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5G vs NBN: Which is the better internet option?

A woman sitting in her lounge room using her laptop.

If you’re searching for an internet plan, you might have noticed that two of the major options available to you are NBN and 5G home internet. But which exactly is the better choice?

In this guide, we’ll be examining the differences between NBN and 5G, including speeds, costs, technology types and availability. Once you’ve got an idea of which works best for you, you’ll be able to compare internet plans like a pro.

What is the NBN?

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is Australia’s government-owned internet infrastructure. It was announced back in 2009 and has officially been declared complete, though ongoing fibre-optic upgrades are currently underway to improve certain older, under-performing connection types.

The NBN is a significant upgrade on the copper-based ADSL technology that previously provided internet for most Aussie households. In its current form, the NBN is made up of a mix of technologies that include fibre-optic cable, copper lines, wireless and satellite.

What is 5G?

5G simply means the fifth generation of mobile communications technology. This encompasses both the cellular networks, as well as the 5G-enabled devices that can connect to them. 5G technology expands on the four generations that came before it: 1G (1980s), 2G (early 1990s), 3G (early 2000s) and 4G (2010s).

5G is accessed on compatible devices (such as phones, tablet PCs or via a 5G home internet router) via mobile towers, which in Australia are owned and operated by the three major telcos – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Each company maintains its own 5G network that is distinct and separate from the others.

A 5G connection can be much faster than 4G, as it has a theoretical peak speed of 20Gbps while 4G’s maximum speed is only 1Gbps. However in reality, you’re highly unlikely to achieve 20Gbps download speeds with 5G due to other external factors. For example, Telstra currently quotes a typical evening speed of 548Mbps on its 5G home internet plan. 

5G networks also offer increased traffic capacities compared to 4G, to help accommodate today’s data-hungry world.

Unlike the NBN, 5G is not available everywhere and it tends to be clustered in Australia’s capital cities and major regional centres. You’ll need to check with your provider to see if your address is eligible.

5G vs NBN: Availability

In terms of availability, the NBN has been rolled out across most of Australia, while 5G coverage is mostly available in the capital cities and some large regional centres. 5G’s footprint is continuing to grow, however, with Telstra announcing in February 2024 that its 5G network now covers 87% of the Australian population.

In addition, 5G speeds are less reliable and more prone to fluctuation than NBN speeds. For this reason, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have limited how many 5G home internet services they sell per area to avoid interruption and ensure fast performance for every customer.

If you don’t have 5G home internet coverage in your area, you may be able to get 4G home internet, although the maximum download speeds available on these plans is far slower than 5G.

In terms of how they work, the NBN’s fixed-line infrastructure is a combination of legacy copper wiring, coaxial cabling and new fibre optic cables. The vast majority of Australians have access to a fixed-line NBN connection, but wireless and satellite options are also available to Aussies in more rural and remote areas.

All told, there are seven different types of NBN connection, five of which are fixed-line. Each fixed-line NBN connection uses different combinations of copper, fibre optic and coaxial cabling (which is cable that is used for TV services such as Foxtel).

By comparison, 5G connects us to the internet through mobile towers, in the same way that we connect to the internet we use on our phones.

5G vs NBN: What speed options are available?

NBN

On the NBN, there are six speed tiers known as NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000. The number associated with each reflects the theoretical maximum download speeds you can achieve. 

The best NBN plan for you will depend on your individual internet needs. For example, if you’re a one-person household with light interest use, an NBN 25 plan should be enough, while those living in a home with multiple people who like to use a lot of internet, you’ll most likely require a faster internet connection such as NBN 100.

But the fast NBN plans – such as NBN 250 and NBN 1000 – aren’t available to everyone. Only people with fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) connections can access these speeds at the moment. To see if you’re eligible, you can enter your address on the website of a telco selling NBN 250 or NBN 1000 plans to find out what connection type you have.

For those who aren’t able to access these ultra fast speeds, NBN 100 is the fastest speed more widely available.

5G home internet

5G speeds are difficult to quantify because they depend on a variety of factors including coverage, congestion and interference.

Theoretically, 5G can be as fast as 20Gbps, but this isn’t realistic in the short term given current infrastructure. However as the network improves, so will the speed that customers see on 5G.

You also have to weigh up available plans. With 5G home internet plans, you can choose between capped and uncapped plans. On a capped plan, your speeds will be limited to a maximum such as 50Mbps or 100Mbps (known as the speed cap). In this way, capped 5G home internet plans are similar to their NBN equivalents. 

Uncapped plans have no speed limits, though they can only go as fast as network conditions allow, which can fluctuate widely. According to WhistleOut, uncapped 5G home internet speeds can reach up to 1Gbps but the more realistic speeds sit around 250Mbps.

5G vs NBN: How do the costs compare?

It’s tricky to compare the prices of NBN and 5G home internet plans across the board, so instead we’ve taken Telstra, Optus and TPG’s plans to compare their costs and inclusions.

Optus

PlanPriceData allowanceTypical evening speedAdded extras
Optus NBN 50$85/monthUnlimited50MbpsFree modem included when you stay connected for 36 months
Optus 5G (capped at 50Mbps)$69/monthUnlimited45MbpsFree modem included when you stay connected for 36 months

TPG

Plan
Price
Data allowance
Typical evening speed
Added extras
TPG NBN 50
$79.99/month
Unlimited
50Mbps
N/A
TPG 5G (capped at 50Mbps)
$59.99/month
Unlimited
50Mbps
Free modem included when you stay connected for 36 months

Telstra

PlanPriceData allowanceTypical evening speedAdded extras
Telstra NBN 50$100/monthUnlimited50MbpsFree modem included when you stay connected for 24 months
Telstra 5G (uncapped)$85/month1000GB548MbpsFree modem included when you stay connected for 24 months

5G vs NBN: How do you connect?

Whether it’s the NBN or 5G, you’ll first have to make sure that your address is eligible for the type of internet you want. You’ll be able to enter your address on any telco’s website to find out if it’s available to you.

NBN

The NBN has been available across most of Australia for quite a while now, so you may already be connected. If this is the case, you may already have an NBN compatible modem, but if not your internet provider may supply one for you, or you can buy your own. Once you have a modem, you’ll be given instructions from your NBN provider on how to connect to the NBN.

5G home internet

When you sign up to a 5G home internet plan, you’ll be given a 5G compatible modem from your provider. All you have to do is plug in your modem where you find the strongest signal and it will connect wirelessly to the 5G network closest to you.

Who sells NBN and 5G home internet plans?

Most telcos offer NBN plans because it’s currently the preferred way for millions of Australians to access the internet. For the time being, 5G home internet is not as widely available.

There are plenty of options if you’re on the hunt for an NBN service, and if you’re starting your search, Mozo’s Experts Choice Awards for Broadband in 2023 is a good place to start. The awards acknowledged many of the best NBN providers with accolades, including Flip, Exetel, Spintel and Tangerine.

5G home internet plans are less common, but they are available from certain telcos including Telstra, Optus, TPG, Vodafone, iiNet and Spintel. These providers sell capped 5G home internet plans offering various speeds, ranging from 50Mbps all the way up to 548Mbps.

You’ll notice there are providers outside of the big three telcos that also offer 5G home internet plans, and that’s because they are powered by one of the major players. For instance, iiNet and TPG plans are powered by Vodafone’s 5G network while Spintel is powered by Optus.

If you’re interested in an uncapped 5G home internet plan, they are currently only available from Telstra and Optus. Telstra’s uncapped 5G plan advertises a typical evening speed of 548Mbps, while the one from Optus reports a typical speed of 240Mbps during the busy hours.

Should I switch to 5G?

That’s a hard question to answer and it depends on a range of factors. The most important aspect to consider is whether you can get 5G coverage at your location. In addition, if you’re someone who requires a reliable speed for your internet usage, you may be safer on an NBN plan where speeds fluctuate less and speed tiers are clearer.

However, if you’re keen on high speeds and a network that will continue to improve over time, 5G might be worth investigating.

All things considered, the battle between NBN and 5G is one that doesn’t need a winner. Both technologies can co-exist, with users choosing which better suits their situation and needs. Unfortunately, that may take a bit of experimentation for some households.

In terms of whether 5G will replace NBN completely, Vodafone’s CEO was quick to encourage the co-existence of 5G and the NBN, despite investing in 5G infrastructure which means that for now, even the telcos don’t see 5G replacing NBN as a whole.

Start comparing NBN and 5G home internet plans below.

Mozo may receive payment if you click to the website of one of the products below currently available via our partner, WhistleOut. They do not compare the entire market, but you can see more options by clicking on the View Full Results link in the table.
Last updated 22 July 2024
Mozo may receive payment if you click to the website of one of the products below currently available via our partner, WhistleOut. They do not compare the entire market, but you can see more options by clicking on the View Full Results link in the table.
Last updated 22 July 2024