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 will 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.

The reason why – NBN speeds

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 five different speed tiers at a wholesale level:

  • 12 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload
  • 25 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload
  • 25 Mbps download, 10 Mbps upload
  • 50 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload
  • 100 Mbps download, 40 Mbps upload

These levels are more commonly referred to as NBN speed tiers numbered from 1 to 5. The higher the speed tier, the quicker your internet will be, and the more you will 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), while Skype that states the minimum data 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 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.

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The router’s role

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

Setting up your router

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, and that 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. Routers should also be regularly updated with the latest firmware, with NBN Co noting that to do so, users will need to switch their device off for the updates to take effect, for this reason stating that it is worthwhile re-booting routers on a regular basis.

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.

Time to buy a new router?

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. Chances are, however, that if you’ve been using the same router for a number of years it won’t deliver the full benefits of an NBN connection.

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. If you are in the market for a new router, first and foremost check with your ISP for recommendations on compatible devices. It may well be that your ISP will include a compatible router with your plan, however, if not, or if other options need to be explored, get the green light from your ISP before making the purchase.

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 they can to make the most of your new NBN service.

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