There are a lot of ways to get online in 2019. While the country’s national broadband system (nbn™) expands around Australia, a great many people are choosing that option for accessing the Internet. But there are still some other possibilities out there.

What about mobile broadband? Operating using different technologies, is it possible that mobile broadband is a viable alternative to using nbn™? Let’s take a closer look.

nbn™ and Mobile Broadband: How They Work

When looking to determine if mobile broadband could suit your needs, it’s best to understand how it works, and, specifically, how it differs from nbn™.

Mobile Broadband Basics

The key thing to know is that mobile broadband doesn't require a fixed physical connection. This is because it does not use the National Broadband Network or traditional copper wiring to connect to the Internet. Instead, mobile broadband utilises the same mobile networks that you use to get online with your mobile phone. These are the familiar 3G and 4G (and soon to be 5G) networks.

You need a network signal in order to get online using mobile broadband, but any enabled device you have can work on this connection.

Getting online requires a data-only SIM card, installed in a device that can connect to 4G, or can create a wireless hotspot. This could be your mobile phone or tablet, or a simple USB modem/dongle, but for those looking for more flexibility (who want to get online using a laptop as well as multiple other devices), a home wireless modem is generally the best way to go. The modem serves to create a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can easily connect all your devices to the Internet. It’s all still powered by the data networks.

nbn™ Basics

The nbn™ uses several different methods to connect Australian businesses and households to the Internet. The method your premises will use depends primarily on where you live. And typically, a combination of methods will be used. In totality, nbn™ incorporates fixed fibre optic cable, copper cable, fixed wireless broadband, and satellite.

For the vast majority of Australians, connecting to nbn™ will be done via a method known as FTTN or fibre to the node. While the name might sound intimidating, this connection is fairly straightforward. It essentially works by linking the existing copper wiring inside your home to fibre optic cable that is attached to a connection cabinet. The connection cabinet (or local node) is basically the hub of the connection and is connected via fibre optic cable to the nearest nbn™ point (an even larger hub). The result for you? Internet!

FTTN is the most common method of nbn™ connections, used in most urban and suburban areas. Yet there are lots of other methods that might apply, particularly if you’re in a rural region.You can learn about the other types of nbn™ connections here.

For those hooked up via nbn™, the system within your home is probably not going to differ much, if at all, from the way you’ve been getting online for the last several years.

So the basic difference between mobile broadband and nbn™ boils down to how your Internet connection is achieved. With mobile broadband, you’re using a 3G/4G/5G signal like you would on a mobile phone. With nbn™, you’re using a combination of fixed services (like fibre optic wiring) and satellite, and you’ll be enrolled in an Internet service package.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of these options.

Pros and cons of Mobile Broadband

If you live somewhere where you already have good 4G service for your mobile phone, chances are very high that mobile broadband would work well for you as an alternative to nbn™. Unfortunately, if you are in a region where you have trouble getting a reliable reception on your mobile phone, mobile broadband likely won't be the best solution for you.

The far-reaching presence of the 4G network can be one of the pros when it comes to choosing mobile broadband. You can connect easily in any of the places where the signal is solid, and with very little setup required. Power outage? Not a problem. Mobile broadband doesn’t require any kind of connection to the power grid (although your devices might).

Another of the pros for mobile broadband is its high level of speed capability. In areas of good coverage, it is not uncommon for 4G speeds to be substantially faster than most other methods of connection.This will ultimately depend on factors such as your hardware and your location, but on a 4G network in a capital city CBD, you could potentially see speeds that are faster than a FTTN nbn™ connection. Outside of the CBD, you might see speeds of 20 Mbps to 100 Mbps on 4G.

Flexibility is an advantage, too. Because nothing is “fixed” (as the name mobile broadband implies) you are not tied to a given location. For individuals who travel frequently or even renters who aren’t sure how long they’ll stay in one place, this can be extremely beneficial, as you can bring whatever you use to get online (dongle, modem, etc) with you when you leave home. If your lifestyle is one of frequent mobility, this could be a great way to have portable, dependable Internet when you’re on the go---on various devices.

Finally, convenience is a big reason you might want to opt for mobile broadband. Many people like to have a pay-as-you-go option for Internet access. For those who have untraditional lifestyles or schedules, being locked into an nbn™ plan might be undesirable. With mobile broadband, you can adjust your data amounts as necessary.

Now for the cons of mobile broadband. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback is going to be price. Data is more expensive than utilising a plan on nbn™, so that is certainly something to consider. In a larger household, using mobile broadband could result in running through data super quickly, thus having to pay more (and more often) to top up your allowance.

There is also the issue of frustrating dependence on 4G signals. In an area with excellent service, this is no problem, but many places experience more “spotty” service. It could be quite frustrating if you find that your signal repeatedly drops on mobile broadband. For that reason, you might want something that is going to work even when you don’t get 4G service: the nbn™.

Pros and Cons of nbn™

If mobile broadband isn’t going to be a good alternative to the nbn™ for you, don’t worry. The nbn™ has plenty of advantages which you will certainly appreciate.

Reliability will be number one on that list of pros. There is comfort in knowing that you are connected to a national network, and if you are connected via one of the fixed methods, like FTTN, you are physically connected to it. This leaves a lot less to chance than when you’re using a 4G network (especially if the 4G is spotty).

You also know what to expect when you have a plan on nbn™. With your provider, you’re signed up to a certain nbn™ tier. This means you know what speeds to expect and even what times of day are best for top speeds. Plus, if you’re experiencing slow speeds, you can troubleshoot fairly easily by changing your plan or by upgrading your equipment, etc.

Affordability is definitely a huge benefit of the nbn™. You choose a tier, choose a service provider, and know exactly what you’re paying and when. Many people like the routine nature of this kind of setup, and overall, this is going to be the cheaper option. Paying as you go for data, like with mobile broadband, can add up, especially if you have a large household of Internet users.

So, what are the cons of choosing nbn™ vs mobile broadband? The lack of flexibility is probably the main disadvantage. Your nbn™ service is tied to your residence. This is not problematic for most people, but for those who travel frequently, having a more mobile option can be helpful. Or, if you’re not home often enough, you might feel like your regular nbn™ service payments are going to waste.

Another con is that a power outage or blackout is going to render your nbn™ unusable because it depends on electrical power to function. This is where having a secondary Internet option can be useful (and some nbn™ customers can receive a battery backup for such situations). And of course, mobile broadband will still be going strong, even when the power is out.

Which One is Right for You?

Ultimately, deciding which way to access the Internet in your home is a personal choice that depends on many factors. Some things to consider:

Both mobile broadband and nbn™make sense for Australians with different needs and goals. Neither is right or wrong, or good or bad.

Which setup do you prefer?

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