Is 5G Better Than the NBN?

Is 5G Better Than the NBN?

Welcome back to Ask Giz, our fortnightly series where we answer reader-submitted questions about tech, science, and anything occurring within the Giz-o-sphere.

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Today’s question comes from Mike in Newcastle. Mike wants to know: Is 5G better than the NBN?

I love writing about these technologies, so let’s get stuck in.

Is 5G better than the NBN?

The 5G network and the NBN (National Broadband Network) are two very different technologies used to accomplish the same task: internet access. The major difference is that 5G is entirely wireless, while NBN mostly relies on fixed, wired connections (except for fixed wireless and Skymuster NBN customers in rural and regional areas, who get internet access through radio signals and the NBN satellite).

Another major difference is the target audience: while there are 5G home internet plans becoming available, the technology is mostly used with mobile phone plans, to be used in areas where the technology has been deployed (it’s still rolling out across Australia, and not every phone plan provider has access). Meanwhile, NBN is only offered as a fixed-location internet solution. It has nothing to do with your mobile phone plan.

With those differences out of the way, we can discuss comparisons and which tech might be better.

The maximum speeds of both technology types are worth considering. Across Australia’s three 5G networks, Opensignal reported in April that typical speeds ranged from 268.8Mbps (Optus), to 242.9Mbps (Telstra), to 114.5Mbps (Vodafone). Home internet 5G plans through these providers are uncapped, while postpaid 5G phone plans are typically uncapped until data limit thresholds are met. With these points made, it’s also important to note that some 5G internet plans are data speed limited.

In comparison, if we go off the ACCC’s latest NBN speeds report, these typical evening speeds are well above what you’d typically see from the more popular NBN plans (those operating NBN 25, NBN 50, and NBN 100). That being said, NBN 250 and NBN 1000 plans will get you up to those soaring evening speeds 5G appears to operate at (though these speeds are only accessible by FTTP and some HFC customers).

However, as 5G operates through the use of signal towers and not physical wired connections, it suffers from greater latency issues. This means that, for internet applications that require quick response times, you’ll likely be at a disadvantage when using a 5G connection. The best example of this is in online gaming, where a wireless connection can mean the difference between defeating an enemy and completely missing them. Because the NBN mostly relies on fixed technology, this is less of an issue.

Signal distance is also something to consider. Your distance from the 5G signal tower, for example, can limit your speed and latency dramatically, as can any objects in between your device and the signal tower. This problem manifests similarly with the NBN, as being further away from your NBN node (a box that distributes NBN connections throughout your neighbourhood) can also result in lower speeds or worse latency, however, again, it’s less of a problem because of the fixed technology.

Now let’s talk about price. A 5G plan can cost anywhere between $59 and $95.90 per month, while NBN plans, broken up across several speed tiers, can cost anywhere between $35 and $209 per month, according to Whistleout. Speaking generally, 5G plans appear to be cheaper, but if we look at a direct comparison, the tune changes: The cheapest NBN 100 plan (capable of download speeds of up to 100Mbps) costs $62.90 per month, while a 5G plan capable of the same speed costs $65 per month. It’s definitely worth comparing 5G plans against your chosen NBN plan to see if you could potentially get a better deal, but ultimately price variations between the two aren’t particularly dramatic (save for more feature-packed plans, and plans for fixed wireless and satellite households which are typically more expensive).

It’s also worth knowing that 5G is still rolling out. It’s not available everywhere and is nowhere near as available across Australia as the NBN.

And finally, let’s talk about ease of use. NBN connection boxes, for some NBN types, will typically need to be installed on the wall of your property somewhere in order to operate. This might be in an unideal location or one where it’s difficult for a modem-router to be easily placed. Because 5G doesn’t need a wired connection, all that the 5G modem needs is direct power. This lets you move it around your home freely as long as there’s a power point nearby. You’ll also likely need to use a dedicated 5G modem from your internet provider if you choose it as your home internet type, while most NBN plans let you bring your own modem.

So which one is the winner? 5G or NBN?

In all honesty, it depends on where you live. If you require low latency connections and are sceptical of how fast 5G could be in your area, then it’s fairly safe sticking with the NBN. If your home is serviced by a slower NBN type, such as FTTN, Skymuster or NBN Fixed Wireless, then it’s worth considering 5G as an alternative (though it may not be available in your area just yet).

There is no definite winner, but if you’re sick of one, it’s certainly worth trying out the other.

If you’d like to submit a question to be answered in a future Ask Giz instalment, we’d love to hear it.

Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: Why Can’t I Share Netflix Passwords?

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