Don't want a wired internet connection or can't get one? For far too many Australians, the NBN has failed to deliver on its promise. If you still waiting to be connected, or can't get decent speeds in your area, there are two main alternatives worth considering: mobile broadband and home wireless broadband.
Home Wireless Broadband and Mobile Broadband are both powered by 4G mobile networks, but there are major differences between the two. With that said, you can now snag affordable plans with over 200GB regardless of which option of plump for.
These might not be enough to replace a fixed line connection for every kind of user, but these kinds of allowances are starting to make mobile connections look like genuine alternatives.
Here's what you need to know about home wireless broadband and mobile broadband, and the best plans for both.
Home Wireless Broadband
Home wireless broadband is essentially 4G-powered internet designed to replace a traditional fixed line connection, whether it's ADSL, Cable, or NBN. Home wireless broadband plans tend to come with allowances of 200GB or more and start at around $40 per month. When compared to mobile broadband, the trade-off is capped download speeds (in most cases) and a little less flexibility.
Home wireless broadband plans are designed for home use, which means the modems require a constant source of power. (However, you can just plug it in at a new location and get back online instantly.) On the plus side, this also means the modems are fuller featured, and include extras like multiple gigabit Ethernet ports.
Most home wireless broadband plans have their speeds capped at 12Mbps. That's equivalent to a basic NBN connection, but still faster than the average Australian ADSL connection. Exetel, SpinTel, Yomojo, and Moose Mobile, all offer home wireless broadband plans. These plans are all quite similar: you’ll pay between $40 to $45 per month for a 250GB allowance.
These plans are all available on a no-contract basis - the main difference is upfront fees. SpinTel and Exetel are the cheapest, at $39.95 and $39.99 per month respectively, with a $99 modem payment.
All these home wireless broadband providers are powered by the Optus network, so performance should be comparable no matter who you sign up with.
If you want faster home wireless broadband, you've got two options: SpinTel and Optus.
Paying a little extra on SpinTel can get you a home wireless broadband plans with 4G speeds of up to 42Mbps. You've got the choice of a $59.95 plan with 200GB, or a $74.95 per month plan with 500GB.
Both are available on a month-to-month basis, or on a six-month contract. If you go month-to-month, you'll pay a $99 modem fee.
On Optus, $65 per month gets you a 200GB allowance, or $85 per month gets you 500GB. These home wireless broadband plans are the only plans on the market that operate at "full Optus 4G" speeds. However, exact performance can depend on factors such as coverage and network congestion. We've experienced download speeds between 20Mbps and 100Mbps when testing out Optus' Home Wireless kit. It may be possible to increase these using an external antenna.
These plans are available on a 24-month contract, or a month-to-month basis. If you go for the no-contract option, you'll pay $192 upfront for the modem.
Looking further forward, Optus is starting to roll out 5G Home Wireless Broadband. This is only available in a few suburbs across Australia right now, but this will increase as Optus builds its network. Optus is pitching its 5G broadband plans as a genuine NBN alternative: they’ll have unlimited data for $70 per month. Better yet, if you get speeds of under 50Mbps, you’ll just be able to leave.
As the name might suggest, mobile broadband is an internet connection similar to the kind you get on your smartphone. Mobile broadband plans are powered by 4G networks, and pricing and data allowances aren't dissimilar to what you'd get on a standard mobile plan. When compared to home wireless broadband, the trade-off is small data allowances and a higher price tag.
Mobile broadband connections do however run at faster speeds than most home wireless broadband plans, and offer more flexibility. The dongles and portable hotspots you use with a mobile broadband plan tend to be battery-powered, so they're a great travel companion. And alternatively, you can just get a bring-your-own-device mobile broadband plan and throw the SIM in your own hotspot, a tablet, or even a spare phone.
Here are some SIM-only mobile broadband plans with at least 100GB:
And here are some SIM-only mobile broadband plans with at least 50GB:
If you’re looking for faster mobile broadband, Telstra recently started selling its first 5G-ready portable modem: the HTC 5G Hub ($1199). In addition to being Australia’s first 5G hotpot, the HTC 5G Hub is almost an entertainment device. It runs Android Pie (and as such, supports apps like Netflix), has a 5-inch 720p touchscreen, and a USB Type-C port for connecting it to external displays.
While 5G coverage is still quite limited, the HTC 5G Hub is also the fastest 4G hotspot you can get from Telstra. However, plans do max out at 100GB per month, so it probably won’t replace your primary internet connection – at least if you’re a demanding user.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia's phone and internet comparison website.