Which is Better – 4G Mobile Broadband or the NBN ?

4G Mobile Broadband or the NBN

4G is still great!

5G has been in the talk of the technology world for the past few years. The hype has been everywhere, promising lightening fast speeds, low latency, high bandwidth – all the makings of a sci-fi movie. 5G has been promised as the ultimate internet solution, blowing out current wireless and wired connections, including the National Broadband Network (NBN).

But what about 4G? Your current LTE network isn’t really that bad, is it?

You stream ultra high definition videos with hardly any issues, you game over the Internet, you do all the things your smartphone can handle network-wise without any issues. So what’s so bad about 4G?

The fact is that 4G is pretty great, and can serve as a solid alternative to the NBN, if not a better overall option. In other words, while 5G promises you the world in the near future, 4G can give you that right now.

In this article, we compare 4G mobile broadband to the NBN, and we think you shouldn’t abandon your 4G network just yet.


The NBN is the Australian government’s answer to bringing fast internet to every home. The network is wired, and was introduced to bridge the digital divide and put Australia at the forefront of innovation. The government promised all sorts of high, blistering speeds, just as we’ve seen 5G proponents do. But at the end of it all, the NBN has been a mediocre network with speeds that are really nothing to brag about, and customers are not pleased.

customers complaint

Customers complain about the NBN faults and connection delays. Source.

Add to that the fact that telcos are fed up with the government’s wholesale system. See, the NBN itself isn’t selling you anything – instead, it sells to telcos who then sell to you. This wholesale system gives the government some sort of monopoly over the wired network, and they pretty much control price and speed tiers.

Recently, telcos have complained about this, claiming there isn’t enough room for profit. As a result, speculations about 5G being a solid alternative to the NBN have been echoing over the past couple of years, in the sense of a 5G home broadband setup.

The idea goes like this: 5G promises blazing fast speeds that should dwarf the NBN, and its a wireless network which means there won’t be a bunch of huge installation fees. In fact, Optus is currently basing its 5G strategy on this fixed home wireless broadband idea.

But if that’s all the basis of the argument is, then 4G presents the same benefits over the NBN that 5G does, and 4G is already available.

Benefits of 4G mobile broadband over the NBN

4G mobile broadband presents the same advantages over the NBN as 5G does on the following two fronts:

  • Speed:
    Depending on your network provider, your location or coverage area, and your device, your 4G speeds could be faster than the NBN. While average Australian 4G speeds are between 20Mbps to 100Mbps, peak 5G speeds are 100Mbps to 300Mbps. Compare this to the NBN, which averages 22.7Mbps to 85.6Mbps, and peaks at 100Mbps, all depending on your plan’s speed tier.


4G, 5G, and NBN peak speed comparisons. Source.

  • Wireless setup:
    4G Mobile Broadband requires some WiFi hardware that you can setup by yourself without having to wait for some pricey technician that racks up installation costs. All 4G requires is that you insert a SIM card into a mobile broadband device. Compare that to the NBN, which is a wired network that actually has to be installed by a technician.

While 5G promises much faster speeds than 4G, 4G speeds are, at the very least, comparable to the NBN. In many cases, you’ll probably get even faster speeds than the NBN, and it’ll cost you less.

The price advantage of 4G mobile networks over the NBN and 5G

We’ve seen a significant drop in the price of mobile data in recent years. Also, with a wide range of major telcos and MVNOs selling 4G data plans, there is also a variety of data packages available for everyone.

NBN plans are sold based on speed tiers and data caps. There are four speed tiers ranging from around $50 to $90. 4G, on the other hand, gives you a broader price range – you can even find data plans for as low as $15.

While telcos want you to get excited about 5G and its promised high speeds, you should also expect the technology to come at higher costs than current 4G plans. For instance, Telstra is currently offering their 5G network at no additional cost, but have informed customers that this will only last until June of this year, when 5G access will require an additional $15.

Thus, comparing the three networks – 4G, NBN, and 5G – a 4G mobile network will give a wider price range that will generally be the cheapest.

While 4G presents cost advantages over the NBN, the network doesn’t win in every aspect – but the NBN advantages are not enough

Yes, 4G mobile broadband has a wide price range that’s quite cheap compared to the NBN, but the NBN wins in data caps and actually spells out the speeds you should expect.

  • Data caps:
    Your NBN package could range anywhere from 10GB per month to unlimited. Even those data capped plans will hardly ever cut you off when you hit your data limit; instead, they might throttle your data. 4G mobile broadband, on the other hand, doesn’t really offer you unlimited plans. Yes, telcos like Telstra and Vodafone now offer plans that throttle your speeds when you exhaust your plan data (to a very slow 1.5Mbps), but this is a loss compared to the NBN.
  • Speed tiers tell you what to expect:
    While 4G mobile broadband can be faster than NBN connections, this varies significantly. Your 4G speeds depend heavily on your telco, their coverage, your location, and your device. So while some 4G peak speeds might be 100Mbps to 300Mbps, you might be experiencing peak speeds of just 30Mbps, for instance. Your NBN plan, on the other hand, actually tells you the speeds to expect so that you aren’t really at the mercy of those 4G factors.

But even with these highlighted NBN advantages, nothing about the service is really certain. Customers have complained about ridiculously slow speeds, and have been ditching the NBN for 4G mobile broadband solutions.

A recent survey of NBN customers showed that 22 percent of them claim their previous cable networks were faster than their current NBN, and 34 percent of them would like to switch back to their pre-NBN connections or get a mobile broadband plan.

The verdict

So what’s the verdict? I’m sure you already guessed it – you’re better off with a 4G mobile broadband, despite the highlighted NBN advantages. It all boils down to speeds and costs, and 4G wins in those categories if you go with the right telco and plan.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.