The best NBN modems and mesh to overcome common issues

According to NBN Co's modem analysis.

Telstra NBN modem
Telstra Smart modem icon
Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2
  • Check
    Compatible with all NBN techs
  • Check
    4G backup
Optus NBN modem
Optus Ultra Modem icon
Optus Ultra WiFi Modem
  • Check
    Compatible with all NBN techs
  • Check
    4G backup
TPG NBN modem
TP-Link VX420-G2v
  • Check
    Compatible with all NBN techs
  • Check
    WiFi 6 speeds
Best high-end NBN modem
Asus AX5400 (via Optus)
  • Check
    Mesh-upgrade possible
  • Check
    WiFi 6 speeds
Best mesh system
Google Nest WiFi
  • Check
    Band steering and beamforming
  • Check
    User-friendly
Brodie Fogg
Editorial Lead
Read More
February 20, 2022
12 min read

A while back, NBN Co examined over 700 NBN-connected premises for speed-related issues to diagnose the biggest causes of customer dissatisfaction.

We sat down for a chat with NBN Co representative Sam Dimarco to discuss the analysis and get more info 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 the best pocket WiFi alternatives for the road.

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

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  • Out-of-date firmware: NBN Co claims that one of the most common problems is out-of-date firmware on provider-supplied modems.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

Let’s take a closer look at the most straightforward ways to tackle these key issues.



Info Box
What is an NBN modem?

That may read like an obvious question, but the reality is there are multiple devices that fall under the NBN modem umbrella.

For starters, an NBN modem may be called an NBN network termination device (NTD) or NBN connection box (or just NBN box for shortsies). An NBN modem may also be shorthand for a modem-router, as is the case with homes connected to the NBN via Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) and Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) technologies. Whether it’s a single device (modem-router) or two devices (modem and router), these pieces of networking equipment are key to getting you online and aiding a reliable connection.

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.

People who either place their NBN modem-routers or routers in areas with high interference (behind other electronic devices, fridges, etc.) or too far from their connected devices may have issues. For example, if your modem-router or router is in the living room, a significant distance from the home office, you will likely experience issues connecting when trying to work from home.

NBN modem positioning and placement

The theory for addressing positioning and placement problems is, thankfully, rather straightforward. Regardless of the type of NBN modem-router or router you have, placement is critical for a clear WiFi signal. Basically, try to place your modem-router or router in the centre of your home to give WiFi the best chance of reaching everywhere.

If possible, elevate your router or modem-router, ideally, about two metres off the ground. The idea is to get the modem-router or router above potential interfering objects. This means keeping it as clear as possible of thick walls, fish or other water tanks, radio-wave electronic devices, kitchen and laundry appliances and mirrors. That’s not always possible, which is when routers or modem-routers with stronger WiFi signals are worth considering or a mesh WiFi system for whole-home coverage.

Note that for NBN technologies that have an NBN modem/NTD/connection box, the placement of this bit of networking equipment isn’t as important as the NBN-compatible router that’s connected to it. Below is a list of NBN technologies and which networking equipment they use to get online (note that the NBN modem should be supplied by NBN Co):

It’s also worth flagging that while you can supply your own router or modem-router with most NBN providers, the trend is for most NBN providers to offer modem-routers, which means they work with all NBN technologies: as modem-routers for FTTB and FTTN connections, but only use their routing functionality for all other NBN technologies.

Sourcing your NBN modem-router or NBN-compatible router

Assuming you have an NBN Co-provided modem in your home, there are hundreds of options for NBN-compatible routers (basically every router from the last decade) and NBN-compatible modem-routers. With newer models coming out every other week from a range of brands, it can quickly become overwhelming.

Unless you’re particularly tech savvy when it comes to networking equipment, we’d advise starting with whatever is included or sold optionally from your chosen NBN provider. Admittedly, these devices aren’t always cutting-edge, but what they may lack in whiz-bang features, they make up for in proven compatibility and reliability. More importantly, if things go wrong and you need to contact your provider for tech support, it’s easier for them to help you if you’re using the recommended networking equipment.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the NBN modem-routers and routers included with particular provider plans or sold separately from providers.

Know your modem
Modem vs router vs modem-router

We’ve got a full page dedicated to the modem vs router vs modem-router distinction, but here’s the long and short of it. An NBN modem is used to connect your home to the NBN for internet. A router connects to an NBN modem to share its internet connection around the home, either wirelessly (WiFi) and/or wired (Ethernet). Finally, a modem-router combines the roles of a modem and router into a single device. On one hand, that’s convenient and means one less device to troubleshoot, but in homes with lots of users and devices, modem-routers can lead to performance slowdowns because of the multitasking device.

Telstra NBN modem

Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2

Telstra NBN modem
Pro Bullet Compatible with all NBN techs
Pro Bullet 4G backup
Starts at
$80
/mo

The dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2 is included with Telstra NBN plans when you sign up for one. Because it’s a modem-router, you can use it on all NBN technology types. If you like your Telstra NBN plan enough to stick around for 24 months, it’s yours to keep, but if you leave ahead of 24 months, you’ll have to pay a hardware exit fee. We like the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2 because it has four Ethernet ports for wired connections, decent WiFi 5 speeds and 4G backup capped at 25Mbps download and 5Mbps upload if your NBN connection goes down.

Changing channels isn’t particularly straightforward, but Telstra has provided steps on how to do it if you feel you may be suffering from channel interference in your home.

For reference, below is a Telstra NBN 50 plan that comes with the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2:

For comparison, below is a daily updating list of popular NBN plans from our database that either come with an NBN-compatible modem-router or router (or let you purchase one):

Optus NBN modem

Optus Ultra WiFi Modem

Optus NBN modem
Pro Bullet Compatible with all NBN techs
Pro Bullet 4G backup
Starts at
$79
/mo

If you sign up for an Optus NBN plan, it also comes with a dual-band Optus Ultra WiFi Modem. Like Telstra’s modem, the Optus Ultra WiFi Modem is a modem-router that comes with 4G and has speeds of up to 25Mbps download and 2Mbps upload. It also is yours to keep after a period of time, but it’s 36 months instead of Telstra’s 24 months if you want to dodge an exit fee.

While it doesn’t have WiFi 6, you can connect via four Ethernet ports or WiFi 5, which is fast enough for most wireless devices. The lack of WiFi 6 really only becomes an issue if you’re using NBN plans that are beyond NBN 100 speeds.

Below is an example of an Optus NBN 50 plan, which comes with an Optus Ultra WiFi Modem:

Compare this Optus NBN plan with other NBN 50 plans that also include an NBN-compatible modem-router (or the option to buy one):

TPG NBN modem

TP-Link VX420-G2v

TPG NBN modem
Pro Bullet Compatible with all NBN techs
Pro Bullet WiFi 6 speeds

TPG has bundled multiple NBN-compatible modem-routers with its plans, but the latest has some great future-proofed potential. The TP-Link VX420-G2v is a dual-band modem-router that has the standard four Ethernet ports but also supports WiFi 6, which is a noticeable improvement over WiFi 5 if you have WiFi 6-compatible devices.

It’ll cost you $109.95 upfront, but then it’s yours to keep and use. Check out the TPG NBN 50 plan below for an example:

For comparison, the NBN 50 plans below also come with an NBN-compatible router or modem-router (or let you purchase it separately):

Pick a modem-router or router with automatic firmware updates

NBN Co claims that one of the leading factors driving speed-related issues is the out-of-date firmware on most branded, provider-supplied modems. Regular firmware updates are never a bad idea, and if you’re experiencing issues, updating your modem-router or router’s firmware is a sensible first step (also true of any technology). That’s where automatic firmware updates for networking equipment make life so much easier.

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

It’s the on-premises issues where 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.

NBN Co took their findings to the providers with the most dropouts on their branded modems and asked them to work with the modem original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) 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 an NBN modem that came from your provider and you’re experiencing issues, get in touch with them about updating the firmware on your NBN-compatible modem-router or router.

Thankfully, there’s a handful of NBN-compatible modem-router and router manufacturers that understand this problem. 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.

The Telstra, Optus and TPG modem-routers listed above all sport automatic firmware updates, controlled by the respective providers. These updates tend to roll out in the wee hours of the morning, so it’s best to leave your networking equipment on overnight. For other NBN modem-routers and routers, check with the supplier to see if the device has automatic firmware updates or a companion app that makes firmware updates incredibly straightforward.

Best purchasable NBN modem from a provider

Asus AX5400 (via Optus)

Best high-end NBN modem
Pro Bullet Mesh-upgrade possible
Pro Bullet WiFi 6 speeds
Starts at
$79
/mo

Asus is a gamer-centric brand that tends to sell quality products at a premium. And while the concept of a gamer modem-router may turn off some people, it really shouldn’t. Why? Gamer-focused networking gear tends to have perks that everyone can enjoy. The Asus TUF Gaming AX5400 is a dual-band router with four Ethernet ports (including two 2Gbps ports) and WiFi 6. It can also be linked with other AiMesh-compatible routers to expand the signal around the home.

You’ll find it as part of the Optus gamer plans, and it’s yours to keep at no extra cost if you stick around for 36 months, but there is a hardware exit fee if you leave before then. Check it out as part of the Optus Internet Gamer Fast plan below:

For comparison, the popular NBN 100 plans below also come with an NBN-compatible router or modem-router (or let you buy one separately):

BYO modem plans
Maybe you already have an NBN-compatible modem-router or router that you’re happy with. Check out the popular NBN plans from our database below that let you BYO modem.

Best mesh WiFi system

Google Nest WiFi

Best mesh system
Pro Bullet Band steering and beamforming
Pro Bullet User-friendly
RRP
$549

A mesh WiFi system can help eliminate WiFi dead spots and make it easier for a more consistent WiFi signal throughout your home. This is particularly useful for multi-storey homes, larger abodes or even smaller places that tend to suffer from slower speeds in particular parts of the home. A mesh WiFi system is a more evolved version of a WiFi extender, and it’s the equivalent of placing multiple interconnected routers around the home, with all of the signal strength benefits that implies.

A lot of brands have all released their own, affordable mesh networking solutions, but when it comes to the best, our money is on Google Nest WiFi (note this is a router system, not a modem-and-router system). It’s not necessarily the most powerful mesh network on the market, but it’s hands down one of the easiest router setups we’ve ever experienced. If you’re more tech savvy when it comes to networking equipment, we’d advise checking out brands like Netgear Orbi, Linksys Velop or TP-Link Deco for WiFi 6-capable mesh WiFi systems.

That said, for under $550, you get what amounts to three routers 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, so you can keep expanding with “points” ’til the cows come home. Additional points cost around $270. There’s a decent saving on the three-pack so if you’ve got the space for it; we’d recommend buying in bulk.

If you’re an Aussie Broadband customer or want to be one, you can reach out to them to purchase a Google Nest WiFi system (one router, a router and a point, or a router and two nest points), or just add it to your order when you sign up. Below is a daily updating list of popular Aussie Broadband NBN plans where you can add a Google West WiFi system:

What is beamforming?
Info Box
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.

Solving WiFi channel interference

NBN Co looked at FTTB connections and noticed a difference in behaviour in what it calls “multi-dwelling” complexes, which includes places like offices and large apartment buildings.

NBN Co focused its analysis on multi-dwelling residences and found the channel congestion was particularly bad in buildings where there was a high concentration of customers signed up to a single provider.

“We found that congestion in multi-dwellings was a major issue.” – Sam Dimarco, NBN Co.

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.” – Sam Dimarco, NBN Co.

If you’re in a multi-dwelling building or congested area, the default provider-bundled modem-router or router might not be your best option. Most provider-supplied modems only cycle through two different channels (at most) when they reboot due to an issue. Some don’t switch channels at all. If congestion is the issue, a power cycle might not provide a temporary fix.

Just like firmware updates, we’d wager most Australians don’t know how channel congestion works or how to manually switch channels if there’s a bottleneck in your building. Dual-band routers and modem-routers are standard these days, offering the choice of a farther-reaching but slower 2.4GHz band or a faster but shorter-reaching 5GHz band. Tri-band modems are more advanced and tend to cost more, but if you’re really struggling with congestion, they could be your best option.

Alternatively, chat with your provider or networking equipment supplier about how to switch WiFi channels. By default, a lot of wireless devices tend to operate on the same channel, which can cause interference. For the 2.4GHz band, the recommended channels are 1, 6 and 11. For the 5GHz band, the best channels to consider are 36, 40, 44 and 48.

Other reasons your NBN connection might be underperforming

If you’ve ever glanced at speed disclaimers from providers or NBN Co, you may have noticed that there are a lot of factors that have the potential to impact your internet, either in terms of speed or reliability. We’ve got an article dedicated to troubleshooting NBN issues. But let’s take a look at some basics and how to approach them.

First, isolate whether the internet woes are with a specific device or the entire network. If it’s one device, focus on that: restart and update for starters. If it’s every device in your home, go look at your modem, router or modem-router to see if there are any red or orange lights to indicate problems, which applies whether you’re with Telstra or any other provider. Taking note of these lights will help with troubleshooting problems when you speak to your provider.

Cabling can also be an issue, whether it’s in-home wiring that’s trickier to fix (especially if you’re renting), or loose/damaged cabling. For instance, a loose telephone cable for FTTC, FTTB and FTTN connections may lead to slow or no internet. Similarly, an older or damaged Ethernet cable may restrict speeds to a wired device. You’d be surprised at how many issues can be fixed by securing or upgrading cables, or just by power cycling networking equipment.

When power cycling, start from the outside in: modem or modem-router first, then any other equipment, including a router or networking switch. Power off all networking devices, then leave them off for at least 30 seconds, before powering them back on in the same order: modem or modem-router, then everything else. You can also perform an NBN isolation test, which is effectively a more involved NBN speed test.

One of the biggest culprits of speed problems in the home is when multiple devices are competing for finite bandwidth, which can greatly impact the overall download and upload speed. Use the speed test above to determine your download speed (you can also use ‘Show More Info’ to see latency and upload speeds). If it’s not up to snuff, you should absolutely consider upgrading your NBN plan.

NBN 100 is the fastest NBN speed tier available to most homes in Australia, which has download speeds of up to 100Mbps and 40Mbps upload speeds (most cheaper plans are sold with max 20Mbps upload, though). Check out the daily updating list of NBN 100 plans below, which are organised in terms of self-reported typical evening download speeds:

Brodie Fogg
Written by
Brodie Fogg
Brodie Fogg is the Australian editorial lead at Reviews.org. He has covered consumer tech, telecommunications, video games, streaming and entertainment for over five years at websites like WhistleOut and Finder and can be found sharing streaming recommendations at 7NEWS every month.

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