The best nbn® ready modems for residential use
When signing up for any Dodo nbn plan, you can choose to receive a pre-configured Dodo modem, or to use your own device. The Dodo supplied device is an entry-level device, but it is also capable of providing a problem-free experience for most households connecting to the nbn. However, true and budding technophiles might be interested in more advanced features than those found on the Dodo supplied device, but also be unsure of what to look for in a great nbn ready modem.
Modem, router, or modem router?
In the past one needed a modem to connect to the internet, and a separate router to create a Wi-Fi network so your devices could connect wirelessly. These have since been combined into a single device, and what we now commonly refer to as a modem is usually a modem router, though it is possible to still to get standalone routers. If your nbn connection type is Fibre to the Node (FTTN) or Fibre to the Building (FTTB), you need a modem router, but if it is Fixed Wireless, Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), or Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC), you only need a router because, the nbn Connection Box that will be installed in your home acts as a modem. You can still use a modem router with Fixed Wireless, FTTC, FTTP, or HFC, but the device must have a WAN or Internet port.
Which is the best modem for nbn?
It isn’t really fair to label a single modem as being the best for connecting to the nbn, since there are a number of variables that will see each user prioritising different features. There is no need for you to buy a top-of-the-line modem if you won’t be using many of the unique features it includes. Most new modems will work with the nbn, though it would be wiser to look at brands with a local presence – such as Asus, AVM, Huawei, ZTE, DrayTek, D-Link, NETGEAR, NetComm, Billion, Gateway, TP-Link, and Linksys – since they are more likely to comply with Australian standards. Google Nest Wi-Fi is also supported on nbn.
So, instead of looking for an all-rounder, you would be better off knowing what specific features commonly found in new modem routers do, and how they might benefit you.
Bands & Wi-Fi standards
Most new modems are dual-band or tri-band, supporting 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless frequencies, but it is possible to still find modems that only support the 2.4GHz band. The 2.4GHz frequency is better at penetrating solid surfaces and covering a wider area, but the top speeds are lower than that of 5GHz. Additionally, the 2.4GHz band has also become very crowded, further impacting overall performance, and with many newer devices supporting both bands, investing in a dual-band or tri-band modem would be the smarter choice. A tri-band modem effectively creates three Wi-Fi networks in your home, one using the 2.4GHz frequency and two using the 5GHz frequency, helping to prevent crowding on a single network in environments with a large number of wireless devices.
The modem packaging or product description should specify whether it is dual-band or tri-band, but you can also look at the Wi-Fi protocol supported by the device. Most wireless devices use the 802.11 wireless standard, with a series of letters at the end of the standard identifying the protocol supported. 802.11b/g/n is 2.4GHz only, with 802.11ac and 802.11ax supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. 802.11ax is the successor to 802.11ac and still quite new, so is usually only found on high-end devices and sometimes marketed as Wi-Fi 6.
Safety & security
Safety features offered by different modems and routers wouldn’t be a top priority for everyone, though security features should be.
Safety features are important for parents who want some control of when their children can use online services, and which websites they can access. Most modems include basic parental controls which can be accessed and set up via the modem’s settings screen, but some – such as Google’s Nest Wi-Fi – allow you to easily pause internet access for certain devices using a companion smartphone app.
Security is becoming an even greater concern as the number of devices that connect to our home networks increase, making modems a popular target for hackers, giving them access to any connected devices in your home. All modems should include the ability to change network names and passwords, and to create a guest network, but you should also consider looking for modems that support automatic updating of firmware. Just as your computer’s operating system is updated regularly for performance and security, the software controlling your modem’s hardware is also updated periodically. But if automatic updates are not supported, you need to remember to check for this, and then update it yourself to ensure any security vulnerabilities are fixed.
USB and VoIP ports
The lack of a USB port on a modem that has all the other features you need shouldn’t be a deciding factor. It is more of a nice to have, rather than a need to have, with the most common use being to connect an external hard drive or printer.
The same can be said for a VoIP port, if you haven’t included VoIP service with your nbn plan and have no interest in doing so in the future, you can easily choose a modem with no VoIP ports. But if you will be connecting and using a phone with your nbn plan, the modem you choose will need to have this extra port.
Beamforming is not a new approach to signal distribution, but it is fairly new to Wi-Fi and modems. Traditionally, the Wi-Fi signal from your modem was broadcast in all directions, trying to cover as wide an area as possible, but also being blocked or weakened by any obstacles such as walls in your home. With beamforming, the modem attempts to discover where each connected device is located and then sending a stronger signal in a direct path towards each device.
Beamforming is part of the 802.11ac/ax standards, so modems supporting that Wi-Fi standard should have beamforming capabilities. However, the best results will only be noticed on your other devices also using the 802.11ac or ax standard. But since the best modem is one that is also future-proofed so you don’t need to replace it every two years, look at beamforming as something that will be of even greater benefit in the future.
The final feature that you’ll find in really good modems is again one that isn’t needed by everyone. Large homes, especially multi-level homes, typically have Wi-Fi dead spots, areas in the house that either have a very weak Wi-Fi signal, or no signal at all. To overcome this, you might have previously bought one or two Wi-Fi extenders, and while these work in most situations, they can be tricky to get set up. Many don’t offer dual-band support, so any devices connecting through an extender can only use the 2.4GHz band. Enter Wi-Fi mesh systems, which usually consist of two or three mesh units that, like Wi-Fi extenders, you can place around your house, wherever you tend to have a weak Wi-Fi signal. And like Wi-Fi extenders, once set up they create a stronger and more stable Wi-Fi network throughout you home, with the advantage over normal extenders being that they are much easier to set-up, they aren’t creating new networks wherever they are placed, and you shouldn’t have problems with dual-band support. The disadvantage is that they can be quite costly and they aren’t supported by all modems.
These are the features to look for in great modems, giving you great benefits without the need to upgrade your modem every few years. But not every household will need all of these and other features, so before buying a new modem for your new nbn connection, decide which features you absolutely need and start looking for modems that include those, not simply everything we’ve listed above.