Best NBN alternatives: what are your options for getting online?

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Most Australians will access the internet via the NBN. But if you’re not totally happy with your service, or you live in an area that doesn’t get a decent connection, then some of the best internet plans make great alternatives to the NBN that could provide a better experience.

These alternatives include 4G and 5G home broadband, fixed-wireless internet, satellite and even services including Opticomm and GigaComm, which offer fixed-lined fibre optic broadband that is completely separate from the NBN. 

However, while these NBN alternatives may exist, we would be remiss to say that they’re  all available nationwide. But, if your property can be connected, you could find making the switch to be a worthwhile decision. 

NBN alternatives: what are they?

We discuss and compare all the NBN alternatives currently available in Australia. Some, such as GigaComm and 5G home internet, can't be accessed by everyone nationwide. But for those that can, the potential for superfast speeds is huge. 

Australians in rural and remote areas of the country are being gifted more ways to connect to the internet, too, with the widespread rollout of Starlink satellite-based internet. 

5G home internet

Nokia 5G home internet modem

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5G home internet is currently the most accessible, genuine alternative to the NBN. It still isn’t available for everyone in Australia just yet, instead being restricted to the major cities, but is slowly rolling out to more people. 

5G home internet is a wireless internet service that uses 5G data, similar to what you can experience on your smartphone. It has the potential to match or even surpass speeds provided by the NBN, although network coverage plays a huge role in the speed you can realistically achieve.

Currently, Telstra leads the 5G home internet space with 80% coverage in Australia. Optus comes in second and Vodafone third. Other retail service providers (RSPs) including TPG, iiNet, Spintel and Internode, resell access to either the Optus or Vodafone 5G network.

To access 5G internet in your home, you’ll need a dedicated modem (which your service provider will give you) to transmit the 5G signal around your home. And, thanks to its ability to support high levels of traffic, you can connect multiple devices to a 5G home modem at one time. 

However, 5G home broadband providers – Telstra, Vodafone and Optus – do say that if a high number of devices are connected – particularly during peak evening periods – you may not receive the maximum advertised speeds. 

Telstra adds that its capacity for providing 5G home services is limited in each area. While we haven't been able to find out the exact number of total services available, the telco provider says if the maximum number has been reached, then it won't be able to sign you up to its service.

5G home internet plans come in either capped or uncapped speed tiers. Capped services provide up to 100Mbps downloads, while uncapped will be as fast as the network allows in your area. In some instances, you will be able to achieve speeds in excess of 300Mbps, depending on your provider and where you live. 

Other benefits of 5G home internet include competitive pricing, with plans costing around the same, if not less than NBN. For example, a Spintel 5G home internet plan with uncapped speeds – typical evening speeds are advertised as 225Mbps – will cost you AU$90p/m after a three month introductory offer period. An Exetel NBN plan, also with typical evening speeds of 225Mbps costs $114.95p/m after a six month introductory offer period. 

5G home internet is also relatively simple to install and doesn't require a technician to come to your home. Instead, you just have to plug in your supplied 5G modem, turn it on, wait for it to connect to a 5G signal and you're away. 

It's fair to say that if you’re already connected to the NBN, then switching providers is relatively seamless. But if you move into a newly-built home, then the initial setup process to get connected can occasionally come with its fair share of headaches.

4G home internet

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If you can't access 5G in your area, but you want mobile home broadband, then 4G home internet could be an option. 4G coverage in Australia is currently greater than 5G and, while the major telcos are upgrading or installing new infrastructure to support 5G, 4G isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 

4G has the potential to support up to 1000Mbps speeds, but in reality, you're unlikely to achieve anything significant above 50Mbps. However, this does still put 4G on par with some NBN connections, which makes it a good alternative internet option. 

The majority of 4G home internet plans in Australia come with unlimited data usage, but some may be capped to download speeds of 20Mbps (TPG, iiNet, Internode, Kogan and Vodafone all have this cap) while others, such as 4G services from Optus and Spintel offer uncapped 4G speeds. 

Unfortunately, despite the slower speeds, 4G home internet isn't much cheaper than 5G. Vodafone, for example, charges AU$60p/m for its 4G service capped at 20Mbps, if you don't already have a mobile plan, or AU$65p/m for its 5G service, capped at 50Mbps. 

So, if you can access a 5G network, we'd recommend going with that option over 4G.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband modem on laptop

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Mobile broadband works in much the same way as 4G and 5G home internet, in that it uses a 4G or 5G connection to get you online. However, the key difference with mobile broadband is that you can use it on-the-go, i.e. be mobile. 

A mobile broadband modem will either plug into your computer via USB or will be a small, wireless device that creates its own Wi-Fi network. Another key difference between mobile broadband and home 4G and 5G broadband is the amount of data you get. 

Home broadband will usually give you unlimited data (Optus' 5G home internet plan is capped at 1TB) but mobile broadband will have a limit. The most amount of included data we've been able to find is 400GB included with Telstra's Large mobile broadband plan. 

If you're not going to be doing any intense tasks on the internet, such as online gaming or streaming movie after movie, then mobile broadband could be a good solution for you.

However, you'll want to consider the cost of it, since 5G home internet can cost less, for more included data. 

GigaComm

Woman browsing the web on computer at home

(Image credit: GigaComm)

GigaComm (opens in new tab) is a privately-owned telecommunications provider that offers a genuine alternative to the NBN. 

GigaComm works in a similar way to NBN, in the fact that it uses fibre optic cabling to deliver an internet connection to your home. But the key difference is that all of GigaComm's infrastructure is high-speed fibre optic. Aside from fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections, the NBN's infrastructure will use a combination of new high-speed cables and older copper cables. 

This means GigaComm's network will deliver fast internet speeds – it promises speeds between 200Mbps and 1000Mbps – much more consistently than NBN. 

GigaComm can be connected via either fibre-to-the-distribution point (FTTx), which is used to connect apartment buildings or fibre and fixed-wireless (FFW), which is used for houses. Both methods promise up to 1Gbps speeds and low latency of 2-4ms, making GigaComm a good NBN alternative for gamers. 

However, the service is currently limited to certain areas in Sydney and Melbourne, but there are plans in place to extend coverage throughout Australian cities in the future. You can find out if your home is connected to GigaComm using the company’s service checker on its website. 

Pricing for GigaComm starts at AU$79p/m for a FTTx connection and AU$119 for a FFW connection. But, depending on the length of your contract, there could be a substantial installation fee. 

If you take out a 24-month contract, your installation fee is AU$0, but rises to AU$999 for a 12 month contract and $1,500 for a month-to-month contract. GigaComm offers a 30-day  cooling off period, allowing you to leave and receive a full refund if you’re unhappy with the service. 

GigaComm is only available through the company itself and not through other RSPs. You can check to see if you're eligible for GigaComm by clicking here. (opens in new tab)

Starlink

Starlink antenna in rural Australia

(Image credit: Starlink)

For some Australians living in remote and rural areas of the country, satellite internet is the only way they can get online and up until recently, NBN's Sky Muster service was the only option. 

But now Elon Musk has gotten in on the satellite-based internet action with his company, Starlink. Starlink is still a relatively new technology, having only been prototyped in 2018, being made available to North Americans in 2020 and launching in a trial phase in Australia in early 2021. It is now available nationwide in Australia.

Starlink works in a similar way to Sky Muster, in that it relies on satellites orbiting the earth to send data signals to receivers installed on your property, which are transmitted around your home via Wi-Fi. 

However, Starlink is more effective than Sky Muster, because the Starlink satellites in orbit are closer to the earth. The company says they orbit at around 550km, compared to the 35,786km distance occupied by other geostationary satellites providing a similar service.

This means the signals being sent down to the earth take less time to travel, which results in a faster internet speed for you, with noticeably less latency. 

Starlink says speeds should range between 20Mbps to 100Mbps, with latency of 25ms to 50ms. This puts it (on paper) on par with an NBN 100 plan, but with a higher latency. For comparison, 20ms latency is what you can expect from a 4G internet connection. 

Data published by Ookla for Q2 2022 recorded a median download speed of 102.76Mbps on Starlink, compared to a median download speed of 51.76Mbps across all other internet providers. The median upload speed in Australia was recorded at 10.45Mbps, compared to 17.86Mbps from fixed-lined internet services.

Starlink satellites also number in their thousands, meaning there should nearly always be one in space 'nearby' to transmit a signal to your home. 

Naturally, there is a cost involved to take advantage of such a service. In Australia, the cost for the required hardware is AU$924, along with a AU$139p/m fee for the unlimited data service. 

There are different plans and hardware depending on your use. There is a business plan, for example, which comes with a receiver that is capable of receiving data from a greater number of satellites to facilitate the greater number of devices connected to it.

There is also a flat-mounting receiver that can be installed on the top of a vehicle so you can access the internet when moving around the country. Starlink offers new customers a 30-day trial period. If you're not satisfied with the service, you can return the equipment and receive a full refund.

Opticomm

Opticomm technician installing equipment at property

(Image credit: Opticomm)

Opticomm is a privately-owned telco network that has been installing its own fibre optic infrastructure in Australia, to deliver fast internet connections to homes. Opticomm is a wholesaler, so you can sign up for the service through a number of service providers, including Aussie Broadband, Exetel, Origin and even Telstra. 

The vast majority of Opticomm’s network is based on the fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connection type, meaning speeds of up to 1000Mbps are possible. However, Opticomm is currently limited in its availability and as such, only a handful of Australians can actually take advantage of the service.

Opticomm is predominantly found in new build homes and apartment buildings, which chose Opticomm to be installed during construction. 

In some cases, Opticomm has bought and taken over the FTTP infrastructure previously laid by NBN, which it will upgrade to its own. Once Opticomm’s upgrading works have finished, customers in those areas who previously connected to NBN, will have to connect to Opticomm instead if they want a fixed-line connection. 

But, Opticomm will be just as fast as NBN, if not faster, because the entire cable network uses fibre optic technology. NBN, meanwhile, may use a combination of fibre optic cables and older copper cables, to deliver internet to your home. 

While 1Gbps speeds are achievable, you don't have to sign up to the superfast service if you don't want to. Opticomm offers the exact same speed tiers as NBN, with the key difference being, all will be available to all households with Opticomm installed. With NBN connections, only those with FTTP and HFC connections can achieve the potential maximum 1000Mbps download speeds.

NBN alternatives FAQ

Do I need an NBN plan?

If you want to connect to the internet with a fixed-line connection, yes. The older copper cabling used for ADSL connections will eventually be shut down, to be replaced with fibre optic cabling for NBN. 

However, there are a number of alternatives to the NBN that may suit your needs better, or may even be more affordable than an NBN plan. 

Is 5G home internet better than NBN?

5G home internet has the potential to provide much faster speeds than NBN. However, the current 5G network coverage in Australia is relatively limited, predominantly being found in just the major cities. 

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.