The best NBN modems and mesh to overcome common issues

According to NBN Co's modem analysis.

Last year, NBN Co examined over 700 NBN-connected premises for speed-related issues in an attempt to diagnose the biggest causes of customer dissatisfaction.

We sat down for a chat with an NBN Co representative to discuss the in-home wiring and modem analysis to get more information on the most common in-home issues, and your best options for overcoming them.

If you’re looking for more Internet guides, we’ve got round-ups on the best NBN plans available, a comprehensive guide to NBN speeds and your best Pocket WiFi alternatives for the road. 

Before we dig deeper into the issues identified by the NBN Co’s analysis, let’s summarise the three core modem misdemeanours.

  • Out-of-date firmware: NBN Co claims that one of the most common problems is out-of-date firmware on telco-supplied modems.
  • Channel interference: NBN Co claims that channel interference is a leading factor in speed-related issues, particularly in multi-dwelling complexes like apartment buildings.
  • Positioning and placement: The in-home analysis from NBN Co found that another leading issue was due to the positioning and placement of customers modems in the house.

We’ve analysed over 25 of the most popular NBN modems currently on the market, looking specifically for devices that counter these issues with automatic firmware updates, automatic dual-band or tri-band channel selection, and mesh capabilities. We took 16 factors into consideration when compiling this buying guide. You can read more about our scoring criteria below. First, here are the best.

Linksys Velop Product Image
  • Great Price
  • Ticks every box
  • Not the fastest speeds

Best NBN solution overall

Linksys Velop Dual Band Mesh Wi-Fi System

  • Modem required? Yes
  • Price: $399 (slightly below average)
  • Automatic updates: Yes
  • Bands: Dual-band
  • Channel selection: Automatic
  • Mesh networking: Yes, 418m² coverage
  • Wireless: WiFi 5 with 1300Mbps potential

At the tidy price of $399 (check price), trusted modem manufacturer Linksys will hook you up with its mesh networking system known as Velop.

The basic Linksys Velop kit will get you three units to place around your home in the areas where a strong WiFi signal is needed most; home office, living room, recreation room, or simply that dank corner of your house where you struggle to get coverage.

Everything else

It’s important to note that the Linksys Velop mesh system won’t replace your NBN modem. Your existing modem will still be required to operate the Linksys Velop. The Velop’s base unit plugs into your existing modem, improving coverage in your home, and, hopefully, overcoming most of the other issues listed in this guide. Mesh systems function more like a traditional router; it’s a device that emits a WiFi signal around your home. Your modem is the device that actually connects your router or mesh system to your internet service provider. For more information on the differences between modems, routers, modem-routers and mesh, check out our guide.

Besides ticking every box provided by the NBN Co, the Linksys Velop also offers app management, WiFi 5 technology, potential speeds of 1300Mbps, parental controls, two external LAN ports, and a 3-year warranty if the Velop system doesn’t live up to your expectations.

So what are the downsides? Well, WiFi 5 is a little dated, and a max potential of 1300Mbps in the lower bracket of what’s offered by most models these days. There are more advanced modems on the market but you will pay a little extra for those privileges. Regardless, the max speed potential is only as good as your NBN connection and, for most people, 1300Mbps is more than enough.

As mentioned above, the Linksys Velop mesh system doesn’t actually replace your NBN modem, it connects to it, improving coverage in your home while addressing most of the issues detailed in this guide. So if you’re desperate to upgrade your modem, you would be looking at two costs; one to replace your modem, and another to purchase the Velop mesh system.

4G backup modems

If constant outages are an issue in your area, you might want to consider an NBN modem with 4G backup. These ISP-supplied modems fall back to the 4G network when there’s an issue with your fixed line connection. With 4G backup activated, you get seamless Internet even when the fixed line network is down. Some of the best 4G backup modems work so well, in fact, that you probably won’t even realise there’s been an outage. Here are a couple of popular NBN plans that include a 4G backup modem.

Netgear Nighthawk AX12 - Next Best NBN Modem
  • 6000Mbps potential
  • Auto-update
  • Quite expensive

Next best NBN modem

Netgear Nighthawk AX12 AX6000 WiFi Router

  • Price: $799 (above average)
  • Automatic updates: Yes
  • Bands: Dual-band
  • Channel selection: Smart Connect
  • Mesh networking: No
  • Wireless: WiFi 6 with 6000Mbps potential

If future-proofing with the latest WiFi technology is of utmost importance, you can spend a little (or a lot) extra to get an NBN modem with WiFi 6 technology.

The Netgear Nighthawk AX12 AX6000 WiFi Router is a premium NBN modem with a premium price tag that looks like something a Star Wars villain would pilot. But while it looks a little villainous, this NBN modem is the real deal and has the specs to justify its price.

At $799 (check price), the Netgear Nighthawk AX12 AX6000 will get you WiFi 6 technology, the potential for 6000Mbps speeds and “Smart Connect” automatic channel selection. What it doesn’t offer is mesh networking so if coverage in your house or apartment is particularly patchy, you might want to consider something else, or invest in a WiFi extender.

Everything else

The Nighthawk AX12 AX6000 also offers app management, 2 external antennae, 6 external LAN ports (great if you’re looking to hardwire your devices), 2 USB 3.0 ports, beamforming and 2 years warranty.

Megaphone icon

What is beamforming?

Beamforming is a technique used by certain modems that directs the WiFi signal in your home directly to the devices you’re connected with, rather than a general area of coverage. This allows for a faster and more reliable connection on your wirelessly connected devices. It’s not a new technology but over recent years it has played a huge part in improving wireless technologies and has become a significant part of the 5G rollout.

Now that we’ve highlighted our top two picks, let’s dig into the issues highlighted by NBN Co and the modems that solve each.

The issue: old firmware

NBN Co claims that one of the leading factors driving speed-related issues is the out-of-date firmware on most branded, telco-supplied modems.

Regular firmware updates are never a bad idea, and if you’re experiencing issues, updating your modem’s firmware is a sensible first step (but that’s true of any technology).

The solution: automatic updates

Modems are one of the last remaining pieces of household technology that are unnecessarily complicated. We all know what a modem does, it generates glorious WiFi, and we accept it graciously like Oliver Twist with an iPhone. Most of us don’t know how modems work, how to configure them, or even how to troubleshoot some of the most basic issues. Hell, I write about technology for a living, and I could give two stuffs so long as I can stream Netflix or Disney Plus without any interruptions.

Thankfully, there’s a handful of modem manufacturers that understand this. To help bridge the knowledge gap, they offer automatic firmware updates on their modems. So long as the modem connects to the Internet, it will automatically update and install the latest firmware patches, so you never have to think about it. And if your modem’s not connected to the Internet, well, there’s your problem right there.

Here’s our top pick for modems that automatically update firmware.

Modems with automatic firmware updates
ModelLinksys Velop Dual Band D-Link Exo AC1750 D-Link Exo AC1900 Netgear Nighthawk AX4Netgear Nighthawk AX12Netgear Nighthawk AX8
Automatic updateYesYesYesYesYesYes
Mesh capabilitiesYesYesYesNoNoNo
Wireless TechnologyWi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6
Channel selectionAutomaticManualManualManualSmart connectManual
Potential speed1300Mbps1750Mbps1900Mbps3000Mbps6000Mbps6000Mbps
External antennae044222
Parental ControlsYesYesYesNoNoNo
Security softwareNoMcAffee Secure HomeMcAffee Secure HomeNoNoNo
App managementYesYesYesYesYesYes
Ethernet/LAN ports244466
USB 2.0 ports011122
Warranty (years)311222
What NBN Co says: Contact your telco

NBN Co estimated that 16% of all NBN-connected broadband customers have experienced dissatisfaction with their download speeds. This estimate was extrapolated from the results of the company’s in-home analysis, which showed that 20% of the 780 premises analysed experienced speed-related issues.

Of the issues identified in the sample study, 53% were on the premises, 11% between the premises and the node, 9% of issues were due to a planning error on the NBN Co’s behalf, 8% were lead-in issues, and 6% were due to a bad joint.

It’s the on-premises issues where the NBN Co decided to point its focus. To an extent, the issues found were out of its control.

We found a stability issue. There was a particular stretch of modems that stood out as particularly volatile. Sam Dimarco, NBN Co.

The NBN Co took their findings to the providers with the most amount of dropouts on their branded modems and asked them to work with the modem OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to resolve the issues. In most cases, the fix was a simple firmware upgrade on the offending modem. The complaints about service experience for those customers impacted dramatically decreased.

If you have a supplier-provided modem and you’re experiencing issues, get in touch with your service provider about updating the firmware on your modem.

The issue: channel interference

Next, NBN Co focused its analysis on multi-swelling residences (apartment buildings etc.) and found the channel congestion was particularly bad in buildings where there were a high concentration of customers on one Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Most supplier-provided modems only cycle through two different channels (at most) when they reboot due to an issue. Some don’t switch channels at all. So if congestion is the issue, a power cycle might not only provide a temporary fix if at all.

The solution: Multi-band modems with automatic channel selection

Just like firmware updates, we’d wager the majority of Australians don’t know how channel congestion works or how to manually switch channels if there’s a bottleneck in your building.

The following modems offer tri-band technology and make the switch automatically when the congestion on one channel is impacting performance.

Tri-band modems are more advanced and cost more generally but if you’re really struggling with congestion, they could be your best option. There’s a long list of cheaper dual-band modems with automatic channel selection but for the sake of brevity, we’ve only included tri-band in the list below.

Tri-band modems with automatic channel switching
ModelROG Rapture GT-AX11000Netgear Orbi RBK30 Netgear Orbi RBK20 D-Link Cobra DSL-5300D-Link TaipanNetgear D8500 Nighthawk X8
Automatic updateNoNoNoNoNoNo
Mesh capabilitiesYesYesYesNoNoNo
Wireless TechnologyWi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5
Channel selectionDynamic frequency selectManualManualSmart connectManualSmart connect
Potential speed4084Mbps2200Mbps2200Mbps5300Mbps3200Mbps5300Mbps
External antennae800864
Parental ControlsYesYesYesYesYesYes
Security softwareTrend MicroNoNoNoNoNo
App managementYesYesYesYesYesYes
Ethernet/LAN ports546447
USB 2.0 ports000112
USB 3.0 ports200111
Warranty (years)311332
What NBN Co says: Multi-dwelling mixups

NBN Co looked at fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) connections and noticed a difference in behaviour in what it calls “multi-dwelling” complexes, premises like offices and large apartment buildings.

We found that congestion in multi-dwellings was a major issue.

The problem, Dimarco says, is that most provider-issued modems use a single channel by default. Some use two but when there’s a speed issue related to congestion, users will contact customer support who instruct them to reboot their modem. In the case where there are two available channels, a reboot will flick the user over to the second channel, providing a temporary fix. However, when there’s a conflict on that second channel, the modem will kick the user back to the congested default channel and they will continue to experience speed problems.

Providers offer entry-level modems that are low-cost to them. That’s not going to change, they’re not going to offer bells and whistles.

Most providers offer these low-cost single-band modems as a default but if you’re in a multi-dwelling building or congested area, the bundled modem will not be your best option.

The issue: Distance and placement

The last issue highlighted by the NBN Co analysis was misplaced modems. Customers who either place their modems in areas with high interference (behind other electronic devices, fridges, etc.) or too far from their connected devices. For example, if a user’s modem is in the living room, a significant distance from their home office, they are likely to experience issues connecting when trying to work from home.

That’s where mesh networks can help.

The solution: Mesh WiFi systems

Mesh network systems typically set you up with 3 to 4 modems to place around your home where a strong signal is needed most.

Brands like Linksys, D-Link, and Google have all released their own, affordable mesh networking solutions, but when it comes to the best, our money is on Google WiFi.

It’s not necessarily the most powerful mesh network on the market, but it’s hands down one of the easiest modem setups we’ve ever experienced.

For under $450, you get three modems to place around your home where you most need a sturdy broadband connection. It’s also expandable so if you’ve got an exceptionally large house, you can keep adding modems till the cows come home. Additional modems will cost you under $200. There’s a significant saving on the three-pack so if you’ve got the space for it, we’d recommend buying in bulk.

Mesh WiFi Systems
ModelNetgear Orbi RBK30Linksys VelopD-Link Covr AC1200Google Nest WiFi
Automatic updateNoYesNoYes
Mesh capabilitiesYesYesYesYes
Wireless TechnologyWi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 5
Channel selectionManualAutomaticBand steeringBand steering
Potential speed1000Mbps1300Mbps1200Mbps1700Mbps
Parental ControlsYesYesYesYes
Security softwareNoNoNoNo
App managementYesYesYesYes
Ethernet/LAN ports4222
Warranty (years)1331
What NBN Co says: Move your modem to a sensible spot

While it might be obvious to most technically literate broadband users, the problem with modem distance and placement is still a leading factor in poor customer experience scenarios, according to Dimarco.

We found that distance from the modem was really causing havoc for some people. We found that, in many houses, the modem was either located at the other end of the house or stored behind other devices that could cause interference, like televisions, and appliances such as microwaves and fridges.

This is a bit of a tricky one to solve for many people, as renters have no control over the NBN’s in-home wiring. However, the NBN-compatible mesh networks listed above are a great first step to improving the coverage in your house.

  • Steve Bartlett

    Great and informative article. I’ve got placement issues which I’m looking to resolve through mesh networking, but read somewhere that the Google Mesh still needs to plug into a router in the first place. Is this right? In my mind the main point should just plug directly to the NBN box shouldn’t it? Would prefer to be replacing the existing router that came with the nbn as it needs to be manually reset every couple of days and loses speed within 12 hours