Cabled 2 You

Broadband war: 5G vs the NBN in Australia


28 May 2019

Jacqui Dent

By Jacqui DentWhistleOut

Australia’s 5G mobile networks have arrived. Optus and Telstra are hard at work rolling out 5G coverage across the country with Vodafone set to follow in 2020. Telstra 5G mobile broadband plans are available now, and Optus’ 5G home wireless broadband is arriving soon too. This has got a lot of Australians wondering: which is better? 5G mobile broadband, or the NBN?

How could 5G replace your NBN?

You may think 5G exists exclusively in the realm of mobile phones. But it’s entirely possible for mobile technology to power your home internet too.

Mobile broadband is internet delivered to you over the same networks used by your smartphone. Mobile broadband plans are already being offered on the 4G network as viable NBN replacements. Known as “home wireless“, these plans come with big data allowances and modems powerful enough to connect all your home devices to the internet.

Optus is already inviting customers in selected areas to express their interest in taking up a 5G home wireless plan for their home. 

5G vs the NBN in Australia: Cost

If you’re thinking about ditching your NBN plan for a 5G home wireless connection, the good news is it shouldn’t cost you too much more than what you’re paying now. It may even be cheaper. 

In January this year Optus confirmed its 5G home wireless plans will cost $70 per month for unlimited data and minimum speeds of 50Mbps. To put that in perspective, an NBN unlimited data NBN 50 plan from Optus currently costs $85 per month. And in our database of 35 providers, no NBN plan with unlimited data and NBN 50 speeds cost less than $60 per month.

Whether or not this kind of pricing will be offered from other 5G mobile broadband providers remains to be seen. Telstra has just launched its own 5G mobile broadband plans and the data-for-dollar value doesn’t much compare: $89 for 100GB of data. These plans aren’t intended to replace your NBN connection, however, they are designed to connect you to 5G on the go. 

The plans come with the HTC 5G Hub. The Hub can connect up to 20 devices simultaneously and can connect to mains power, and also operate on battery power, with a 24-hour battery life. As well as serving as a modem it can also work as an entertainment device. It has a touchscreen, support for Android apps like Netflix, and a USB Type-C port for connecting it to external displays.

5G vs the NBN in Australia: Speed

When it comes to speed, there’s really no question. 5G mobile broadband is going to be faster than the NBN. 

Internet speed is measured in Megabits per second (Mbps). When Optus announced the details of its first 5G mobile broadband plans in January, it said it would offer a minimum speed guarantee of at least 50Mbps. Following on, Optus says its first commercial 5G Home Broadband service has achieved peak download speeds of 295Mbps and an average download speed of 100Mbps. 

Optus has also said its 5G technology had the potential to reach speeds of up to 1Gbps during peak times. Of course, whether those speeds can be achieved at your home will depend on a range of factors including strength of signal and network congestion.

However, to put this in perspective, the highest speed plans currently widely available on the NBN offer a maximum speed of 100Mbps. And even if you take up one of these plans on the NBN (usually $80+ per month for unlimited data) you may not ever see the max speed achieved at your home. 

Many Australian NBN connections are not physically capable of reaching these top speeds due to their use of Fibre to the Node (FTTN) technology. Even when superior technology types have been used to connect, NBN connections are slowed during peak hours by congestion, and most providers now advertisetypical evening speeds on NBN 100 plans of between 60-90Mbps, depending on the provider.

Broadband war: 5G vs the NBN in Australia

5G vs the NBN in Australia: Reliability

Sorry. We known everyone likes clear-cut answers but the answer to this question is … it depends.

When it comes to the NBN, speed can be affected by a variety of issues we’ve already addressed, including the type of connection you have, congestion on the network and the quality of your modem. 

Meanwhile, 5G reliability will probably depend on factors like strength of signal and network congestion. We’ll have a better idea of how reliable 5G is after we get some proper time with the first wave of 5G devices. 

5G vs the NBN in Australia: Availability

Right now, of course, there’s really no contest. The NBN is already available to millions of Australians in all parts of the country, and over the next 18 months it should cover the vast majority of Australian premises.

Meanwhile, 5G coverage is set to be extremely limited in the short-term. Telstra and Optus are beginning to make connectivity on their 5G networks available now, while Vodafone looks set to follow in 2020. 

Telstra is rolling out its 5G mobile network across the country with pockets of coverage expected in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, Toowoomba, and the Gold Coast by June 30. 5G coverage is primarily available in CBDs at this stage. See our Telstra 5G coverage map for details.

Telstra intends to launch 5G in 25 more cities across the next 12 months, including all major regional cities in Australia. This will bring Telstra 5G to a total of 35 cities, initially. Telstra has yet to confirm which cities will be included in this second round of deployments. 

Meanwhile, Optus 5G will soon cover limited areas of New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT, Western Australia and South Australia. But whether or not there’ll be connectivity at your place over the next few months is very much a lottery.

We expect it will take several years for 5G to become widely available. However, if you’re not happy with the NBN and can’t stand waiting for 5G, you do have other options. Several providers including Optus are currently offering 4G home wireless plans as NBN replacements.

5G vs the NBN in Australia: Set up

Setting up a 5G mobile broadband connection should be as simple as buying a plan with a wireless modem and plugging it into your home power supply.

Getting a fixed line NBN connection, however, can require visits from a technician and waiting for several business days (if not weeks).

However, set up of the NBN can be made less tiresome with the help of a modem with 4G back up, like the Telstra Smart Modem or the Vodafone Wi-Fi Hub. However, with most NBN plans these days coming with a modem included, these options may not be cost effective for customers opting to get the NBN from other providers

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