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Telstra vs Optus NBN: who has better broadband?

Fibre optics
(Image credit: Daniel Chetroni / Getty Images)

Comparing NBN plans can be complicated, and there are plenty of internet providers out there that are vying for you to switch (and stay) with their service. The two biggest names in Aussie broadband are ones you’re likely familiar with – Telstra and Optus.

There’s no hiding that these two major telcos don’t have the cheapest NBN options out there (for our recommendations there, check out our cheap NBN plans guide). But what they do both offer is a well-performing service alongside lots of optional add-on extras that can help improve the plan's value, particularly if you’re after entertainment options.

If that’s something you’re looking for in a provider, we’ll be laying out all the differences (and similarities) between the two choices here.

Plan range

  • Telstra has NBN 25, NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000
  • Optus offers NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000
  • Optus and Telstra's NBN 250 and NBN 1000 are limited to FTTP and HFC connections

Optus has recently introduced new speed tiers, so its range now covers NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000. All these plans include unlimited data, and there’s also a selection of plans which come with bundled entertainment services... but we’ll get to that shortly.

Telstra stretches its range a little more, with NBN 25, NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000 plans available – specifically, one of each. The NBN 25 plan is decidedly the 'budget' offering with only 500GB of data each month, as compared to unlimited data on the remaining options. There are optional entertainment extras you can bundle in with Telstra too, which we’ve laid out below.

After briefly pausing the option, Telstra is now back to providing its NBN 100 plans to fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) households, and existing fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) and fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) Telstra customers.

Both telcos have just launched NBN 250 and NBN 1000 plans, but if you’re considering signing-up to either, both Optus and Telstra only offer them to households with a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) or a hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) connection. You can read more about each NBN connection type here.

Winner: Optus. While Telstra technically offers a wider plan range, and has recently resumed selling its NBN 100 plans to a larger group of customers, the caveat of being a selected existing Telstra customer still blocks many Australians with FTTN from accessing 100Mbps broadband with Telstra. We’re giving this round to Optus.

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Optus vs Telstra: NBN 50 plans compared

Price and data allowance

  • Cheapest plan from both Telstra and Optus is AU$75
  • Optus generally offers better value for money
  • Other providers have them both beaten on price

Cost is the critical factor when considering any NBN plan, so let’s break down how much you can expect to pay with these major Aussie telcos.

The cheapest plan from both providers is AU$75 a month, though what you’re getting varies significantly. 

With Optus, AU$75 gets you the Internet Everyday NBN 50 plan with unlimited data. If you want to add entertainment, you can opt for the Internet Entertainer Lite NBN 50 deal which includes Fetch Mini as well for AU$79pm, or the Internet Entertainer with NBN 50 plan which includes both a Fetch Mighty and a premium channel pack for a AU$90 monthly total.

If you require speedier internet, Optus’ base NBN 100 plan is AU$95 per month, while the NBN 100 version of the Internet Entertainer Lite bundle is AU$99, and the NBN 100 Internet Entertainer pack will set you back AU$110 each billing.

As mentioned above, Telstra’s cheapest plan also starts at AU$75 per month, though what you’re getting here is an NBN 25 plan, which has significantly slower overall speeds than Optus’ closest equivalent, and only 500GB of data. Telstra’s best-value option is arguably its NBN 50 plan, which is AU$90 a month for unlimited data, while moving up to the NBN 100 plan costs AU$110 monthly.

Rather than being a separate plan, Telstra’s new NBN 250 and NBN 1000 speed tiers come as an optional 'add-on' to the telco’s current NBN 100 offering. You can get the NBN 250 plan for an extra AU$30 a month, making it AU$140 each billing, while NBN 1000 speeds come at an additional AU$70, shaking out to AU$180 each month.

The new NBN 250 and NBN 1000 tiers from Optus are also sold as 'add-ons'. NBN 250 speed will cost you AU$130 each month, while NBN 1000 can be had for AU$150 a month.

We won’t mince words: Telstra’s NBN plans are some of the highest-priced out there, and Optus’ NBN 50 and NBN 100 plans are a clear AU$15 cheaper. However, there are many smaller telcos out there who have them both bested on cost – you can read about some of them here.

Winner: Optus. Optus again comes out on top, because it generally offers better value for money out of the two. Each telco’s cheapest plan starts at AU$75, which will get you unlimited data on NBN 50 with Optus. On the other hand, AU$75 nets you just 500GB of data and much slower speeds with Telstra.

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Optus vs Telstra: Cheapest NBN plans

Performance and typical evening speeds

  • Optus better than Telstra achieving maximum speed
  • Telstra marginally better than Optus for Netflix streaming
  • Optus’ NBN 50 plan has an average evening speed of 44Mbps, while Telstra advertises 50Mbps

Until recently, both Optus and Telstra promised to deliver the same typical evening speed of 44Mbps on their NBN 50 plans. But now, Telstra is boldly claiming 50Mbps on its NBN 50 offering, which is to say Telstra is promising that customers should expect to get maximum plan speeds most of the time.

Recent rule changes at NBN Co mean telcos are now able to max out a connection, which has led to Telstra’s claim of maximum speed during the busy evening period. We’re yet to see the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) official findings to back this claim up, so we’ll need to wait to find out whether this gels with reality.

When it comes to NBN 100, Optus says it can deliver 80Mbps on its plans during the peak busy periods, while Telstra now states it can provide an impressive 100Mbps. Optus seems to be cautiously understating its performance, however, and Telstra has only recently made these claims regarding its speed. So while that difference might seem large on paper, in terms of real-world performance it remains to be seen if you’ll notice a significant difference between the two.

A more important question to ask is, “How do they deliver on those promised speeds?” For a definitive answer on that, Aussies can thankfully turn to the ACCC findings on broadband performance data

The consumer watchdog releases a report each quarter, and its most recent update in September 2020 found that Optus delivered consistently higher average speeds than Telstra on NBN 50 and NBN 100, and it was also the best Australian ISP overall when it came down to download speed delivered in the busy evening period.

But download speed doesn’t tell the whole story, and Optus doesn’t win the NBN performance competition in every category. According to the ACCC, customers on Telstra’s NBN receive lower overall latency compared to Optus (an important factor for online gaming) and marginally quicker webpage loading times. Telstra doesn’t beat Optus in those categories by a huge margin, mind you – we’re talking fractions of a second in both those cases, so whether you’ll be able to tell is another story.

Optus also doesn’t have a great track record for outages, with the ACCC’s pool of volunteers experiencing the equal highest volume of service disruptions (on par with Dodo & iPrimus) on the telco’s network. 

The ACCC’s study found that, on average, Optus participants experienced about two outages every five days that lasted longer than 30 seconds. By comparison, Telstra’s participating customers had around half that, or one outage every five days that lasted longer than 30 seconds.

However, while Optus may have had more downtime, any errors generally got resolved fairly quickly. Telstra outages, by comparison, were twice as likely to last 10 minutes or more – although the fact that there were only half as many outages means that, in real world terms, Optus and Telstra are roughly tied in terms of actual instances among the ACCC test group.

What’s undeniable is that Telstra appears to provide a more stable and reliable experience. So, if minor service disruptions are something you’d like to avoid at all costs, you do generally get what you pay for with Telstra.

The ACCC isn’t the only organisation tracking the quality of Australia’s NBN. Netflix also monitors the performance of ISPs on an ongoing basis, tracking the average speed at which video content is streamed during 'prime time' viewing hours. In this measurement, Telstra also comes out on top, but it's again a close race, with less than a 2% difference in average speed between Telstra and Optus.

Winner: Optus. This was a tough round to call, but we’re handing it to Optus for outgunning Telstra in terms of maximum plan speed reached on the ACCC’s most recent broadband performance data report. While Telstra had lower latency and better Netflix streaming speed, it only won by a small margin.

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Optus vs Telstra: Fastest NBN plans

Additional fees

  • You’ll have to pay out your modem if you leave Telstra within 24 months
  • You’ll be required to pay out your modem if you leave Optus within 36 months
  • Despite this, both are no lock-in contract, with no other cancellation fees

It’s time to talk about everyone’s favourite part... the fine print. Both Telstra and Optus charge new customers a AU$99 connection fee, although Telstra will waive this payment for people who complete their sign up online (rather than by phone or in person). 

Both telcos will provide you with a modem-router that comes with 4G backup, and you can end up getting this for free if you stick with your plan for a certain amount of time, though that time period differs between the two.

You’ll get the Telstra Smart Modem for free if you stick with the provider for 24 months, but if you decide to leave your contract early, you’ll need to pay out the remaining cost. The modem costs AU$216, and to pay it out will cost you AU$9 multiplied by the number of months remaining on your contract.

It’s a similar story with Optus, except you’ll need to stay connected to Optus NBN for 36 months if you want the Optus Ultra Wi-Fi Modem for free. The cost of the hardware is slightly more at AU$252, and if you’d like to leave before the 36 months are up, you’ll need to pay the remaining cost at a rate of AU$7 multiplied by how many months you have left.

There’s no additional cancellation fee with either Optus or Telstra, just the remaining cost of your hardware if you leave before the allotted time period.

Both ISPs will determine if a technician needs to be sent out to complete your NBN installation, the costs of which can vary depending on the situation. In many cases this can be free of charge, but on the flip side there are certain set costs that are sometimes unavoidable. If you’re activating an NBN service for the first time in a new development, for example, there’s a fee of AU$300 no matter what ISP you choose. If you decide you’d like a technician on-site to get you set up regardless, Optus will charge you a flat AU$140, while Telstra’s cost for the same thing is AU$240.

Winner: Telstra. Additional fees for NBN setup are, unfortunately, somewhat unpredictable, so this is a tough category to call. However, with Telstra you could theoretically avoid having to pay any setup fees, and you’re only required to stay with them for 24 months to own the modem, so there’s less potential for unwanted extra costs overall.

Get an Xbox Series X or S through Telstra from AU$33/pm

Get an Xbox Series X or S through Telstra from AU$33/pm 

Microsoft's next generation of gaming consoles – the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S – officially launch on November 10, and Telstra is offering one of the most-affordable ways to get hold of the new consoles in the form of Xbox All Access. Telstra NBN customers can add the console onto their monthly bill on a 24-month contract, with prices starting at AU$33 per month for Series S and AU$46 per month for Series X. To pre-order, head to Telstra’s site.

Optional extras and bundle deals

  • Telstra can guarantee wall-to-wall Wi-Fi coverage, at extra cost
  • Xbox All Access and Foxtel can be added with Telstra NBN
  • Optus Sport and Fetch can be included with Optus NBN

Going with one of the major Aussie ISPs may not be the cheapest option, but they do come with some free perks and more optional extras than most competitors – let’s break down what each provider brings to the table.

As mentioned above, both Telstra and Optus have their own telco-branded modem-routers that are provided 'free' to NBN subscribers. Each is enabled with 4G backup, so they will automatically connect to the internet through the telco’s mobile network if there’s an NBN outage. (Coverage depending, of course.)

With Telstra’s included Smart Modem, the telco can optionally guarantee you wall-to-wall Wi-Fi coverage... though there’s an additional cost of AU$12 per month on a 24-month contract. For that fee, you can add a Telstra Smart Wi-Fi Booster onto your plan; you then pair that extender with your Smart Modem and with this combo Telstra promises you’ll receive stable coverage throughout your abode.

Not every home will need this, and it’s chiefly intended to help those who live in larger, double brick, or multi-story homes. If you’d prefer to avoid the contract, you can alternatively just pay AU$288 upfront for the Smart Wi-Fi Booster.

When it comes to entertainment perks, Telstra is currently throwing a three month Binge subscription in for free. On the other hand, football fans may prefer Optus Sport, which is included for the life of your plan at no extra cost, and streams the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League and others live and on-demand.

Optus also has Fetch TV, and you can add a Fetch Mini streaming box to Optus’s base plans for a flat AU$4 per month extra – so AU$79 a month with NBN 50, or AU$99 a month with NBN 100.

There’s also a more premium Internet Entertainer plan from Optus, which gets you a Fetch Mighty box. It costs AU$90 a month if you pair it with an NBN 50 plan, or AU$110 a month if you go for NBN 100 speed – or AU$15 extra per month.

There’s also additional channel packs with kids, knowledge, variety and 'vibe' content (yeah, we’re not sure about that name either) for an extra AU$6 each per month, or include them all in the ultimate channel pack for AU$20 per month.

Telstra also has plenty of optional entertainment bundles too. You can choose to add a Telstra TV box to your data plan. It costs an extra AU$9 a month, so would see you pay AU$99 each billing if you go for Telstra’s NBN 50 plan.

If you’re a gamer, you can also bundle 24 months of Xbox All Access with your data plan, at an extra cost of AU$33 per month for an Xbox Series S console, or AU$46 per month for an Xbox Series X console.

If you’re a sports fan or a movie buff, Telstra has the ability to bundle a Foxtel Sports HD or a Foxtel Movies HD pack into your data plan. Each pack costs AU$140 per month, though you’ll incur additional costs in your first month for the Foxtel iQ4 box (AU$150) and a connection fee of AU$35. In addition to your chosen pack, you’ll also get all of Foxtel’s Plus channels as well.

Winner: Telstra. The Big T has a slightly wider range of optional add-ons that will cater to a larger variety of people. There’s Telstra TV, Xbox All Access for the gamers, Foxtel Movies for the film buffs and Foxtel Sports to keep the sports fanatics happy.

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Optus vs Telstra: TV bundle plans

Optus vs Telstra NBN: the final tally

By our scoring, Optus wins this match-up overall. So does that make Optus better than Telstra for NBN? The answer is (perhaps inevitably) “it depends”. That’s to say, it’s contingent on what’s most important to you. If price is your biggest concern, we’d argue that Optus wins hands-down.

And at least according to the ACCC’s latest broadband performance data report, Optus is also the winner when it comes down to which telco is most consistently reaching its advertised maximum plan speeds.

Having said that, we think that Telstra has the better optional add-ons when it comes to entertainment. And if you live in a large home, Telstra’s guaranteed wall-to-wall Wi-Fi coverage through its optional Smart Wi-Fi Booster is also compelling.

Jasmine Gearie

Jasmine Gearie is TechRadar Australia’s resident deals expert, with a keen eye for hunting down the best Aussie discounts on everything from laptops and phones to cameras, headphones and mobile and broadband plans. She doesn’t buy anything without doing a little research first, and she wants to help you do the same.