Telstra vs Optus NBN: who has better broadband?

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

Finding the best NBN plan to suit your needs 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

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  • 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’ plan range covers NBN 50, NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000, and each plan includes unlimited data. They’ve also become a little more complex than they used to be, as Optus has introduced new 'Gamer' and 'Ultimate' options which add perks to the standard plans.

The 'Gamer' plans come with an Asus gaming modem, a static IP and a three-month free trial of Optus Game Path, which is an application for reducing lag, ping spikes and jitter when playing online. The 'Ultimate' plan comes with an Optus Wi-Fi Booster and features to keep your devices secure online.

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. They all come with unlimited data, and there are optional entertainment extras you can bundle in with Telstra too, which we’ve laid out below.

If you’re one of the millions of Australians on a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connection though, you won’t be able to sign up for Telstra’s fastest plans, including NBN 100 and above. However, existing Telstra customers with a FTTN connection should still be able to sign up

Both telcos have 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, the majority of Australians with a FTTN connection are unable to access 100Mbps broadband with Telstra. With this in mind, we’re giving this round to Optus.


Optus vs Telstra: NBN 50 plans compared

Price and data allowance

  • Cheapest plan from Telstra is AU$80 a month
  • Cheapest plan from Optus is AU$79 a month
  • Optus generally offers better value for money

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 Telstra is AU$80 a month, and the cheapest option from Optus is AU$79 a month. While there’s only a one dollar difference between these two choices, what you’re actually getting varies significantly.

With Optus, AU$79 a month gets you an 'Everyday' NBN 50 plan with unlimited data. If you want to add a Wi-Fi Booster and security features, you can upgrade to the 'Ultimate' NBN 50 deal for a AU$89 monthly total.

If you require speedier internet, Optus’ base NBN 100 plan is AU$99 per month, or for the same monthly price of AU$99, you can choose the 'Gamer' plan (NBN 100 is the first speed tier where this is available). The NBN 100 'Ultimate' plan will set you back AU$109 each billing.

As mentioned above, Telstra’s cheapest plan starts at AU$80 per month, though what you’re getting here is an NBN 25 plan, which has significantly slower overall speeds than Optus’ closest equivalent. Telstra’s best-value option is arguably its NBN 50 plan, which is AU$95 a month, while moving up to the NBN 100 plan costs AU$110 monthly.

Rather than being a separate plan, Telstra’s 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$119 each month, while NBN 1000 can be had for AU$149 a month.

We won’t mince words: Telstra’s NBN plans are some of the highest-priced out there, and Optus’ NBN 50 plan is a clear AU$16 cheaper. However, there are many smaller telcos out there who have them both bested on cost – you can read more about the best NBN plans here.

Winner: Optus. Optus again comes out on top, because it generally offers better value for money out of the two. Optus’ cheapest plan starts at AU$79 for NBN 50, which is significantly better than Telstra’s cheapest plan, costing AU$80 each month and only getting you NBN 25 speeds.


Optus vs Telstra: Cheapest NBN plans

Performance and typical evening speeds

  • Optus marginally better than Telstra at achieving maximum speed
  • Telstra marginally better than Optus for Netflix streaming
  • Both Optus and Telstra have a maxed-out average evening speed on their NBN 50 and NBN 100 plans

Both Telstra and Optus promise to deliver the same typical evening speed of 50Mbps on their NBN 50 plans, and 100Mbps on their NBN 100 plans, which is to say that the telcos are promising that customers should expect to get maximum plan speeds most of the time.

Rule changes at NBN Co mean telcos are now able to max out a connection, which has led to some providers claiming maximum speed during the busy evening period. We’ve also seen this reflected in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) official findings, which back up those claims.

The consumer watchdog releases a report each quarter, and its most recent update in December 2021 found that both Optus and Telstra either met or exceeded their promised average speeds on NBN 50 and NBN 100 plans. When we take into account all NBN speeds, Optus comes out on top as the best Australian ISP overall when it comes 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.

When it comes to outages, it’s important to note that there’s a fair bit of fluctuation and outage statistics do change over time. For example, past reports from the ACCC indicated its pool of volunteers experienced higher service disruptions on the Optus network compared to Telstra, but in its latest reporting, that’s no longer the case.

The ACCC’s December 2021 report found that, on average, Optus participants experienced roughly one 30-seconds-or-longer outage every 6.25 days. By comparison, Telstra’s participating customers had one outage every 4 days that lasted longer than 30 seconds.

When you look into the severity of those outages, Telstra also comes off worse. 40% of Telstra’s outages in the most recent testing period lasted 10 minutes or more, while it was found that just over 10% of outages experienced by Optus customers lasted 10 minutes or more.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on outages as future reporting is released, but in the meantime, you might want to consider Optus if service disruptions are something you’d like to avoid – although, as the fluctuating nature of the ACCC reports show, there’s no real guarantees when it comes to long-term outage predictability.

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 and Optus are currently neck-and-neck, and at the top of the leaderboard for all telcos monitored. The ACCC’s own reporting in this area suggests Telstra is marginally ahead in terms of streaming, and its figures measure performance at different NBN speeds.

Winner: Optus. Optus does it again. 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.


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.

The good news is that Telstra and Optus no longer charge new customers a AU$99 connection fee, although a fee may still apply if you’re getting a first time NBN connection in a new development.

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.

Aside from this, 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, both Optus and Telstra will charge you a flat fee of AU$240.

Winner: Telstra. Additional fees for NBN setup are, unfortunately, somewhat unpredictable, so this is a tough category to call. With both Telstra and Optus, you could theoretically avoid having to pay any setup fees, though with Telstra 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.


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 one year of Disney Plus completely free on most of its entertainment plans, which is pretty unbeatable in our eyes. New Telstra customers can also get a three month Binge subscription 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 and others live and on-demand.

Optus also has Fetch TV, and you can add a Fetch Mini streaming box to Optus’ base plans for a flat AU$5 per month extra – so AU$84 a month with NBN 50, or AU$104 a month with NBN 100. You can alternatively choose to add a Fetch Mighty box for AU$15 extra each 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$104 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$50 per month for your first 12 months and AU$74 each month thereafter, and 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. Not to mention, Telstra’s current offer of free Disney Plus for one year is unbeatable.


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
Ecommerce Editor

Jasmine Gearie was previously an Ecommerce Editor at TechRadar Australia, with a primary focus on helping readers find the best mobile and NBN plans. During her time with TechRadar, she also reported on important telco news in Australia, and helped track down tech deals to help readers save money.