Mobile Broadband Alternatives to NBN – A Full Breakdown

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(Please be aware that the performance and cost of these services change frequently)

As internet services become a more essential and integrated part of our lives, the more we depend on a high speed connection to go about our day to day lives. For most, the NBN is supposed to be the answer to this, but it is fairly well documented that the rollout has been coming up short for many users, including for our own office. ADSL is reaching a point where it is the new Dial-Up, which for many households (especially those far from their local exchange or on poor quality copper) is a service which just can’t keep up with modern day demands. To serve as an example, our street was slated to receive NBN by June 2017. Today, the estimate has been pushed back to March 2020.

Thankfully, in that time, mobile broadband solutions have improved dramatically in both performance, cost and reliability, and are worthy of consideration if NBN is either too broken or too far away.  The range of new offerings from Optus and Telstra on their 4G network combined with an optimised 4G modem setup can result in much faster speeds and greater reliability at a lower price when compared to what is available on the NBN with many households.

There are few main mobile broadband plans of interest at the moment as a replacement for ADSL or NBN:

1. Optus – Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 4G 64GB + 200GB Data for $60 per month
2. Optus – 4G Plus WiFi Modem + 500GB Data for $80 per month
3. Telstra – iPhone XS Max 512GB + Unlimited Data for $199 per month

For most users, I recommend the Optus Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 deal over the others. The Telstra deal should only be considered if you plan to use more than 600GB of data per month (check your average data usage if you haven’t done so already) AND you live in an area with good Telstra 4G coverage (there are ways to get the cost down significantly, more details on this further down). The reason why I typically recommend the Optus Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 deal over the others is as follows:

Firstly, one of the main disadvantages of the 4G Plus WiFi Modem deal is that you are forced to use the modem provided by Optus, and can’t change this if you want more performance. This modem is not bad per se, but it is average in terms of performance and certainly less capable than cheaper alternatives that are available. There are also a few irritating restrictions within the management interface which are annoying for business users, but there are workarounds if needed. The only advantage to this deal is that it is the only one that offers a reasonable amount of data without locking you into a 24 month contract (at the downside of a reasonably high upfront modem cost).

As for the Telstra iPhone XS Max 512GB plan – yes, the data is unlimited, which is the only plan available of its kind, but it is EXPENSIVE. We offer a $1250 trade-in value for the iPhone XS Max 512GB, which brings the overall cost down to just under $150 per month, but this also has the downside that the SIM that comes with this plan can only be inserted into a smartphone, which becomes a bit of an issue if you don’t have great Telstra reception where you are.

Secondly, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 deal is actually excellent value for money for the simple fact that the tablet can be traded in for a considerable amount, and the SIM can be inserted into any device of choice. This is especially true if you do not need a large data cap each month and you can operate off a single subscription. We offer $550 as trade-in value for a new Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 64GB, which brings your total monthly cost of your service down to $37 per month over 24 months, with upfront revenue to cover future and initial setup costs. You can also stack multiple plans using the Optus data pooling feature – which means that for $72 per month you can have 400GB of data, and for $111 per month you can have 600GB of data.

If you were to go with one of these plans, you will need a 4G LTE modem to go with this setup. Before deciding on what sort of device to go with, it is recommended to perform some research as to what sort of reception you can achieve. A good start to this is to perform a search on the Optus coverage maps (select any modern device, eg. Samsung Galaxy S10):

If you find that your dwelling has solid purple (“Great” internet) around it, then it is pretty safe to say that you should be able to achieve fairly good connectivity with a simple setup. If your dwelling is closer to the fringe areas of coverage, you may need a more elaborate antenna setup to achieve good connectivity. Keep in mind that even if you are within a well supported coverage area, black spots still exist, and you will still need to experiment with positioning in your dwelling to get the best performance. I typically use to determine where the nearest tower is for optimal positioning of your equipment. Oztowers also discloses the frequencies available at these towers, which can be useful for choosing the right 4G modem.

As for choosing a device, an obvious choice would be to use something that you already have. In theory you could even use an old smartphone as a 4G modem / router, but it is worth mentioning that these do have some limitations:

1. Batteries in old devices do not like being charged 24/7 and are likely to fail over time, which causes dropouts and can be potentially dangerous if the battery swells from excessive heat during the warmer months (some Android devices have the ability to limit charge levels or run directly off USB, but they uncommon). This also applies to portable 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot units with batteries (eg. Huawei E5572 4G MiFi Router)
2. Wi-Fi Hotspot range on these are limited, and are only suitable in small dwellings. The Wi-Fi throughput may also be poor, which can limit your 4G speeds to your devices.
3. If you want to share it with a larger network, you can do this via USB tethering with a supported router, but you will need to re-connect the device manually every time there is an outage (eg. power cut)
4. Many units do not have the ability to connect an external antenna, which may result in impaired 4G performance, especially if 4G signal is not strong in your area.

That said, they can be a cost effective choice if you have simple needs, have decent reception in your area, and aren’t concerned with getting the maximum possible speeds. If you have any equipment already, let us know what the model number is and we can advise whether it is a good choice.

If you need some new equipment, we have a variety of options available. Please note that these packages only have basic Wi-Fi capabilities at best, and if you want advanced Wi-Fi performance within your premises we would suggest running these into a high performance Wi-Fi router (most existing ADSL and NBN modems can accept input from these 4G modem/router packages, but check with us first). Unlike many 4G Wi-Fi hotspot devices, all the devices we offer have the ability to connect via wired ethernet, making it ideal for connecting to your existing home or business network. It is also worth noting that the stated speeds that we list are typical speeds are based on our experience with setting up 4G with these hardware components, and the end result will be highly dependant on signal quality, nearby interference, tower congestion and even your internal network.

*** Package 1 – Basic 4G Setup – $98 ***

– Huawei E3372 USB 4G CAT4 modem – unlocked, running custom firmware (allows for band locking and bridge mode) – $59
– Nexx WT3020F 802.11n Wi-Fi USB modem router (running custom ROOter firmware for advanced feature set and connection monitoring) – $39

Signal strength: Low – only OK in good coverage areas
Typical speeds: typically around 10-30mbps download connected via Ethernet.

*** Package 2 – Standard 4G setup – $127 ***

– Huawei E3372 USB 4G CAT4 modem – unlocked, running custom firmware (allows for band locking and bridge mode for optimal performance) – $59
– Nexx WT3020 802.11n Wi-Fi USB modem router (running custom ROOter firmware for advanced feature set and connection monitoring) – $39
35dBi MIMO 3G / 4G LTE Mobile Broadband Antenna with suction cup mount and 2x TS9 connectors – $29

Signal strength: Good
Typical speeds: up to around 15-50mbps download connected via Ethernet

*** Package 3 – Advanced 4G Setup – $288 ***

– Netgear Nighthawk M1 CAT16 Gigabit Class LTE Modem Router (configured in bridge mode) – $259
– 35dBi MIMO 3G / 4G LTE Mobile Broadband Antenna with suction cup mount and 2x TS9 connectors – $29

Signal strength: Good
Typical speeds: up to around 30-100mbps download connected via Ethernet

*** Package 4 – Extreme 4G setup – ask for pricing ***

– Netgear Nighthawk M1 CAT16 Gigabit Class LTE Modem Router (configured in bridge mode) – $259
– Dual Pole Mountable Outdoor 28dbi Yagi Antennas – $125
– Outdoor Pole Mount – ask us
– Outdoor active cooled weatherproof IP66 rated storage box – $65
– Miscellaneous power and data cabling and fasteners – ask us

Signal strength: Excellent (Roof mounted)
Typical speeds: up to around 50-200mbps download connected via Ethernet

In addition to this, there will be some setup costs involved to setup and optimise the installation of your new equipment. Most installations are done in around half an hour or so ($50), but we may need to spend additional time to upgrade your network to accomodate for the new hardware. Whilst your existing Wi-Fi network may be OK for ADSL speeds, most basic Wi-Fi routers struggle to output more than 25mbps reliability across a household and you may require an upgrade in order to achieve the maximum speed of the network via a Wi-Fi connection. We usually review this on a case by case basis, but most networks can be upgraded with multiple high speed Wi-Fi network access points for under $300.

At this point you may be thinking that everything I’ve mentioned sounds great, but you are wondering what to do with your existing home phone. Luckily, this is a fairly straightforward ordeal. Whilst it is possible to cancel your ADSL and keep your existing landline connection, I recommend that most clients switch to a VOIP phone system. VOIP is an internet phone system that is a lot more cost effective and flexible than a standard landline, and has the ability for a multitude of additional functionality as well (eg. voice to email, smartphone apps, works anywhere with an internet connection, etc). There are a few options available for this:

1. Virtual number redirection – (via SIPTalk), typically $2-15 a month depending on usage

This the most basic VOIP plan available on the market. Rather than have an actual phone, your existing home or business phone number is ported to our preferred budget VOIP provider, SIPTalk, and you pay for each call to be redirected to a mobile phone. If you only ever receive infrequent calls on your home phone, this is the simplest setup available. That said, if you receive a lot of calls, this may become expensive as you pay for each redirected call. You will need to use your mobile phone for all outgoing calls.

2. Basic on-premises setup – (via SIPTalk), typically $5 to $10 a month depending on outgoing calls. Requires a simple smartphone-style home phone, which starts at $49. Connects to your existing network via Wi-Fi.

3. Advanced on-premises setup – (via SIPTalk or Faktortel) – typically anywhere from $5 a month to $50 a month depending on your needs. This is for business users – talk to us for details.

This should hopefully sum up everything you need to know for the meantime. If you have any other questions, please let us know and we’d be happy to answer them.