Is your router ready for the NBN?

The deployment of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been rolling on rather lethargically in the past couple of years, but there’s nothing lethargic about the blazing fast download speeds it could potentially and eventually offer. Speed may well be everything, or at least a highly motivating factor, when it comes to upgrading to a new NBN plan. Without the right equipment, however, you may not benefit from the network’s full potential.

Whilst a lot of attention has understandably focused on the technology being used in the rollout of the NBN, you may not be aware that the quality of your internet router at home can also play a significant role in determining final internet speeds.

A router is a device which essentially directs data around a local network, as well as to and from the Internet at large. Most home routers these days come with an inbuilt Wi-Fi antenna which allows you to create your own local wireless network around the house. Whilst your current router may work just fine with an ADSL connection, you need to ensure you’ve got yourself an NBN-capable router before upgrading.

Why might I need a new router for the NBN?

The whole purpose of the NBN is to provide Australia with much faster, more reliable internet. Broadband download and upload speeds are commonly measured in Mbps (megabits per second), referring to the rate of data transfer. NBN Co, the company rolling out the network, provides four different speed tiers at a wholesale level:

  • NBN 12: 12 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload
  • NBN 25: 25 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload
  • NBN 50: 50 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload
  • NBN 100: 100 Mbps download, 40 Mbps upload

The higher the speed tier, the quicker your internet will be, and the more you will generally pay. To put the sort of download speeds being offered by the NBN into real-life perspective:

  • YouTube recommends that its users employ an internet connection with at least 500 plus Kbps (1 Mbps equals 1,000 Kbps).
  • Skype that states the minimumdata speed required for calling is 30 Kbps.
  • Netflix, meanwhile, is a more data-intensive service, recommending speeds of 3 Mbps for standard definition-quality videos, 5 Mbps for high definition and 25 Mbps for ultra-high definition.

These extra speeds also allow everyone to use more internet-enabled devices without any lag or interruption. With multiple devices running simultaneously, the demands on your broadband plan – and your router – will quickly add up; and in today’s increasingly connected world, running increasingly data-intensive services, the amount of data we use will only continue to rise.

  • The ACCC and NBN Co have stated that the NBN 12 plans do not qualify as ‘Superfast’, as regular old ADSL2+ often achieves the same speed anyway.
  • To be Superfast, a plan needs to provide at least NBN 25 speeds.
  • Many routers used for ADSL2+ will be able to handle NBN 12.

The effect of a much faster national network is this – your router will have to process much more data, at a much greater rate than it does at the moment. For many routers currently in use, this will be a task they simply can’t handle. So to ensure your router is able to handle ‘Superfast’ speeds, there are a few technical tidbits you should know.

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What’s the importance of my router for NBN speeds?

NBN Co states that your router can be one of the most important factors that can make or break your NBN plan, saying a decent router can “transform your experience into something spectacular”.

  • iiNet advises that routers should be equipped with at least 802.11n or 802.11ac Wi-Fi for an NBN service.
  • Devices manufactured before 2009 – potentially only featuring the older 802.11g or b signals – are incapable of supporting the NBN speed capability.

Many routers are sold as a combination of modem and router, for which reason you may believe them to be essentially the same thing. However, the two devices are also sold separately and serve separate functions. Optus provides the following explanation of modems and routers and their specific purposes:

  • A modem is the device that allows you to connect to the internet. It’s usually currently connected to your home or business’ phone service jack.
  • A router allows you to connect multiple devices to create a network. When you link a modem and router you can connect multiple devices to the internet through wireless connections or Ethernet cables.

It’s thanks to routers that wireless devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, in addition to devices such as PCs, can all log on to an internet connection simultaneously. Of course, whether you own a modem/router or a standalone modem and router, you will need to ensure that equipment carries the right specifications to take advantage of the high-speed internet on offer via the NBN.

Over the years, Wi-Fi speeds have evolved, with newly developed routers capable of delivering high-speed data transfers. Older equipment may simply not be able to cope with the demands of the NBN, with the bandwidth on offer unable to be supported by such devices. There are generally two key points to consider once you’ve purchased a compliant router (fitting the brief mentioned above):

1.      Set up your router correctly

Once an NBN-capable router has been purchased, there are a number of additional actions that can be undertaken in its setup to create an optimal environment for making the most of high-speed internet. Via its blog, NBN Co advises that:

  • Routers should be at least two metres off the ground for a good signal distribution.
  • They should be placed at the centre of the house for even distribution, while windows should be avoided.
  • NBN Co additionally notes that the further away routers are from other electronics equipment the better, as they will be avoiding interference. This includes devices with radio signals such as microwaves and TVs.
  • Routers should also be regularly updated with the latest firmware. NBN Co says that users will need to switch their device off for the updates to take effect. For this reason it is worthwhile re-booting routers on a regular basis.

2.      Extending your Wi-Fi range

Range extenders (also known as wireless repeaters) are another means of expanding Wi-Fi access, working in conjunction with routers to broaden coverage. The range extender sits between the router and the area in need of a signal boost, effectively extending the reach of the Wi-Fi signal, bridging the gap between the Wi-Fi’s point of origin and end point.

  • Range extenders could potentially be very useful in larger houses or in houses with more than one floor.
  • However they are not without their weaknesses; often adding another ‘link in the chain’ can worsen latency speeds, and good latency is especially useful to online gaming, and can affect overall speed.

For more on how to boost your Wi-Fi signal, this article dives in with more detail.

Should I buy a new router?

This depends on what NBN speed tier you desire. Chances are there are better routers out there than the one you’ve been using for a few years if you’re on a top speed tier.

You can check your current broadband speeds (download and upload) via a number of online services, and if it’s not up to scratch take various measures to assist in faster broadband delivery. For those who fall into this bracket, and who have signed up for an NBN plan or are considering doing so, now’s the time to go shopping.

By far and away the easiest option is to check with your ISP for recommendations on compatible devices. This is good for people already on an NBN plan, but what about people looking for an NBN plan? A simple way would be to go with NBN plans that include a router:

Optus

Optus has only two plans that could be considered ‘Superfast’ – one using NBN 25, and the other using NBN 100. The minimum you can expect to pay is around $110 a month, which seems expensive but you also get a range of entertainment perks such as Fetch TV and Optus Sport, and unlimited data. Prices of course increase as you choose a faster speed!

Telstra

Telstra currently has no NBN 100 plans, but has a wide variety of NBN 25 plans with varying degrees of data and extra perks. Telstra also does not dabble in ‘unlimited’ plans, instead offering up 1000GB. The minimum you can expect to pay for such a data allowance is around $100 a month, and you’ll be tied in for 24 months.

iiNet

iiNet has a range of both NBN 25 and NBN 100 plans that constitute as ‘Superfast’ plans. On the highest speed tier, unlimited data comes as standard and you’ll pay around $100 a month at a minimum. NBN 25 comes in at about $80 a month.

TPG

TPG dabbles in both NBN 25 and NBN 100 speeds, offering pretty cost-effective plans on ‘Superfast’ speeds. All generally come with unlimited data, and you can expect NBN 100 to cost around $100 a month at a minimum, while NBN 25 costs about $70 a month.

This is not an extensive list of providers, so it pays to check with your desired provider. However, if you’re already on an NBN plan and your current router is not cutting the mustard, then NBN Co has released some specifications (read: very technical PDF) and a number of router manufacturers are also NBN registered. In fact, there are very few current routers that flat-out do not work with the NBN. Not all routers are made equal, though.

Good routers for the NBN

  • ASUS DSL-AC56U
  • ASUS DSL-AC68U
  • D Link DSL-2877AL
  • D Link DSL-2885A
  • Draytek 2860n/n+/Vn/ac/Vac
  • Draytek 2760
  • Netcomm NF4V
  • Netcomm NF17ACV
  • Netcomm NF10W
  • Netgear Nighthawk X4S D7800
  • Netgear D6400
  • TP Link TD-VG5612

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, however generally speaking the more you pay the better performance capacity you’ll get, as well as more bells and whistles. The cheapest models can cost as little as $60, however the dearest models can cost over $1000! How serious are you about fast NBN?

There are a lot of factors outside of your control when it comes to the delivery of high-speed internet via the NBN. But by ensuring that the equipment being used is optimised for high-speed broadband, you will be doing all you can to make the most of your new NBN service. Through a mixture of optimizing your router location and set-up, as well as choosing a capable router to begin with, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying ‘Superfast’ NBN speeds.

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