Mbit/s.
A1 certainly has the fastest network, but the download cut is not the decisive criterion in our test. Reliability when surfing and making calls is also important. And in these disciplines, Magenta diligently collects points. Magenta always comes out on top in our tests when it comes to achieving the highest possible success rate. Magenta makes fewer mistakes when it comes to transferring phone calls and avoiding dropped calls. Magenta also has the highest rate of flawlessly executed data transfers. In this test, we check whether the network operators correctly upload a 2 MB file and download a 5 MB file within certain parameters. We also have the highest success rates for Magenta when accessing our test websites, playing an HD live stream from YouTube, and uploading an image to Facebook.
Magenta's lead over A1 and sometimes even three is often small, since the Austrian networks all have a very high level. Success rates of over 99 percent for these standard tasks are the norm. Nevertheless, this small quality advantage is enough for Magenta to take the lead. Magenta is also ahead of A1 in the telephony and mobile Internet sub-ratings. The only exception are long-distance trains.
Pacemaker: Compared to the previous year, all three networks have become faster. A1 holds its top position.


A1 is ahead in long-distance trains

Anyone who travels by train in Austria has the better network with A1. Basically, the network quality in the trains lies between the German networks and the mobile phone networks in Switzerland, which represent the ultimate in this discipline. In Austria, all three networks perform well. A1 and magenta each achieve a school grade of 2.0 – a clear "good". Three follows with a 2.4, just avoiding a "satisfactory".
Especially when making phone calls, the Austrian networks give a rather mediocre impression to train passengers. This is impressively shown by the rates of breakdown-free calls, i.e. the calls that were successfully switched during our test and could be carried through to the end. A1 has a share of 94.2 percent. For comparison: In the cities, A1 achieves a rate of 99.7 percent. That's not surprising, because telephoning is usually a matter of course – mistakes are the clear exception. On the other hand, on a train journey you always have to expect that something will go wrong. With 93.5 percent, magenta almost reached the level of A1, while in the network of three with 89.1 percent more than every tenth telephone call failed or did not come about at all.
Problem case train: During the train journey, many phone calls and WhatsApp calls are not made or break off in the middle.


Test drive through the Alpine Republic

The basis for assessing the network quality in long-distance trains are measurements carried out by a team using special equipment. They traveled a distance of 640 kilometers. Measuring technicians from our partner NET CHECK covered a total of around 7,900 kilometers through Austria for the network test; from Lake Constance in the west to Burgenland in the east. They examined 5 metropolises, 10 medium-sized and 20 smaller cities more closely. Two cars with measuring equipment drove 2,700 kilometers in these cities. They have covered 1,650 kilometers on motorways and country roads. In addition, a team with two backpack systems was on the road. They not only examined the network quality in the long-distance trains, but also traveled on foot and on public transport through the inner cities of the five metropolises of Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Linz and Salzburg. Here they measured for 50 hours.
Another team was only concerned with the quality of the 5G network. The car drove more than 1,500 kilometers through different cities. In addition, it carried out 5G measurements on motorways and country roads over a distance of 1,150 kilometers.
NET CHECK carried out the tests on a total of 30 smartphones: 9 Samsung Galaxy S21+ completed data transfers, website calls and uploads to Facebook – their 5G function was deactivated during this time. 18 Samsung Galaxy S21+ used NET CHECK for phone calls and WhatsApp calls (details on the test procedure can be found here). They carried out measurements of the quality of the 5G network on three Samsung Galaxy S21+ smartphones with activated 5G. The data was collected while driving with the Benchmarker II from Rohde & Schwarz Mobile Network Testing (MNT), by far the largest manufacturer of mobile communications benchmarking systems. Two backpack systems of the Freerider III type (also Rohde & Schwarz MNT) were used on long-distance trains and in the cities when the measurement technicians were on foot or using public transport.
Setup: Our partner NET CHECK carried out the measurements on the Samsung Galaxy S21+. The mobile phones were housed in the roof box of the measuring car.


Magenta has the best 5G network

Last year we examined the 5G networks in Austria for the first time. At that time, A1 was still ahead of Magenta, because the network was faster and was ahead in terms of the availability of 5G on the N78 band. This year, Magenta wins our 5G ranking. The N78 band around 3.6 GHz is particularly important for 5G, because only here does 5G technology achieve speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s and more. Using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), network operators can also provide 5G on frequencies such as Band 1 at 2,100 MHz or Band 28 at 700 MHz, which they use in parallel for LTE. However, 5G is not faster than LTE here either, and customers have not yet gained any added value from it. DSS is not used very much in Austria – Drei hardly ever uses it, A1 started using it last year and Magenta has been using it for longer.
A1 leads in the availability of 5G in cities across all frequencies with a rate of 91.7 percent. The scanner recorded this value while driving. Magenta comes in at 88.5 percent and three at 71.8 percent. The numbers are all the more impressive as 5G is very often offered on 3.6 GHz. At 3.6 GHz, A1 leads with 81.6 percent, closely followed by magenta with 78.9 percent. Three is also strong with 71.4 percent. The availability of 5G on band N78 is also relatively high in rural areas. Here, magenta is 46.7 percent ahead of A1 with just under 35 percent and three with 32.2 percent. Compared to Germany, these are very good values, because the German network operators can hardly be received over 3.6 GHz in rural areas.
5G availability: Fast 5G at 3.6 GHz is available almost everywhere in cities. In rural areas, A1 and Magenta also rely on the slower Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS).


With the 5G download speed of 3.6 GHz, Magenta was even able to overtake A1 this year. With an average of 417 MBit/s, the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary is just ahead of A1 with 416 MBit/s. Three can also convince in this discipline with an average of 351 MBit/s. Magenta also has the fastest upload on the 5G network at 3.6 GHz. With an average of 109 MBit/s, our test winner is clearly ahead of the competition. Three comes to 91 MBit/s and A1 is even the tail light here with 77 MBit/s. For Magenta's 5G network, we award a grade of 1.3. A1 is also still very good and gets a 1.4. Three has to be satisfied with the good mark of 1.8. Magenta won in our test not least because the Telekom subsidiary is ahead in 5G. This year's results have shown that 5G is becoming more and more important.

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