Vienna Network Notes

Recently, I’ve spent a week on vacation in Vienna, and I used a bit of that time while walking around and spending time in caf├ęs to have a look at the performance of the LTE and 5G networks in the city. With the EU’s ‘roam like at home’ rules, I didn’t need a local SIM card for this, and as long as the backhaul between the visited network (in Austria) and the home network (in Germany) is properly dimensioned and configured. In effect, this home network detour only adds a few milliseconds of delay. And indeed, while I was in Vienna, I could easily exceed 1 Gbit/s downlink throughput. So while it is good to see that such high speeds are achievable even while roaming, it’s availability and capacity that are the main differentiators these days from my point of view.

There are three physical radio access networks in Austria today: A1, Drei (Three) and Magenta. With my roaming SIM card I got access to the 5G side in two of the three networks. In Three’s network, I could only access the LTE side I bit of a pity. So here’s how I experienced the different networks throughout the city:

A1: In general, the press says that all three networks have excellent n78 coverage in the city. This is important from a capacity point of view, as a 100 MHz n78 channel in the 3.5 GHz band offers more capacity than all LTE channels combined. In A1s case, I could get a 5G logo on the display most of the time. However, also most of the time, it was 5G on band n1 (2100 MHz) with a channel bandwidth of 20 MHz. In combination with 3 or 4 LTE carriers, the network has a good capacity, but is far away from what is possible with n78. I could get n78 configured in addition to LTE carriers in a few places, but those were far apart. So I’m a bit puzzled, because based on reports in the media, I would have expected more n78 coverage in the city.

Magenta: Here, the picture was a bit different. In most places in the city, I could indeed get a 100 MHz n78 channel in the 3.5 GHz band and 3 to 4 LTE carriers in addition. In other words, at least 150+ MHz of channel capacity. If signal strength was a bit weaker, I was typically switched to 5G on band n28 (700 MHz). Interestingly, Magenta has 20 MHz of spectrum in this band. In other countries, the 30 MHz of available spectrum is equally split among 3 network operators. Not so in Austria. When I was in Vienna a couple of years ago, I noticed that networks became quite slow in the evening. This time around, I didn’t notice such a slowdown at all anymore. Even at 8 pm, which I would say is Internet use busy hour, I had no issues getting triple digit downlink speeds. So it looks like 5G has helped a lot to boost capacity.

Three (Drei): As said above, Drei wouldn’t let me use their 5G part of the network with both SIM cards I have, each from a different German network operator. So it looks like providing the best roaming experience for inbound customers is not at the very top of their priority list. A bit of a pity. But with 3-4 LTE carrier aggregation, performance with my roaming SIMs was in the triple digits as well during the few times I tried during the daytime, before switching back to one of the two networks that offered 5G to me.

Overall, a very positive experience and I didn’t even try once to see how good the hotel Wi-Fi would fair.