Best internet plans in Australia 2023: NBN vs 5G home broadband, wireless and more

Man using laptop
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Searching for the best internet plans in Australia can be daunting. There's a lot to consider. Most of us will be aware of the NBN (aka the National Broadband Network), but it's far from the only internet option available. Other internet connection types include fixed wireless, satellite and 5G. For some Australians, ADSL is still the only option. In some parts of Australia, you might even be able to (or be forced to) sign up to a private telco network that offers superfast broadband speeds.

So with plenty of choice on offer, which is the best internet option for you? The main factor that will influence your choice is where you live, as not all internet plans are available in all parts of Australia. While the NBN is available in some form virtually nationwide, not everyone can take advantage of the higher speed tiers or more stable, wired connections. In these cases, fixed wireless broadband or satellite broadband save the day. 

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NBN isn't your only option when it comes to getting online in Australia. There are a number of NBN alternatives that could prove to be a better option for your home. These include 5G home internet, which uses one of Australia's various 5G mobile networks to get you online, which in some cases could offer faster download speeds than what you can achieve through a fixed-line NBN connection. 

Then there are companies such as GigaComm, which is a privately-owned telecommunications provider that has its own infrastructure of fibre optic cabling to deliver superfast, consistent internet speeds. The main downside to GigaComm (and similar companies such as Opticomm) is that it's currently only available in limited parts of the country. 

And, as already mentioned, there is satellite internet. NBN already has its own version of this, in the form of Sky Muster, but global provider Starlink (founded by Elon Musk) is now available nationwide. Because of the technology used by Starlink, and the much closer proximity of its satellites to the earth (compared to Sky Muster), Starlink promises quicker, more consistent speeds for those who wish to use the internet service.

NBN

Telstra NBN modem

(Image credit: Telstra)

NBN is the National Broadband Network and the primary method Australians use to connect to the internet. NBN is accessed via both wired and wireless mediums, and within the wired medium, there are five different connection types: 

  • Fibre to the node (FTTN) 
  • Fibre to the premises (FTTP) 
  • Fibre to the building (FTTB) 
  • Fibre to the curb (FTTC) 
  • Hybrid fibre coax (HFC) 

We’ve explained all these in more detail in our NBN speeds article, but in short, the connection type you have at your property is dependent on the physical cabling in place, which in turn determines the top speed you’re capable of achieving. Download speeds can range from 12Mbps and increase up to 1Gbps for FTTP and some HFC connections.

Wireless technologies that use NBN include fixed wireless and Sky Muster satellite – both are predominantly used to connect rural areas of Australia to the internet (more on these later). 

NBN is generally a fine option for homes that require a stable internet connection, and for carrying out tasks such as online gaming or streaming 4K content. Homes with a high number of devices connecting to the internet also need a fast, stable internet connection.

5G home internet

A Nokia 5G home internet modem

(Image credit: WhistleOut)

While it works on a similar principle, 5G home internet isn’t the same as 5G mobile internet that you might experience with your smartphone. 5G home internet is much easier to install than NBN, as it doesn’t require a physical connection, but it does rely on having a strong connection to cellular towers nearby. It therefore isn’t yet available in all areas of the country, and inner city locations have been prioritised over regional. 

There are only a handful of providers of 5G home internet, with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone being the main three. TPG, Spintel, Internode and iiNet also provide 5G home internet services, but these piggyback off either the Vodafone or Optus 5G networks. 

5G home internet can in some cases be more affordable than an NBN plan, and yet provide a faster connection speed, so could be a great option for people who live in city apartment buildings. 

Fixed-wireless internet

Fixed wireless data tower in rural Australia

(Image credit: The Canberra Times)

A fixed wireless internet plan connects premises in regional and remote areas of Australia to the NBN. This is achieved by installing an outdoor antenna on a premises (usually on the roof), which connects to an NBN device installed inside the property, which then connects to a telco-supplied modem. This then connects to a local base tower via 4G LTE.

Download speeds on fixed wireless home internet connections can range from 12Mbps to 75Mbps, but environmental factors and network congestion will play a huge role in determining the actual speed you receive. Providers of fixed wireless internet aren't required to self-report typical evening download speeds.

Fixed wireless home internet is a good option for households in rural areas that don’t have access to either 5G networks or the main NBN infrastructure. NBN has also said that if your home is eligible to receive a fixed wireless internet connection, then it won't be eligible for its Sky Muster satellite service. 

Satellite internet

Sky Muster satellite dish installed on rooftop

(Image credit: WhistleOut)

A satellite internet plan uses, you guessed it, space-based satellites to get an internet connection into your home. Satellite internet plans are predominantly targeted at Australians in rural areas, where neither fixed-line or fixed-wireless internet connections are available.

Currently there are just two main providers of satellite internet plans in Australia: NBN, with its Sky Muster satellites, and Starlink, the worldwide internet solution from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Starlink is now accessible nationwide, for all Australians.

Private telco networks

Opticomm technician installing equipment at property

(Image credit: Opticomm)

Private telco networks refer to companies such as GigaComm, OptiComm and Vocus (Vocus is targeted more at business customers rather than residential). These companies have installed their own optical fibre cabling and/or networking infrastructure in certain areas of Australia and offer applicable customers an alternative to (or replacement for) a high-speed NBN connection.

In most instances, customers can realistically reach download speeds of up to 1Gbps on these networks and, because fewer people will be using the private telco network infrastructure compared to NBN, these speeds can remain more consistent. 

The main downside to private telco networks is their current limited availability. For now, most can only be found in select suburbs and within these, are predominantly installed in new or recently developed apartment blocks or housing estates. 

ADSL

ADSL is the connection many of us had to make do with before NBN was rolled out in Australia. ADSL uses copper cabling to transmit data and there are three versions available: ADSL, ADSL2 and ADSL2+.

ADSL home internet is much slower than NBN, with the fastest version, ADSL2+ only capable of speeds up to 24Mbps. Very few internet service providers in Australia continue to support ADSL, as the copper cables used have been (or are due to be) cut off, to make way for the faster fibre optic cables of NBN. 

Telstra is the last remaining major provider of ADSL in Australia, and is only one of six telcos in total that continue to provide the service. Because ADSL is pretty scarce in Australia, monthly fees for it have risen considerably, with plans now starting from AU$59p/m, making it more expensive than NBN in some instances.

Internet plans FAQ

How do I check what internet plans are available at my house?

What speed should I get?

All NBN and private telco network internet plans are available with different download speeds, so determining the internet speed that’s best for you will depend on some combination of how many people live at the premises and how intensively they use the internet. For more information on which NBN speed is best for you, check out our in-depth guide

Do I need a special modem?

In a word, yes. But the modem you require will be dependent on the connection type you have at your premises. When signing up to a new internet plan, your internet service provider should offer you the chance to buy a compatible modem/router through them – some provide a free unit if you stay connected for a set period (usually 24-36 months). 

But some other ISPs work on a ‘bring-your-own’ basis, which means you need to buy your own modem. 

Max Langridge
Senior Editor, Tom's Guide AU

Max is a digital content writer for Tom’s Guide in Australia, where he covers all things internet-related, including NBN and the emerging alternatives, along with audio and visual products such as headphones and TVs. Max started his career in his homeland of England, where he spent time working for What Hi-Fi? and Pocket-lint, before moving to Australia in 2018.