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NBN vs wireless broadband

The NBN isn’t your only choice for Internet. Home wireless or mobile broadband could also solve your connection problems.

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Wondering what your best bet for Internet is, or frustrated with your NBN connection? Wireless broadband can be a good alternative, depending on what you need. Here's a snapshot.

NBN is good for…

  • Those who need stable connections
  • Unlimited monthly data
  • Online gaming
  • Wide choice of speeds

Wireless broadband is good for…

  • Portability
  • Temporary Internet to tide you over
  • A solid alternative if your NBN connection is terrible
  • Getting fast 5G speeds

In this guide, we'll dive into both to help you figure out what will work for you.

What's the difference between the NBN and wireless broadband?

The NBN is fixed-line Internet, meaning it delivers data through the physical wires and cables connected to your house.

Wireless broadband is split into 2 types, but both use existing 3G, 4G and 5G mobile networks to transfer data, like the one your mobile phone uses.

The 2 versions are:

  1. Mobile broadband, which uses a portable modem or other SIM-capable device (like an iPad)
  2. Home wireless, which uses a larger modem that you place somewhere in your home

NBN vs wireless: An overview

Both NBN and wireless have their own ups and downs, meaning the one that's better will depend on your circumstances.

Here's an overview of their features, which we'll break down more in the following sections:

  • The bottom line: NBN is still the go-to for a decent home Internet connection, but if you're unhappy with it, home wireless or mobile broadband can be a great, affordable alternative. Plus, setup is usually easier.

Which connection is faster?

Most of the time, an NBN 50 or faster plan will be speedier than 4G wireless but slower than 5G. However, your NBN speed will be more consistent because:

  • Mobile signals are highly variable and are affected by weather, location and other factors
  • Fixed-line networks are prone to fewer interruptions because they rely upon static, protected cables, and not wireless signals

Wireless connections also tend to have a much higher latency than the NBN, which can affect gaming and video calls.

4G vs NBN speeds

The majority of home wireless and mobile broadband plans make use of 4G mobile networks, which are widespread throughout the country.

4G networks average about 38.5Mbps in Australia, with a maximum of 100Mbps.

The NBN is generally faster, with maximum speeds ranging from 12Mbps up to 100Mbps, depending on your Internet plan.

While faster NBN plans with speeds up to 1,000Mbps do exist, these aren't currently available to everyone and will depend on what connection type is available at your home.

  • The bottom line: If speed is important to you, the NBN has a slight edge over 4G wireless. It offers a more stable connection and generally faster speeds.

5G vs NBN speeds

Some wireless Internet providers now offer 5G on their plans. 5G speeds will depend on the provider, but average around 200-300Mbps.

5G coverage is currently more limited than 4G, so you'll need to check the provider's coverage area to see if you're eligible for a 5G wireless plan.

This makes 5G faster than all but the quickest NBN plans (with speeds of 1,000Mbps). However, your speeds might vary considerably depending on your location and other factors such as the weather.

  • The bottom line: 5G offers faster speeds than most NBN plans (unless you're willing to get an NBN 1,000 plan) but be prepared for a less stable connection.

Which one is cheaper?

It can be difficult to compare NBN alongside wireless plans because there are so many plans and providers offering both.

We've chosen to focus on Optus as it offers the widest range across the categories, with 4G and 5G home wireless, mobile broadband and NBN plans available.

To give you an idea on how prices differ between the plans, here's how Optus's own plans stack up against each other.

Prices and features of Optus plans are accurate as of 26 July 2021.

As you can see, 5G home wireless is comparable in price to Optus's NBN 100 plan, but again you may experience inconsistent speeds and connectivity.

Mobile broadband is significantly cheaper, but only offers a maximum of 150GB (including promotional bonus data), which may not be enough.

  • Good to know: Out of 5 providers that sell both NBN and home wireless plans, we found that home wireless was the same in cost or cheaper by up to $10 per month.

Keep in mind that some home wireless plans come with data caps (of around 500GB), or require you to sign up to contracts.

Which is better for more data?

According to NBN Co, the average Australian uses around 258GB of data per month.

Your actual data usage will vary depending on what you're doing online but this is a good number to keep in mind, especially if you're dealing with monthly data caps.

To compare:

  • NBN plans generally come with unlimited data. Some providers offer data-capped plans for a little cheaper if you're not a heavy Internet user.
  • Home wireless plans generally come with up to 500GB of data. You can only get unlimited data from iiNet, or Optus and SpinTel's 5G plans.
  • Mobile broadband offers a maximum of 500GB of data, but the great majority of plans offer 150GB or less.

If you're looking to get a data-capped wireless plan, keep in mind that excess usage charges may exist.

  • Home wireless plans will often cost you an extra $10 for each additional data pack you need to tide you over for the month.
  • Prepaid mobile broadband plans will cut you off when you reach your limit
  • Postpaid mobile broadband plans will often charge you $10 or so for each extra GB you use.

Currently, unlimited home wireless broadband plans only exist if you sign up for a 5G plan.

  • The bottom line: If you need unlimited data, NBN is your safest bet. Unlimited 5G home wireless plans do exist, but you'll need to check if you're within the coverage area first.

Is NBN or wireless right for me?

The answer to this question mostly depends on your situation and how you plan to use the Internet.

We've come up with various recommendations depending on what your primary need is.

Compare your Internet options

You can compare NBN, home wireless and mobile broadband plans below.

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