5G vs NBN: Which is the better broadband option?
You may even be currently using NBN but considering switching to 5G home internet.
If you’re confused about the difference between the two and which one is right for you, here's the lowdown!
What is the NBN?
The NBN is Australia’s National Broadband Network and is the upgrade to the phone and internet infrastructure that we used to have in Australia. This was a copper network but became outdated and unable to keep up with our modern technology. The Labor Government announced the launch of the NBN in 2009 and began the process of installing it all over the country.
According to NBN Co’s Weekly Progress Report in February 2023, around 8.5 million premises are connected to the network, with a further 12.3 million “ready to connect”.
What is 5G?
5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It’s the same network that most of our phones connect to and it follows previous generations - 1G (1980s), 2G (early 1990s), 3G (early 2000s) and 4G (2010s).
5G is the new and improved version! For example, it is significantly faster than 4G, with a theoretical peak speed of 20Gbps while 4G’s maximum speed is only 1Gbps (although in reality, you’re highly unlikely to achieve 20Gbps download speeds over 5G. Telstra currently quotes 378Mbps typical evening speeds on its 5G home internet plan) . It also has greater support for increased traffic capacity and is a more unified platform than 4G, making it a leap forward in mobile network technology.
You can now get 5G home internet plans in Australia if your address is eligible.
What are the differences between NBN and 5G?
The main differences come down to technology and accessibility. And these two things impact both speed and cost.
In terms of how they work, the NBN’s infrastructure utilises either a combination of legacy copper wiring (or in some cases coaxial cabling) and new fibre optic cables, or purely fibre optic. There are five different NBN connection types, three of which use a combination of copper and fibre optic, one is purely fibre optic and the fifth uses a combination of fibre optic and coaxial cabling, that is used for cable TV services such as Foxtel - while 5G connects through mobile towers - as per the internet we use on our phones.
In terms of being able to connect to either service, the NBN has been rolled out across most of Australia, however 5G coverage is less common.
In addition, 5G speeds are less reliable and more prone to fluctuation than NBN speeds. For this reason, the major providers: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are limiting 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 of these plans are far less than 5G.
What speed options are available?
With NBN internet, 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. you can choose between plans offering NBN 25, NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000. The best suited option for you will depend on your individual internet needs. For example, if you’re 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 fastest NBN speeds - 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 achieve these speeds at the moment. You can simply enter your address on the website of a telco provider selling NBN 250 or NBN 1000 plans to find out if your address is eligible.
For those who aren’t able to access these ultra fast speeds, NBN 100 is typically the fastest speed 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.
Then you have to weigh up plans. With 5G home internet plans, you can choose between capped and uncapped plans. With a capped plan, your speeds will be limited to a maximum. For example, some plans have speed caps of 50Mbps or 100Mbps.
Capped 5G home broadband plans are quite similar to equivalent NBN plans. Though uncapped plans can only go as fast as network conditions allow. According to Whistleout, uncapped 5G home internet speeds can get reach up to 1Gbps but the more realistic speeds sit around 250mbps.
How do the costs compare?
In truth, it’s hard to compare the prices of NBN and 5G home internet plans across the board so we are going to use Optus and Telstra plans to at least compare the costs and inclusions.
|Optus Plus Everyday NBN
|$69/month for the first 6 months, normally $79 (offer ends 30 June)
|Typical evening speed - 50Mbps
|Free modem included for $0 when you stay connected
|Optus Plus Everyday 5G Capped
|Typical evening speed - 45/11Mbps (busy evening speed 7pm-11pm)
|Free modem included for $0 when you stay connected for 36 months
|Telstra Unlimited Data Basic NBN25
|25Mbps typical evening download speeds
|Telstra 5G Home Internet Uncapped
|378Mbps download speeds
How do you connect to NBN of 5G home internet?
For both internet services, you will first have to make sure that your address is eligible for the type of internet you want, whether that be 5G home internet or the NBN. You should be able to enter your address and find out through the individual telco providers website.
The NBN has been installed across most of Australia for quite a while now, so you may have already connected in the recent past. If this is the case, you may already have a NBN compatible modem, but if not your internet provider may supply one. You can also buy one from stores such as Amazon or Bing Lee. Once you have a modem, you’ll be given instructions on how to connect it to the NBN.
When you sign up to a 5G home internet plan, you’ll be given or have to buy a 5G home modem. 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 of your choosing.
Not completely convinced about 5G home internet? Another option is to use NBN and 5G to compliment each other.
If you’re worried about the internet speeds you may get from 5G home internet, you can always trial it by using a 5G mobile broadband device to power some of your home internet usage while relying on your current NBN plan for the rest. This way you can see how 5G performs in your home and decide if it’s worth replacing your NBN plan completely.
If your connection is patchy and unstable, any other 5G device will be too - at least until further updates arrive. However, if your phone connects fine to the 5G network and you are impressed with the internet speeds, you may want to consider switching to a 5G home internet plan.
Who sells NBN and 5G home internet plans?
Most telco companies sells NBN plans in Australia because it’s currently the preferred way to access the internet, especially given its reach to most Aussie homes.
And there are many options if you’re on the hunt for an NBN service. For example, the 2022 Mozo Broadband Expert’s Choice Awards acknowledged many of the best NBN providers with awards, including Flip, Belong, Exetel and Tangerine Telecom.
At the moment, 5G home internet plans are less common. Currently, TPG, iiNet, Telstra, Vodafone, Internode and SpinTel sell capped 5G home internet plans that allow you to choose between 50Mbps and 100Mbps and Telstra, Optus and SpinTel offer uncapped plans.
It’s worth noting that iiNet, Internode and TPG plans are powered by Vodafone’s 5G network while Spintel is powered by Optus.
And once again we can suggest some of the best providers to you. For instance, the winners of a Mozo Expert’s Choice Award in the 2022 5G Home Broadband category were iiNet, Internode and Vodafone.
So, should you switch to 5G?
That is a hard question to answer and it depends on a range of factors. Obviously the most important is whether you can get 5G coverage at your location. In addition, if you’re someone who requires a specific 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.
At the end of the day, 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.
Compare NBN and 5G home internet plans below.