5G is the next generation in mobile network technology.
It's much faster than 4G, with the lowest speeds rivalling the fastest of the NBN.
All three Australian mobile networks, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, have started to activate 5G networks in limited areas around the country, and will continue widespread expansion.
In October 2020, Optus opened its 5G network to third party providers like Spintel, and we expect to see more smaller providers offering plans with 5G in the future.
How is it better?
5G is the next step in mobile network speeds, improving on what 4G already delivers. It should perform better in three key areas:
With 5G, you should be able to receive data at a maximum rate of 20Gbps. As with all networks, the speed you actually get depends on your hardware and a bunch of other factors, but you can expect a minimum speed of 50-100Mbps. This is faster than the majority of fixed-line NBN connections and about 10 times faster than 4G's minimum speed.
Latency is how long it takes for your signal to reach its destination and come back. 5G should lower average latency from 4G's 60 milliseconds to just 1 millisecond. This could, for example, let you watch a live video with almost no delay or improve the quality and ease of video conferencing.
Number of devices connected
You might not be aware, but there's an upper limit to how many devices that can be usefully connected to the network at once. 5G will raise this limit, making it possible for more interconnected devices to communicate at once.
Together, these improvements make the so-called "Internet of Things" more and more of a reality. The Internet of Things is the concept of billions of physical devices — phones, self-driving cars, refrigerators, almost anything — connected to a network and able to exchange information with each other all at once.
Theoretically, with a strong enough network (such as widespread 5G), almost anything could be part of this Internet of Things, from the smart showerhead in your bathroom to an aeroplane.
Is 5G dangerous?
No. 5G is the exact same technology as 3G and 4G, except using slightly different frequencies. These frequencies have a shorter range than 4G signals, which is why you'll see extra radio towers being built to support the 5G network.
In recent times, we've seen a number of conspiracy theories about 5G with no basis of evidence, from cancer risk to virus transmission. Unlike 5G, these conspiracy theories have led to real-life harm, such as people burning down 5G towers in the UK.
5G can potentially achieve download speeds faster than 20Gbps, with bare minimum speeds of 50-100Mbps. To put this in perspective, a top-of-the-line NBN connection may offer you download speeds of around 200Mbps at the best of times.
With these kinds of speeds, 5G could make a decent alternative to a fixed-line connection, which we'll explore further down.
In comparison, 4G maxes out at 100Mbps on most mobile devices, making the best 4G connection slower or similar to the worst 5G one. You can expect your 5G connection to regularly be 2, 5 or 10 times faster than 4G, for example.
We've broken down the differences in between 4G and 5G speeds in the table below. Because 5G is so new in Australia and the data just isn't there yet, the numbers in the table are based on the limited testing and data that is available, particularly that from OpenSignal.
Average speed in Australia
Time to download a 30 minute video (500MB)
1 min 44 seconds
Time to download a season of a podcast (300MB)
1 min 2 seconds
5G may also drop 4G's 60-millisecond latency to around 1 millisecond, significantly decreasing the delay in things like live video or video conferencing.
Don't expect to see this drop happen overnight though. We'll only really see this once we have networks operating purely on 5G using a technology called "network slicing", which is a way of directing information more efficiently like cars in lanes of traffic. Realistically, we'll probably only see a drop to 10-12 milliseconds of latency in the real world, and even that will likely take a while.
5G rollout in Australia
Telstra and Optus have been rolling out 5G in Australia since 2019, and now Vodafone has followed suit in 2020.
5G is only available in a small number of areas, and won't be widespread for quite some time, potentially years.
Rollout is ongoing, with networks continuing to build up the infrastructure necessary for 5G transmission.
What's the availability of the 5G network in Australia?
As of January 2021, Telstra's 5G network now covers 50% of the Australian population. It aims to increase this to 75% by June 2021. Optus's 5G rollout follows Telstra's in terms of size, with Vodafone having the smallest network out of the three.
Living in an area where 5G exists isn't enough by itself. You'll also need to own a 5G-capable handset, which we'll explore further in the guide.
Want to see where 5G is currently available?
Check out the different network guides below where we discuss the areas that 5G is currently available around the country.
At present, 5G won't cost you anything more than the price of a 5G-capable handset and a mobile plan from any of the big 3 carriers - Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone.
Currently, the cheapest mobile plan in our database with 5G access is from Optus with its 10GB for $39 SIM only plan. Vodafone's cheapest SIM only plan comes close to Optus, coming in at $40/month. But Telstra's cheapest offering is its Medium plan, which provides 80GB for $65 per month, which means you're paying almost double to access Telstra's 5G network (though you do get a lot more data on this plan). Telstra's least expensive plan does not include 5G, meaning that it's still considered a luxury extra despite not explicitly increasing your monthly bill.
In the home broadband field, Optus will actually charge you less for its 5G home Internet compared to 4G. You'll pay $70 per month on a 24 month contract and get unlimited data, plus a 50Mbps satisfaction guarantee. Compare this to the 4G option which offers only 200GB for $65 or 500GB for $75. Keep in mind that Optus does need to pre-approve your home address before it confirms that its 5G home Internet is available in your area.
When it comes to device prices, there isn't a huge gap between 4G and 5G. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S20 5G 128GB model retails at $1,499, while the equivalent 4G model comes in at $1,349.
5G networks in Australia: What's on offer?
To see what 5G mobile plans are currently available in Australia, click through the tabs of different providers below.
While it's true that 5G will exist purely as a mobile network, there are more devices that can access these networks than just our mobile phones. Home wireless modems and mobile broadband SIMs can hook into the 5G mobile network, too.
Like Optus, Telstra started its 5G rollout in 2019 and was already covering 46 towns across Australia (including all the capital cities) as of April 2020. You can access 5G through a few of Telstra's plans, including these SIM only plans:
Keep in mind that you'll have to buy a suitable 5G modem from Telstra if you want 5G on its mobile broadband plans.
The company has announced that 5G access may be expanded to prepaid plans and other plans in the near future, but the details are currently uncertain.
Telstra has recently introduced a 5G home wireless plan which will supposedly provide speeds from 50Mbps-300Mbps for $85 a month and comes with 500GB of data. These speeds are equal to some of the top speed tiers available on the NBN. Unfortunately, it's a limited rollout at the moment, which means only select customers will be able to sign up. Telstra plans to expand its home wireless offerings over the next 12 months.
Optus launched its 5G network in 2019, with 300 sites already built by February 2020 and a goal of 1,200 in a short period after that.
Right now, you can access Optus 5G with your mobile phone on any SIM only option, or get it on a home wireless broadband plan. Spintel, another mobile provider which uses the Optus network, has also released plans with access to the Optus 5G network.
Remember, if you're interested in signing up to one of Optus' SIM only plans to access its 5G network, you'll also need a 5G-capable device to do so.
There's also a couple of features to point out about Optus's 5G home broadband:
You're required to get Optus's Nokia 5G modem on a 24-month plan or for a $200 start-up fee.
Optus's satisfaction guarantee allows you to cancel with no penalty if you don't receive speeds of at least 50Mbps.
You can only sign up to this plan if Optus is 95% sure you'll be adequately serviced by its 5G network.
50Mbps is equivalent in speed to a decent NBN plan, making this an okay deal for people who want a fast alternative to a fixed-line connection. We can expect Optus to add 5G options to its mobile plans moving forward.
Vodafone only activated its first 5G tower in March 2020, in Parramatta, New South Wales. Its rollout is ongoing, and it plans to reach 650 sites eventually as 2020 progresses. Vodafone offers 5G access on all its SIM only plans, and they all come with 'unlimited' data too. Just keep in mind that because Vodafone's 5G network is currently only available in Parramatta, unless you live in that suburb or visit it often, it's probably not a very enticing 5G network for you.
Since 5G operates about the same as 3G or 4G, there's every possibility for it to be used in other forms, like home wireless or broadband. This is the same exact thing as using a mobile phone to access it, except with a stationary modem that allows multiple devices to connect at once.
As mentioned above, Optus and Telstra have 5G home wireless plans for eligible customers. Optus has also recently opened its 5G network for use to its MVNOs that have home wireless broadband plans, so you can now grab a 5G home broadband plan from Spintel.
Essentially, any way you can currently access mobile data will be able to access 5G in the future, from mobile phones to home wireless to a SIM card inserted into your laptop.
No. 5G Wi-Fi has nothing to do with 5G mobile networks at all. Instead, it's a naming convention that refers to "5GHz Wi-Fi", a Wi-Fi modem design intended to reduce interference inside your home and improve signal speeds.
While 4G mobile networks operate on a frequency of around 2.6GHz, 5G mobile networks live in a whole different band up around 26GHz. Your 4G device simply isn't equipped to handle signal processing in that range, which is why you need a specific modem or phone built for 5G.
There are currently two 5G modems available in Australia, one from Telstra and one from Optus.
Telstra HTC 5G Hub
This 5G hub acts like a regular Wi-Fi hotspot that comes with most mobile broadband plans. However, it can support up to 20 connections at once, making it an excellent solution for hooking up all your devices to 5G when you're at home. It can still be used when you're out and about, though.
Optus Nokia 5G Home
Optus's modem isn't designed to be portable, unlike the HTC Hub. That said, it's not as sprawling as some NBN modems, and it even has a signal indicator to let you know when your connection isn't doing great. Optus has an Optus @Home app which can help you find the best spot to put it.
5G vs NBN: Is 5G faster than home Internet?
5G has the potential to be much faster than the NBN, with reliable speeds and low latency. While mobile network providers have yet to charge extra for the use of 5G, it will be interesting to see whether the cost of data on the 5G network will change as the expansion continues across the country. The issue of coverage may also come up depending on how widespread 5G coverage areas will be.
Looking purely at speed, 5G is capable of maximum speeds up to 20Gbps. So, in theory, 5G is many, many times faster than the best speed our current NBN infrastructure can deliver, about 1Gbps. Speed-wise, there's no question that 5G is capable of outspeeding the NBN significantly.
What does 5G mean for home Internet?
With speeds like these, you might wonder how 5G could fail to replace fixed-line NBN connections. The answer is that there are a lot of uncertainties around 5G, including:
Reliability. 5G signals travel through the air instead of dedicated cables, making them much more prone to interference than fixed-line.
Price. Mobile data has always been more expensive per GB than what you pay for your home Internet connection. How much will companies charge for 5G broadband?
Coverage. Right now, 5G access is severely limited across Australia. It's not clear how many people will end up with adequate coverage to access 5G home Internet, let alone when.
Competition. The NBN market is highly competitive, with dozens of providers vying for customers. The 5G market right now consists of only Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, with no clear date of when MVNOs might be able to sell 5G plans.
Still, 5G will be an attractive option for many Australians in the future, offering a flexible, high-speed connection to those who live in serviced areas. It will provide all the benefits of 4G mobile or home broadband, only faster.
5G phones in Australia: Which phones support 5G?
If you're aching to get onto the 5G network, you'll absolutely need a 5G-capable phone. Buying one of Telstra's 5G-enabled plans won't do you any good if your handset isn't capable of handling the network. Older phones not specifically designed for 5G won't be able to use it.
While Samsung led the charge with the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G model, plenty of newer models have come out, including the Galaxy S20 and Oppo Reno 5G handsets. Apple released it's first 5G phone, the iPhone 12, in October 2020.
Here are some of the 5G phones currently available in Australia: