5G Australia: Everything you need to know

Vodafone has offered an update on its 5G rollout in Australia.

5G mobile and home
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5G mobile and home
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    5G modems
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5G mobile
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Brodie Fogg
Editorial Lead
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Published on August 06, 2021
12 min read

Remember the first iPhone? The landmark evolution in smartphone manufacturing reshaped how we use our handsets. It could take photos, it could play music and it could access the world wide web *wow*. It was a huge step forward but if you took a step back in time and attempted half the tasks we perform on our current smartphones, you'd find it painfully difficult if not impossible. It wasn't until the iPhone 3G released that things started to resemble what we expect from a smartphone these days. The iPhone 3G was a powerful phone for its time but the real key to the future was in its 3G network capabilities. Then things took another huge leap forward in 2012 with the iPhone 5, a handset capable of delivering blistering 4G/LTE speeds up to 100Mbps (the theoretical max). As our smartphones evolve so do our data-usage habits. What was more than enough yesterday begins to reach its limit the next as we multiply the number of connected devices and more bandwidth-intensive tasks we use (like video calls and online gaming). So the hardware and the wireless technologies that power them are continually evolving to support those changes. 5G is the next step in this evolution, and it's coming to a mobile tower near you.

If you're wondering what the network tower upgrade means for you, we've rounded up everything you need to know about 5G in Australia below.

5G coverage maps compared

Before we explore the finer details of the 5G upgrade, let's see if you have 5G coverage already. To use the 5G coverage map below, click the big orange button, select your desired network provider from the dropdown (e.g. Telstra, Optus or Vodafone).

To find out if you have 5G coverage in your area, use the (+) and (-) icons in the top-left corner of the map to navigate to your area. For example, if you want to search for 5G broadband coverage in Sydney, zoom right in and drag the map with your cursor to zero in on your address.

What is 5G?

5G (Fifth Generation) is the latest in wireless communication technology for mobile data networks. In Australia, we're still in the early stages of the 5G rollout, but its speed and latency benefits are unquestionable. As each providers' 5G network grows, we'll see more and more applications for 5G across Australia. Futuristic technologies, like smart driving cars and networked agriculture solutions, are being used to sell the big picture of 5G. For most of us, the immediate benefit will mean faster download speeds and better ping on our mobile devices.

For the everyday user, 5G will slowly become the new norm, and when it comes to mobile coverage. You won’t have to give it much thought once the rollout is complete (outside of upgrading to a 5G handset).

The biggest question you’re likely to face when the 5G rollout is complete is whether you are better off on NBN or 5G Home Internet.

How fast is 5G in Australia?

With potential speeds of 20Gbps, 5G is eyed as not only a nifty upgrade for smartphone users but also a fixed-line internet replacement for people who can’t access reliable NBN.  People like farmers using IoT (Internet of Things) devices to automate parts of their workload.

20Gbps is the theoretical maximum of mmWave 5G, a technology not yet available in Australia (more on that in a moment).  Still, Telstra expects its customers to average between 50 and 300Mbps on 5G. On the other hand, Optus advertises typical evening speeds of 214Mbps on its 5G network and backs it up with a 50Mbps speed guarantee. It’s a far cry from the 20Gbps promised land, but still, a decent estimate compared to Australia’s current mobile network speeds.

The global network monitoring organisation Opensignal recently published a 2021 speed test report that found the Australian 5G users it sampled experienced download speeds of 210Mbps on average (between the 1st of January and 31st of March). Australian internet users on all technologies experienced an average of 41.3Mbps across the same period. That's roughly five times as fast for the 5G users Opensignal sampled. Of the three providers, Telstra came out on top in Opensignal's report with average 5G speeds of 253.8Mbps across that period.

5G vs 4G: How much faster is 5G?

The promise of faster mobile download speeds has been the biggest selling point for 5G in Australia but there are more benefits to consider to when comparing 5G and 4G network technologies. Here are the four major differences between the two network technologies:

  1. 5G is roughly five times faster than 4G
  2. 5G has a lower (better) latency than 4G
  3. 5G struggles with indoor coverage

Even this early on in the 5G rollout, the next-generation mobile network has provided much faster speeds on average than the existing 4G network. To illustrate how much faster that is exactly, we used flight durations to demonstrate how much time you could theoretically save on 5G.

For a deeper comparison of the two network technologies and a further breakdown of real-world speed improvements, head over to our 5G vs 4G guide.

5G frequency in Australia

If you didn't know about millimetre wave (mmWave) 5G before the iPhone 12 buzz, you probably do now. See, there are three different types of 5G technology: low-band 5G, mid-band sub 6 5G, and mmWave 5G.

Only iPhone 12 models sold in the U.S. are compatible with mmWave 5G, which caused a bit of fuss after the iPhone 12 reveal. That's because mmWave 5G has the highest theoretical download speed out of the three at 20Gbps. The rest of the world felt like they drew the short straw. The thing is, we don't have mmWave 5G in Australia yet. Every current Australian 5G network uses sub 6 5G, though Vodafone is retooling some its 4G infrastructure to offer low-band 5G.

Telcos began bidding on access to mmWave 5G at the beginning of 2021 and in April of the same year, all three networks purchased their share of the 26Ghz (mmWave) spectrum.  Sub 6 5G is still what most Ausrtralians currently have access to but faster mmWave 5G might not be as far off as we initially anticipated, at least for some areas.

Sub 6 5G is a good middle-ground for now. mmWave frequencies are much faster but don't travel as far and have trouble penetrating walls. Low-band frequencies offer slower download speeds, but are much more efficient for indoor coverage. The sub 6 3.5GHz spectrum used by our telcos is still capable of 1Gbps download speeds and is better at penetrating walls than mmWave, so it's a more reliable choice for 5G home broadband solutions.

Combined, we should see a 5G solution that's fit for faster speeds indoors and outdoors as the network evolves.

5G latency and bandwidth

5G also offers lower (better) latency than 5G.

Latency is the Round Trip Time (RTT) of your internet connection, the time it takes to send data from your device to the network and back again. The call and response time of every action you perform on the internet. Low latency is most commonly seen as a benefit for online gaming, where a millisecond’s delay can make all the difference. But 5G’s super-low 1ms latency will have benefits for future technologies, like self-driving cars, where a millisecond variance could pose a real risk.

Lastly, there's the number of connected devices a 5G connection can handle. 5G will be able to manage more devices simultaneously than 4G is currently able to. That might not mean much if you’re on a super-fast NBN plan at the moment, with two to three people connected at once. But larger households, and those who can't get NBN, should look forward to better bandwidth on 5G.

When is 5G coming to Australia?

Global adoption of 5G wireless technology kicked off in 2019. Here in Australia Telstra and Optus have all made significant progress on rolling out their 5G networks across the country.

In June 2021, Telstra reported its 5G network had reached 75% of Australian homes. That's with coverage live in over 2,7000 suburbs and over 200 cities and towns. Telstra also claimed there over 1.5 million 5G devices operating on its network.

Vodafone has begun to pick up the pace too with over 80 live sites across the country and a plan to cover 85% of Australia's most populated cities by the end of 2021. At the time of this update, most of Vodafone's 5G coverage is in Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas, but there are a few sites live in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and ACT. Still no word on when the Northern Territory might expect Vodafone 5G.

Telstra 5G network

The big blue has always been the coverage king in Australia but when it comes to its 5G rollout, Optus is giving it a real run for its money. Telstra doesn’t offer dedicated 5G Home Broadband plans but it does offer the Telstra 5G WiFi Pro as an add-on for its mobile broadband plans.

The Telstra 5G WiFi Pro (one of our top pocket WiFi picks) is a portable powerhouse that can support up to 30 simultaneous connections at once with an all-day battery life (when it’s not plugged in at home).

On a 24-month contract, the Telstra 5G WiFi Pro will cost you an additional $24.95 per month (on top of your chosen plan cost) or $599 outright.

Telstra 5G coverage

At the time of writing, Telstra is the only 5G option available in Tasmania with live 5G towers in Launceston and Hobart and its Australia-wide 5G coverage is powering ahead at an impressive pace.

Find your area using the interactive map below to find out whether you have sufficient 5G coverage.

Telstra 5G phones

Telstra has all the usual suspects in its gallery of 5G perps. The Apple iPhone 12 is a popular choice, as is Samsung's updated S20 FE, but Telstra also offers Google's 5G Pixel and a range of 5G Oppo handsets too.

Here are a handful of popular 5G smartphones offered by Telstra.

Vodafone 5G network

As of January 2020, Vodafone has launched 5G in over 80 locations across Australia. Most of the coverage is concentrated in New South Wales and Victoria's metropolitan areas, but there are a few sites live in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, and a single live site in ACT.

Vodafone has updated its mission statement with a goal to cover 85% of the population in "the six most populous cities" (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra) by the end of 2021. You can check Vodafone 5G coverage here.

Vodafone 5G coverage map

There's now enough data to power our Vodafone coverage map but you've got to zoom quite far in to see any results (which is indicative of Vodafone's smaller rollout efforts). Use the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons on the map below to zero in your area.

Vodafone 5G phones

Despite having the most under-developed 5G network out of the big three telcos, Vodafone offers the broadest range of 5G smartphones at the time of writing. There are the usual popular picks, such as iPhone 12, Galaxy S20, and Pixel 5, but Vodafone also carries the LG Velvet 5G, and the Moto G 5G Plus.

Optus 5G network

Optus kicked off its 5G rollout in 2019 with a goal to reach 1,200 5G sites by March 2020. It began selling its 5G Home Broadband plans in November 2019, which 5G-ready customers can sign up to now, so long as Optus believes there’s at least a 95% chance you will receive sufficient 5G coverage in your home. If you sign up and find there isn’t sufficient coverage, you’re free to cancel at any time.

The Optus 5G Home Broadband plan will cost you $70 per month with no start-up fee on a 24-month contract or a $200 start-up fee on a month-to-month deal. It gets you unlimited data, a 50Mbps speed guarantee, and a Nokia 5G Modem.

As of October 2020, Optus opened 5G access to its MVNOs, with Spintel first off the ranks to offer 5G plans. Here are the most popular Optus and Spintel plans with 5G access.

Optus 5G coverage map

Over on the Optus website, you can see that there are live 5G towers in every state bar Tasmania; NSW, VIC, WA, ACT, QLD, SA all have some measure of coverage in densely populated areas. Pockets of coverage span most of Sydney, as well as a few live sites in Newcastle, Central Coast and Port Stephens in NSW alone.

Use the interactive map below to find out whether your area has Optus 5G.

Optus 5G phones

Optus already has a decent selection with the most recognisable brands; Samsung, Apple, and Google are all here, as are a handful of Oppo's 5G-friendly handsets. Here's a shortlist of the most popular 5G phones sold through Optus.

What is 5G Home Internet?

5G Home Internet (or 5G WiFi) is a product currently available through Optus. As mentioned above, it's intended to replace your fixed-line broadband connection with a 5G modem that connects to the next-generation mobile network.

It's still early days in the 5G rollout, and even those that are eligible might not get a strong enough signal to replace their reliable fixed-line plan completely. But Optus has promised a 50Mbps speed guarantee and won't service your address unless there's a 95% chance you will receive sufficient speeds. If you don't, you're free to cancel at any time so there's not a lot of risk involved in being an early adopter.

Optus also has the super handy Optus @Home app, which gives you live speed and stability diagnostics, even when you're not at home. But the most helpful thing for new 5G Home customers is the app's setup assistance. Once you set your modem up, the Optus @Home app will act as a compass, pointing you towards the closest 5G tower so you can position your Nokia 5G modem in the prime position for receiving a signal.

Telstra is also promises at least 50Mbps for typical evening (7pm to 11pm) download speeds on 5G, and offers an expected maximum speed of 300Mbps. Unlike Optus, Telstra's 5G internet solution is the portable Telstra 5G WiFi Pro. Where Optus' 5G Home Internet modem is intended to live indoors, Telstra's solution is more like a traditional WiFi hotspot.

The Telstra 5G WiFi Pro can be bundled with any mobile broadband plan below or purchased outright. Here's a small selection of Telstra's most popular data plans for 5G.

5G Phones Australia

While 5G Home Internet is still in its infancy, 5G smartphones have been available for some time now.

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and Woolworths Mobile all offer a selection of 5G smartphones; from Apple's first 5G smartphone, to Google's own fifth-generation handset, we're spoiled for choice.

If you are thinking of upgrading to a 5G smartphone, it comes with the proviso that you might not fully reap the benefits of 5G for some time still. If you're the type that hangs on to their handset for three to four years, there's nothing wrong with future-proofing your smartphone now. Here's a small selection of the most popular 5G smartphones available in Australia.

5G modems

In Australia, there are two primary 5G modem options available. More will become available as 5G continues to rollout, but in the meantime, you've got Telstra's 5G WiFi Pro and the Optus Nokia 5G Home modem. Here's a little more information on each modem.

Nokia 5G Home from Optus

The Nokia 5G Home modem from Optus has a sharp, cylindrical design. It's not as small as the Telstra 5G WiFi Pro below, but it's also far more compact than your typical antenna-heavy NBN modem. It has an easy-to-read signal indicator that lets you know when your connection is struggling (which the handy-dandy Optus @Home app might remedy).

The Nokia 5G Modem from Optus comes included with the telco's $70 5G Home Plan.

Telstra 5G WiFi Pro

Telstra 5G

The Telstra 5G WiFi Pro offers 30 simultaneous WiFi connections, support for WiFi 6, and an ethernet port for wired gigabit speeds. The 4,500mAh battery lasts up to 9 hours, and weighs in at a light 200g. There are 4G WiFi devices with better battery if that’s a major consideration for you. Still, if you’re able to take advantage of super-fast 5G speeds, Telstra’s 5G WiFi Pro is one of the only portable solutions currently available on the market.

5G vs NBN

One of the biggest questions surrounding the 5G rollout is whether it's killing the bees. But the biggest and the most sensible question is whether 5G has got the grit to replace the NBN (National Broadband Network).

If we only consider speed, the answer would be yes. 5G is not only capable of speeds much faster than the NBN's highest speed tier but even its baseline 50Mbps is faster than half of the NBN plans on the market.

With speeds like that, why wouldn't it replace the NBN? Well, there are still a lot of unknowns at this stage. How stable will 5G Home WiFi be? Will coverage be comprehensive enough for you to rely on 5G Home as a fixed-line replacement? Also, how much will telcos charge for the privilege?

Optus was the first to show its hand, with a reasonable $70 per month 5G Home plan. But Telstra and Vodafone are yet to announce their plans for 5G Home and that monthly $70 fee for early Optus adopters could swing either way as demand grows and competitors enter the mix.

Lastly, we have no idea what the MVNO market will look like. Boost Mobile founder Peter Adderton didn't seem too thrilled by the immediate impact of 5G when he discussed the next-gen network in February 2020, claiming that Boost would only offer 5G "when it makes a difference to [their] customers."

Optus was the first network to include MVNOs in its 5G rollout strategy after signing a new 5-year deal with Vocus (iPrimus and Dodo) that includes access to the Optus 5G network. Access will be limited, however, with Optus planning to offer "wholesale access" to MVNOs, limiting the coverage MVNOs can access, so Optus' 5G network remains the premium option. This is similar to how Telstra currently operates with its mobile MVNOS on the 4G network.

At the time of last update, there were only two MVNOs that offered 5G access: Spintel and Aussie Broadband.

Now that you're clued up with 5G, see your options in Australia.

Take a look at the best mobile plans this month.

Or the best NBN plans for a Home WiFi solution.

Brodie Fogg
Written by
Brodie Fogg
Brodie Fogg is the Australian editorial lead at Reviews.org. He has covered consumer tech, telecommunications, video games, streaming and entertainment for over five years at websites like WhistleOut and Finder and can be found sharing streaming recommendations at 7NEWS every month.

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