Best NBN alternatives: what to do if you’re unhappy with your internet

A middle-aged man using a laptop while sitting on his tractor
(Image credit: davidf / Getty Images)

While the NBN covers much of Australia, it may not be the best option for everyone wanting to get hooked up to the internet. In fact, if you’re living in a rural or remote location, are a renter, or are frequently on the road, it’s possible there are significantly better services to suit your specific needs.

Thankfully, there are a number of NBN alternatives available in Australia, with five main options including 5G home internet, 4G home internet, mobile broadband, private fibre networks and Starlink. But which is right for you?

In this guide, we’ll be breaking down the jargon surrounding NBN alternatives to help you search for the right type and plan to suit your needs. Whether you’re looking for a lightning-quick internet connection or just something you can use on the road, we’ll help you find what you need.

5G home internet

5G home internet

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  • Two plan types: capped and uncapped
  • Availability is limited to areas with good 5G coverage
  • Most providers offer first month free

5G isn’t just for your mobile phone, it’s also used to power one of the most popular NBN alternatives on the market. Rather than operating on the government-owned NBN, 5G home internet is available through networks owned by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. It’s designed to be used in a fixed location, and the big drawcard is the potential for super-fast speeds (both download and upload) and lower latency compared to some other technologies.

There are two types of 5G home internet plan currently available – capped and uncapped – and these relate to whether a plan’s maximum speed is limited or not. For example, prices for capped 5G home internet start at AU$59 a month, and for this price you can expect to get speeds of up to 50Mbps; similar to what you’d get from an NBN 50 plan

You can move up to a capped 5G internet plan with top speeds of up to 100Mbps for between AU$65-AU$79 a month; these are similar to an NBN 100 plan. While generally comparable, there’s one important distinction between capped 5G internet and NBN plans: capped 5G plans quote the maximum speed they are capable of, not the typical evening speed. That means real-world performance for 5G can vary more than on an NBN plan of the 'same' speed.

In fact, most of the telcos aren’t forthcoming with the typical evening speed of their 5G plans, with the notable exception of Optus. For example, one of Optus’ 5G internet plans is capped at 100Mbps, and its typical evening speed is given as 87Mbps. (By way of comparison, Optus’ NBN 100 plan quotes a typical evening speed of 100Mbps.)

Uncapped 5G internet plans are, as the name suggests, not artificially speed limited, but are understandably more expensive than capped plans, going for between AU$85-AU$99 a month. Being uncapped, the maximum speed you can achieve will depend on a number of factors (such as your location in relation to local 5G towers and network congestion) but you should still get much higher typical evening speeds than vs capped plans. Optus’ uncapped 5G plan reports typical speeds of 240Mbps in the evenings, for example, while Telstra quotes a typical evening speed of 378Mbps.

There’s one big caveat to 5G wireless internet at home, and that’s limited availability. Because 5G internet comes through 5G towers, you’ll need to be living in an area where 5G is readily available. If you’re unsure on that, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all have 5G coverage checkers available on their websites.

Because performance can vary, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are all offering your first month of 5G home internet for free, so you can try it out and see what kind of performance you can get.

Who is 5G home internet best suited to?

High-demand internet users who want better speed with more flexibility.

4G home internet

4G home internet

  • More widely available than 5G home internet
  • Speed capped at 20Mbps or 25Mbps
  • Some providers offer first month free

While 5G home internet has limited availability, 4G home internet is more widely available as an alternative to the NBN. Like 5G, it’s also provided via the major cellular networks operated by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, so it’s completely separate from the government-owned NBN. Unlike the 4G reception you receive on your mobile though, 4G home internet is intended to be used in one location.

4G home internet is slower than 5G, so you might want to sign up to a 4G plan if 5G coverage isn’t available in your area yet. It’s also generally less expensive than 5G, so it might suit you better if you only need basic internet speeds, and you want to save anywhere between AU$5-$20 extra each month compared to what 5G home internet costs.

One notable difference vs the 5G equivalent is that all 4G home internet plans are speed capped. For instance, prices for 4G home internet start with Spintel’s AU$49.95 a month plan, which will give you capped speeds of up to 20Mbps. Or for AU$59 a month, you can get maximum download speeds of 25Mbps with Optus – similar to what you’d get from an NBN 25 plan.

While slower than 5G, these 4G plans will be fast enough for many people provided that the cellular signal is strong. To put the speeds into context, 6Mbps is roughly what you need to stream video in 1080p, while the recommendation for 4K video is 25Mbps – so 4G plans may struggle if you like to stream Netflix in 4K.

Like with most 5G plans, a number of telcos are offering your first month free when you sign up to a 4G home internet plan. Note that in some cases, a full or partial upfront cost for the modem may be required.

Who is 4G home internet best suited to?

Internet users who aren’t eligible for 5G, or are dissatisfied with NBN Fixed Wireless.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband

  • Designed to be portable
  • Comes in the form of SIM cards, USB modems or portable modems
  • Variety of data caps offered to suit different use cases

Mobile broadband is another type of wireless internet connection that can be delivered over 4G or 5G networks. Unlike the aforementioned 4G and 5G home internet plans, mobile broadband is designed to be portable, so you can take it with you anywhere. A mobile broadband plan is still intended solely for internet use, and won’t provide calls or text like your mobile phone plan does.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about mobile broadband plans is that they can have widely different data caps, ranging from 5GB all the way up to 400GB each month. So, why are so many mobile broadband plans offering such little data, while others offer a lot? The answer’s got to do with how they’re intended to be used.

Mobile broadband can be accessed in a few different forms: with a data-only SIM card, through a dongle or USB modem, or a battery-powered portable modem (sometimes referred to as a personal hotspot device).

Data-only SIM cards are intended for tablets or laptops with a SIM card slot, so you can get connected on these devices wherever you are, without having to rely on public Wi-Fi networks or a hotspot from your phone. As needs differ a lot on a case-by-case basis, data caps come in a diverse range; you might only need a data-only SIM for when you’re commuting on the train, for example, or you may have a job or be taking a holiday that will see you on the road for extended periods.

A young hiker using his laptop while sitting on top of a mountain.

(Image credit: pixdeluxe / Getty Images)

Dongles or USB modems plug directly into your laptop or computer, and they’re an alternative option if your laptop doesn’t have a dedicated SIM card slot. These pocket-sized modems only connect a single device to the internet, so their uses are limited. Again, telcos offer varying data caps because you might only need to use it while you’re away from home.

Portable modems are a good choice if more than one person – or device – needs the internet. They create a private Wi-Fi network that multiple devices can connect to, and depending on what your provider offers, they can hook you up to the internet through 4G or 5G networks. Portable modems can be used by phones, laptops, tablets and gaming devices, and they tend to be the more expensive option.

While mobile broadband is not designed to replace a home internet connection, it can do so during NBN outages or disruptions (some Australian telcos even have 4G mobile broadband built into their NBN routers as a backup option). This is also a factor in why mobile broadband plans can have much smaller data limits.

Due to the variety of data caps offered, mobile broadband plans also have a wide price range. Prices start at around AU$15 a month, which will get you between 7GB and 20GB a month depending on the provider. At the higher end, you can pay up to AU$70 each billing for a total of 400GB of data.

Who is mobile broadband best suited to?

Anyone frequently travelling around Australia, or those who want internet data on portable devices such as tablets.

Private fibre networks

Private fibre networks

  • GigaComm
  • Opticomm
  • TPG’s FTTB

Private fibre networks are another viable alternative to the NBN, and there are quite a few in the market. The various private fibre networks are different from the NBN because they’re owned by private companies and run on their own infrastructure; sometimes these companies sell services directly to consumers, too, but in many cases you’ll need to sign up through a reseller (often a big-name internet provider). Comparatively, the NBN is government-owned and isn’t sold directly to consumers – it’s sold wholesale to NBN providers, which then resell it to you.

Another major difference between the NBN and private fibre networks is that private fibre networks have limited availability, and are typically clustered in certain areas. For example, private fibre networks might only be available in metro areas of major cities, new housing developments or apartment complexes, where it can reach many people without the cost of investing in a huge physical footprint. In some cases, particularly new developments, private fibre networks are available in place of wired NBN. This means consumers won’t always have a choice between the NBN or a privately owned network.

Contrast that to the government-owned NBN, which has officially been declared as complete, meaning the NBN is largely available across the country in one form or another. For what it’s worth, the government is continuing to rollout upgrades to the network, and that work could benefit up to one million homes and businesses by the end of 2025.

Here, we’ll run you through some of the private fibre networks available:

GigaComm

  • Available in: central Melbourne and central Sydney
  • Plan speeds: from 200/50Mbps up to 1000/50Mbps
  • Price: from AU$79p/m up to AU$169p/m
  • Who is GigaComm best suited to?: Great for gamers who want fast speeds any time of day or night

GigaComm is one of the more interesting NBN alternatives because it’s more broadly available than most other 'private' networks; if you live within the supported Sydney and Melbourne coverage area, you should theoretically be able to sign up for the service. GigaComm owns and operates its own network infrastructure (which is a mix of wired and wireless tech), and you sign up directly with GigaComm and contact its customer support team for any issues.

GigaComm is most-widely available in apartment buildings – including both older and newer developments – and it has a much smaller footprint in houses, with homes accounting for around 5% of its customer base.

For apartment buildings, GigaComm uses a combination of fibre and fixed wireless mmWave technologies to connect the buildings to its network, and then uses existing copper and G.fast technology to deliver gigabit speeds over copper to the apartments.

Its plan speeds start at 200/50Mbps for AU$79 a month, which means at a minimum, its top download and upload speeds should outperform even the best NBN 100 plans. With GigaComm’s fastest plan clocking in at 1000/50Mbps – and the company claiming that, unlike on the NBN, you should actually achieve gigabit speeds on their network – it’s also pushing into the territory of the best NBN 1000 plans on the market.

GigaComm doesn’t mention typical evening speeds on its website, and that’s because its network doesn’t suffer from the same level of congestion as the NBN during the busy evening hours, so its speeds are claimed to be more consistent. In other words, if you sign up to a 200/50Mbps plan, you should get that speed at any time of day.

Opticomm

  • Available in: All states and territories, excluding Tasmania
  • Plan speeds: from 12/1Mbps up to 1000/50Mbps (plan speeds set by service providers)
  • Price: from AU$59p/m up to AU$209p/m (prices set by service providers)
  • Who is Opticomm best suited to?: Those living in new developments and housing estates where Opticomm is available

Opticomm is another privately owned fibre network, and it can be found in place of fixed-line NBN in certain areas. This means if you live in a new housing development or apartment complex (where Opticomm tends to be found) it might be the only form of fibre internet available to you, and you could be stuck with it.

While Opticomm supplies, installs and maintains its own network, it does not sell directly to consumers. Instead, Opticomm is a wholesale provider, and it has partnered with over 50 internet providers which resell you access. In this way, it’s similar to the NBN.

Opticomm says that in most cases, those wanting a plan can choose any internet provider on its list – though note that some providers only sell residential plans, and others only offer business plans.

Some popular providers which resell access to the Opticomm network include Aussie Broadband, Exetel, iiNet and Telstra. Because Opticomm doesn’t sell directly to consumers, it’s the internet providers who set the speeds and costs of the Opticomm plans which they then resell onto you.

The Opticomm network is available in most major capital cities and regional areas, excluding Tasmania, and often serves new housing estates. You’ll find that the telcos reselling access to Opticomm’s network group together plan speeds in an almost identical way to the NBN, so you’ll find plans offering 25Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps and so on.

Vision Network (formerly known as TPG’s FTTB)

  • Available in: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and the Gold Coast
  • Plan speeds: 90/17Mbps
  • Price: from AU$89.99p/m up to AU$109.99p/m
  • Who is TPG FTTB best suited to?: Those living in apartments who want to download files fast, and people with family and friends living overseas

TPG is one of the major NBN providers in the market, but it also owns and operates its own fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) infrastructure. TPG’s FTTB is exclusively available in select apartment buildings and complexes, and it’s clustered in metro areas of select cities.

There are three TPG FTTB plans available, and they all deliver the same speeds of 90Mbps download and 17Mbps upload, with prices starting at AU$89.99 a month (when you first sign up, you’ll initially pay AU$79.99 a month as a 'welcome discount').

Besides price, what separates each plan are its call inclusions. The cheapest FTTB plan comes with pay-as-you-go calls, while AU$99.99 a month can get you unlimited calls to national mobiles and 100 international minutes, and AU$109.99 a month will get you unlimited international calls to 15 countries.

Please note: TPG has informed us that its TPG FTTB service is now called Vision Network, and we’re awaiting confirmation of current pricing information for anyone who wants to sign up to this service.

Starlink

  • A satellite broadband service
  • Can offer lower latency than NBN’s satellite service
  • Plans cost AU$139p/m

You’ve probably heard of Starlink, because it’s operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Starlink delivers internet via thousands of satellites that orbit Earth, about 550km away. That distance actually means Starlink satellites have a low earth orbit, and it’s a key reason why Starlink can perform better than the NBN’s equivalent, known as Sky Muster.

The NBN’s Sky Muster is also a satellite internet solution, but its satellites are more than 36,000km away. This means that data being sent from the satellite to you has a much longer trip to make, and latency can be higher as a result.

There are two different services – regular Sky Muster and Sky Muster Plus. The main difference is that on Sky Muster, all online activity counts towards your monthly data allowance, while on Sky Muster Plus, only video streaming and virtual private network activity between 4pm–12am midnight counts towards your data allowance – the rest of your data usage is uncapped.

Sky Muster Plus is the NBN’s premium satellite service, and it offers standard plan speeds of 25Mbps download and 5Mbps upload, although individual results can and do vary depending on a number of factors. With this in mind, it’s suitable for one or two people browsing the internet at the same time, streaming music or streaming video in HD quality.

With its satellites orbiting 65 times closer to earth, Starlink’s able to transmit data with lower latency. Starlink says its expected download speeds range between 20Mbps and 100Mbps, and that’s held up in data collected by Ookla in 2022. In Q3 and Q4 2022, Ookla found that Starlink’s median download speed in Australia was 106Mbps, putting it on par with the best NBN 100 plans.

Starlink is really designed for those living in rural and remote regions of Australia, and you’ll need to check your address is eligible on Starlink’s website before signing up. The initial cost of the hardware is steep at AU$924, but Starlink has currently discounted it down to AU$199 for 'rural' Australians. From there, Starlink’s one and only residential internet plan will cost you AU$139p/m. If you want to see how that price compares to the NBN’s Sky Muster service, we have a live widget below.

Who is Starlink best suited to?

Anyone living in rural or remote regions of Australia, especially those who are dissatisfied with the NBN’s Sky Muster service

Jasmine Gearie
Ecommerce Editor

Jasmine Gearie is an Ecommerce Editor at TechRadar Australia, with a primary focus on helping readers cut through the jargon to find the best mobile and internet plans for their needs. She crunches the numbers to maintain dedicated guides to the latest phones, NBN and broadband plans of all types, and covers the important telco industry news. She also hunts down tech deals on laptops, phones, gaming consoles and more, so readers know where to buy the products they want for the cheapest prices.