What is 5G? Australia’s 5G network explained


5G in Australia: key points

  • 5G is a next-generation mobile technology that offers faster-than-ever speeds for mobile phones, tablets, and more.
  • Telstra, Vodafone and Optus have switched on 5G in limited areas, and are currently expanding their 5G networks across Australia. 
  • In order to access 5G, you’ll need a 5G-capable smartphone or device, with 5G smartphones available from Apple, Samsung, OPPO, Google, Motorola, Nokia and more.
  • Generally, 5G phone plans are likely to be on par with existing plan prices; however, Telstra is currently only including 5G access on selected postpaid and prepaid mobile and mobile broadband plans.
  •  Optus and Vodafone customers can pick up 5G-capable phones on each telco’s standard postpaid plans, with no extra charge for 5G access.
  • 5G internet plans are now available from a range of major telcos, including Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, TPG, iiNet, and Internode. 
  • 5G could be a NBN alternative for some users, but is unlikely to replace other broadband plans and options.

Infographic with points on 5G network in Australia


Fact Checked Fact Checked

2021 continues to be the year of 5G in Australia (and around the world). The next-generation mobile technology promises fast data speeds, more reliable connections, and a brave new world of ‘inter-connectedness’ that has been dubbed ‘Everything on Mobile’. Since the first Australian 5G network went live in 2019, coverage has steadily rolled out in major cities, with millions of Aussies now able to access 5G at work and home.

With so much talk in the tech world of how 5G will change the mobile and internet game, you’re probably wondering when exactly you’ll be able to start using 5G networks. Now that 5G is rolling out to more areas in Australia, we’ve got the answers to your most pressing 5G questions, including when you’ll get it, how to get it, and why you’ll want it.

Need a good 5G phone plan?

The following table shows a range of 24-month plans for the 128GB iPhone 13 as published on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our phone plan comparison tool to compare plans from a range of providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

The following table shows a range of 24-month plans for the 128GB iPhone 13 Pro as published on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our phone plan comparison tool to compare plans from a range of providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

What is 5G?

5G is the next step up from 4G mobile – a new set of specifications for networks that will lead to faster speeds and the ability to transmit even more data. Estimated potential 5G speeds could be anything from four to 20 gigabits per second — at least in theory — and 5G is expected to offer about 10 times the bandwidth of existing 4G networks.

4G vs 5G

If you’re comparing 4G vs 5G, 5G is the clear winner in terms of performance, capability and longevity. The next-generation tech offers faster speeds, quicker response times, and wider bandwidth, and will allow more people to connect at once.

Compared to 4G, 5G is up to 20 times faster, and is great for activities such as AI, virtual reality, tele-medicine, and tele-learning. 5G opens up new possibilities for how we use connected devices, but the Australian 5G rollout also offers benefits for national 4G coverage, thanks to the improvements to existing network infrastructure.

The Australian 5G rollout will include upgrades to existing towers and cell sites, as well as the launch of new 5G equipment in some areas. 5G will be offered on both the same mid-range frequencies as existing 4G service, as well as higher frequencies for ultra-fast millimetre wave technology where available.

When can I get 5G in Australia?

Launching 5G isn’t as simple as flicking a switch – it involves building new infrastructure, upgrading existing mobile stations, and adapting existing engineering and signal processing techniques. It’s an expensive and time-consuming venture, but will pay off by providing a stronger, faster mobile network to Australians across the country.

After months of waiting, 5G is available to consumers in Australia, but only in selected areas. Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and SpinTel customers can each access both 5G mobile and 5G internet, with 5G home broadband also available from TPG, iiNet and Internode. What’s accessible to you will depend on your location, but if you’re in a major city or metro area, you’re likely to be covered by at least one of the three burgeoning Australian 5G networks.

Telstra’s 5G network

Telstra is continually rolling out 5G mobile base stations across the country. Coverage is now available in select parts of towns and cities, with most sites operating in CBD areas and airports during the initial rollout. As of November 2021, Telstra says 75% of the Australian population is covered by its 5G network.

Telstra has achieved a number of world-firsts in the 5G arena – including launching 5G enabled hotspots – and has hashed out exclusive Australian partnerships with 5G device manufacturers, including Samsung, LG, and OPPO, to be the first telco to offer these devices.

Currently, the telco offers 5G mobile broadband, 5G home internet and 5G phone plans to customers with eligible devices. Telstra 5G network access is included on Telstra’s Medium and Large mobile broadband plans only, and on Medium, Large and Extra Large Upfront mobile plans that can be paired with a smartphone.

Vodafone’s 5G network

Vodafone hasn’t been quite as open with its build and rollout as Telstra and Optus, but its 5G network has finally gone live in ten major cities and regions. The company originally switched on 5G sites in and around the Sydney suburb of Parramatta, with a nationwide rollout currently underway.

Like Optus and Telstra, Vodafone has spent hundreds of millions on 5G spectrum in preparation for its network launch. The telco now offers both 5G mobile coverage across postpaid phone plans, as well as newly-launched unlimited 5G home internet to eligible customers. 

The finalisation of the Vodafone/TPG merger will also boost Vodafone’s efforts to be a serious third player in the Australian 5G space. Several years back, TPG abandoned plans to build its own 4G network, as a ban on infrastructure partner Huawei in Australia has created a huge roadblock to an eventual upgrade to 5G. Without the option of moving to 5G in the near future, TPG decided that launching its own network was no longer commercially viable; instead, it’s now officially merged with Vodafone to create TPG Telecom.

Optus’ 5G network

Optus has also begun to send its 5G sites live across the country, and launched the first Australian 5G home broadband plan – although customers can’t access it without a compatible Optus device, the Nokia FastMile 5G modem. After previously only offering this plan to customers in selected areas – and even then, on an invite-only basis – Optus has now made its 5G home broadband commercially available to all Australians who are covered by the new 5G network.

The $79 5G Internet Everyday plan includes unlimited monthly data capped at speeds of 100Mbps, and is available on a month-to-month basis. For unrestricted 5G speeds, customers can upgrade to the 5G Internet Entertainer Superfast plan, which is priced at $99 per month and includes a standard Netflix subscription, plus Optus Sport and OS Fitness.

With the Optus 5G mobile network rolling out across the country, the telco is also stocking a range of 5G-capable smartphones, including the Apple iPhone 13 5G phones and the Samsung Galaxy S22, S22+ and S22 Ultra 5G phones. All phones are available on 12, 24 and 36-month payment plans to bundle with a postpaid plan.

5G phones and devices

Despite the number of 5G sites now live in Australia, you won’t be able to access these networks without a 5G phone. Your existing smartphone, tablet, or broadband device isn’t able to support the frequencies that 5G will run on, so you will eventually need to upgrade to a compatible handset.

Luckily, 5G smartphones are already in stores, with more and more devices being released. As of late 2021, the majority of high-end, and a good chunk of mid-range and cheap phones, are now 5G-ready; you can find 5G handsets from just about every brand, including Samsung, OPPO, Motorola, Google, Nokia, Vivo, Huawei and of course Apple. 

Outside of smartphones, companies such as Nokia and HTC have been working with Aussie telcos to launch 5G-enabled home broadband devices. Providers such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and TPG each include 5G-capable modems and hotspots on their respective 5G home internet and mobile broadband plans.

5G internet

5G internet can be divided into two categories: 5G home internet (also known as home wireless or home broadband), and 5G mobile broadband. Both types use 5G networks to connect you to the internet, but are designed for different types of use: mobile broadband is a portable option that’s great for tablets or use away from home, while home internet is marketed as a replacement for fixed home broadband such as an NBN plan.

Telstra and Optus are the only Aussie telcos so far to offer 5G service on mobile broadband plans, and even then only on each telco’s respective Large and Extra Large options. You’ll need to pair your plan with a 5G-ready device, such as Telstra’s 5G WiFi Pro hotspot, to access the network.

As of late 2021, several of Australia’s biggest telcos now offer 5G home internet plans to residential customers. You can pick up unlimited data 5G home broadband plans from Optus, Vodafone, TPG, iiNet, Internode, and SpinTel, or opt for one terabyte of monthly data from Telstra.

While Telstra offers a single 5G home internet plan, priced at $85 monthly for unrestricted speeds, the other telcos listed above give customers the choice of a cheaper plan (limited to 100Mbps), or a more expensive option with no speed caps. Prices range from about $70 per month up to $99, so depending on your speed preference, you may pay around the same or slightly more than for an NBN 100 plan.

Compare 5G internet plans

The following table shows selected published 5G home internet plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
TPG Logo

5G Home Broadband Max

  • $74.99 per month for existing TPG customers
  • No speed restrictions
  • $0 setup fee with no lock-in contract
  • $0 modem when you stay connected for 36 months
  • Special offer: First month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $79.99 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $79.99Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
iiNet Logo

Home Broadband Max

  • No speed caps
  • $0 set up fees and no lock-in contract
  • $0 5G modem
  • Special offer: one month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $84.99 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $84.99Advertised Data^^/billing period Go to Site
Internode

Home Broadband Max

  • No speed caps
  • $0 set up fees and no lock-in contract
  • $0 5G modem
  • Special offer: one month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $84.99 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $84.99Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
Vodafone Logo

Ultimate 5G Home Broadband

  • $80 per month for existing Vodafone customers
  • No speed restrictions
  • $0 setup fee with no lock-in contract
  • $0 modem when you stay connected for 36 months
  • Special offer: First month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $85 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $85Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
Telstra Logo

5g Home Internet

  • 5G speeds
  • Speeds capped at 25Mbps after 1TB allowance exceeded
  • Includes Telstra 5G Home Modem ($0 when you stay connected for 24 months)
  • Special offer: first month free for new customers. Terms apply.
  • Special offer: 3 months free BINGE standard. Terms apply.

min. cost $85 over one month

1TBMax Data**/billing period $85Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
Spintel Logo

SpinTel 5G Unlimited

  • No speed cap
  • Nokia 5G modem included
  • Special offer: $80 per month for first 6 months, then $90 per month ongoing. Terms apply.

min. cost $90 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $90Advertised Cost^^/billing period Link to provider unavailable
Optus Logo

Optus 5G Internet Entertainer Superfast

  • No speed cap
  • 50Mbps satisfaction guarantee
  • Includes the Optus supplied Nokia FastMile 5G Gateway Modem ($576 modem cost)
  • Stay connected for 36 months and pay $0 for the modem
  • Includes standard Netflix subscription via SubHub
  • Special offer: $0 Start-up fee + 1 Month free
  • Intro offer: $89/mth for first 6 mths, then $99/mth T&Cs Apply

min. cost $675 over first month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $99Advertised Cost^^/billing period Link to provider unavailable
View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue

The following table shows selected published 5G home internet plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Spintel Logo

SpinTel 5G Unlimited

  • Up to 100Mbps speeds
  • Nokia 5G modem included

min. cost $69 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $69Advertised Cost^^/billing period
TPG Logo

5G Home Broadband Premium

  • $64.99 per month for existing TPG customers
  • Up to 100Mbps speeds
  • $0 setup fee with no lock-in contract
  • $0 modem when you stay connected for 36 months
  • Special offer: First month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $69.99 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $69.99Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
iiNet Logo

Home Broadband Premium

  • Up to 100Mbps speeds
  • $0 set up fees and no lock-in contract
  • $0 5G modem
  • Special offer: one month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $74.99 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $74.99Advertised Data^^/billing period Go to Site
Internode

Home Broadband Premium

  • Up to 100Mbps speeds
  • $0 set up fees and no lock-in contract
  • $0 5G modem
  • Special offer: one month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $74.99 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $74.99Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
Vodafone Logo

Premium 5G Home Broadband

  • $70 per month for existing Vodafone customers
  • Up to 100Mbps speeds
  • $0 setup fee with no lock-in contract
  • $0 modem when you stay connected for 36 months
  • Special offer: First month plan fees free. Terms apply.

min. cost $75 over one month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $75Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go to Site
Optus Logo

Optus 5G Internet Everyday

  • Speed capped at 100Mbps
  • 50Mbps satisfaction guarantee
  • Includes the Optus supplied Nokia FastMile 5G Gateway Modem ($576 modem cost)
  • Stay connected for 36 months and pay $0 for the modem
  • Special offer: $0 Start-up fee + 1 Month free

min. cost $655 over first month

UnlimitedMax Data**/billing period $79Advertised Cost^^/billing period Link to provider unavailable
View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue

5G vs NBN

While there’s already been plenty of speculation regarding a 5G vs. NBN showdown, it’s unlikely that wireless 5G networks will replace fixed broadband connections – at least not within the next decade. There’s no doubt that 5G promises impressive speeds (and may be significantly faster than existing premium NBN 100 plans), but it’s likely to be several years before reliable coverage is available all across Australia.

Gigabit-speed NBN is now accessible to residential customers, but only if you have an eligible Fibre to the Premises or Hybrid Fibre Coaxial connection. NBN Co is in the process of upgrading thousands of customers to faster connections, but even so, not everyone will have access to speeds faster than 100Mbps, nor will they be able to afford the $100+ per month that these plans typically cost.

In comparison, 5G home internet is fast and comparatively affordable, but still not as widely available. It’s also still in the early stages, and will require huge investments in infrastructure and backhaul to become a truly viable NBN alternative.

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and TPG have each launched competing 5G internet plans, with all but Telstra offering both unrestricted speeds and a cheaper option capped at 100Mbps. Price-wise, these plans are comparable to NBN 50 – NBN 100, beginning at around the $70 per month mark and going up to around $100. So depending on your current NBN provider, you may be able to access faster speeds for a lower cost by switching to a 5G  internet plan. 

The downside is that, so far, 5G coverage is still severely lacking when compared to NBN availability, and again requires Australian telcos to invest heavily in order to reach the same coverage levels as existing 3G and 4G networks.

In general, 5G is likely to complement the NBN, rather than replace it. When it comes to high-bandwidth, data-intensive online activity, the NBN’s fixed-line connections will still be the go-to broadband option for the majority of Australians.

Frequently asked questions

As of November 2021, the cheapest 5G phone plan is Vodafone’s $40 Lite plan, which includes 10GB of full-speed data each month. This plan also offers unlimited talk and text, plus unlimited, 2Mbps speed-capped data once your fast gigabytes run out. Keep an eye out for bonus fast data and discounts at sign-up.

If you’re looking for unlimited 5G internet, your cheapest option is SpinTel’s $69 Unlimited plan, but your speeds will be limited to 100Mbps or less. For 5G internet with no speed caps and unlimited data, prices begin at $79.99 per month from TPG.

While it’s hard to say which plan is the ‘fastest’, given that speeds will vary due to a variety of factors, we can look at the typical speeds cited by each 5G provider.

In terms of 5G home internet, Telstra cites a typical download speed range of between 50-600Mbps, with an average of 378Mbps. Optus lists an average busy hour download speed of 210Mbps, and 5G internet on the Vodafone network can reach speeds up to 400Mbps, although an average figure hasn’t been disclosed. 

However, many providers – including Optus, TPG, Vodafone, iiNet, and Internode – offer both unrestricted maximum speed 5G internet, and cheaper plans which are capped at speeds of 100Mbps. If fast speeds are your reason for switching to a 5G phone or internet plan, be sure to check the fine print to see if a typical speed is listed, and to make sure there’s no speed caps in place.

As of late 2021, the big three telcos aren’t requiring customers to pay extra for 5G access across phone plans. However, Telstra customers should be aware that the provider’s smallest postpaid plan is restricted to 4G-only, so you’ll need to sign on for a Medium plan or higher to use Telstra 5G.

Prices for phone plans begin at around $40 per month, but this does come with a data limit of about 10GB. Currently, the only telco to offer unlimited phone data with 5G access is Vodafone, who prices its Ultra+ unlimited data plan at $85 with no speed limits.

In terms of home internet, current prices are competitive: you can sign on for unlimited 5G data from Optus, Vodafone, SpinTel, iiNet, Internode or TPG from around $70 per month. However, this pricing generally restricts your speeds to 100Mbps; if you want uncapped 5G speeds, you’re looking at around $80 per month and up.

This does put 5G on par with unlimited data NBN 50 and NBN 100 in terms of pricing, but you do potentially get much faster speeds. If 5G internet is available at your address, it may be something to consider if you want a fast NBN alternative, but be aware that you’ll also need a 5G-ready modem.

Telstra now also offers high-speed 5G home internet, but with data capped at one terabyte per month. This plan is priced at $85 per month, making it significantly cheaper than most of Telstra’s NBN plans.

If you’re living in a major metro area or larger city, there’s a good chance Telstra will activate 5G in your area at some point. For up-to-date info on 5G coverage in your area, check the Telstra website.

Optus is rolling out 5G across capital cities and populated areas, but it’s hard to say when exactly your suburb will be covered by the network. You can check  5G coverage at your address via the Optus website.

Vodafone is the last of the big three networks to launch 5G, but like Telstra and Optus, is aiming to cover major metro areas nation-wide. More details on coverage at your address can be found on Vodafone’s website.

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