Planhacker: Using 4G As An NBN Alternative [Updated]

Planhacker: Using 4G As An NBN Alternative [Updated]
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Just when it seemed like the NBN rollout was finally going to plan.

After years of delays, crumby peak hour performance, industry finger-pointing and recent ACCC intervention, no one would blame you if you decided to give up hope for our national broadband network and started looking about for another way of to get online.

And you wouldn’t be alone. The conversation about wireless technologies, like 4G and 5G, as an alternative to fixed line connections is ramping up. And with some big changes in mobile broadband plans of late, it’s a good time to take a look.

No Contract 4G Broadband Plans

As you can see, the value in mobile broadband plans has skyrocketed recently. Gone are the days when you’d get 20GB for $50 or more. Now, Mobile Broadband pricing is beginning to look more like fixed-line pricing.

VividWireless and Optus Home Wireless Broadband have some of the best data-per-dollar plans, but both come with similar caveats. The connections are speed limited to 12Mbps for downloads and both have a limited coverage footprint, so you need to check with them before they will sell you a service. That said, both work well for everyday use; we tested the Optus Home Wireless Broadband and could easily stream Netflix in HD while running a few laptops at the same time.

All other plans listed at full speed on the Optus 4G Plus network, with a trade-off in the amount of data on offer. Also note that the plans sold by the smaller providers like OVO and Jeenee Mobile don’t come with a modem, so you’ll need to source that separately.

If you’re looking for Telstra, there are a few options, but as you’d expect it is a fair bit more expensive. You do get your pick of a good quality of modem/router though, including the Netgear Nighthawk M1.

For many, the data included in these plans still won’t be enough to cover their standard monthly usage, but if you’re stuck with ADSL2+ as your only internet option while NBN gets its act together, you might find less data on a better connection is a trade-off that is worth making.

Also, if you game online, be warned that latency can suck on 4G, with an average ping hovering around 50ms. Although, when I was testing the Optus modem I did play several games of Overwatch without any trouble. But your mileage may vary.

Joe Hanlon is Publisher at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website. He’s been writing about phones and plans for far too long.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • I decided to pay the premium to go fully wireless and I don’t regret it. I’m in an area that is affected by the rollout delay and I’m in a house with four people all sharing an ADSL connection that tops out at 8mbps down/1mbps up. I decided to try Optus’ $70 mobile broadband (I got a 140gb per month offer). I had to get a more robust 4G modem router but now get speeds between 20-40mbps down/4-8mbps up) in my area, plus if I want to download something particularly big, I can take my laptop down to my local shopping centre and get up to 200mbps download as they have their own 4G tower. Ping usually sits around 50mbps but is very stable and I’m finding I have far fewer ping spikes then I did on home ADSL (and they are usually much more brief)

    In the end, as my Vodafone contract was nearly up on my Samsung S7, I opted to get another $70 mobile broadband SIM plus a $30 BYO phone SIM. The total cost is $170 per month and I get 283 gb on any of my devices (data sharing). This really isn’t that much more expensive then having a good phone plan plus home broadband and I can literally take my broadband everywhere with me (and if I don’t end up using that much data, then I can drop it to 143gb for $100 per month). I can use my phone as a modem when on the road, plus when at home I can combine my devices so I can be downloading a game from steam on my modem whilst using my phone to play online games and not have to worry about increased latency. For me, all that extra flexibility justifies the price premium.

  • Sure Optus’ 200GB plan is _technically_ 4G but it’s capped at 12/1. I was better off going with Optus’ $70 100GB plan for actual 4G speeds, and if you lock it in for 12 months they bump the quota up to 140GB.

  • Not really an alternative. Most household use significantly more than 20GB. And $50 is too much for that.

    4G would be good if it wasn’t being used as a cash cow. 4G (LTE-advanced) can achieve speeds up to 1 Gbit/s. 4G would only be a good alternative if you could actually get reasonably large data plans (1tb+) at the full speed

    • $70 on a 12 month Optus plan gets 140gb, which is more than enough for most single users and speeds of mid-tier NBN plan are achievable (plus Optus does data sharing) – considering this was the average cost/data for an ADSL plan less barely 2-3 years ago, mobile broadband is definitely catching up.

  • Considering 4G is a fraction of the speed FTTP and provides a fraction of the data you would get on any nbn or even Adsl plan eg it’s now $89 a month for a home phone and 1TB (thats 1000GB) of data from Telstra.

    It is not an alternative to the NBN in ANY WAY.

    • My 4G gets 20-40mpbs download, putting it squarely within the realms of NBN speed. Tests closer to the antennas can get up to 80mpbs indoors and over 200mpbs outdoors (though in impractical locations). Data-wise 140gb is pretty solid for *most* users

    • Not true. See my other comment. Telstra plans with the Nighthawk modem easily outdoes the NBN in terms of speed moderately close to the tower. (I am regional so get decent speed several klicks away, I am sure that is different in the city.) That is something you can get now. Actual non speed limited FTTP is not going to happen in Australia any day soon. It will be limited to 100Mbps for the foreseeable future anyway. As to price for mobile, well that still has a ways to go, true.

  • You completely do not mention, and it is worth mentioning, that the Telstra plans with the Nighthawk can be significantly FASTER than the NBN. I live and work regionally between Broken Hill and Menindee and I can commonly pull speeds in excess of 100Mbps. This makes the higher price somewhat more bearable at least. Also Telstra is the only mobile provider in Menindee sooo.

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