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FTTP vs FTTN modems and routers

Your gateway to understanding when a modem is a modem, and when a modem is actually a router or a modem-router.

Alex Kidman
May 22, 2024
Icon Time To Read4 min read

The vast majority of Australians have access to the National Broadband Network (NBN) via a wired connection, with the vast majority of connections still sitting on Fibre To The Node (FTTN) connections. Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is seen as the gold standard, able to deliver the fastest NBN speeds in the most consistent way, because that’s the nature of a full fibre optic connection.

In this guide we’ll run you through the differences between each technology type, and what that means for your modem and modem-router choices when setting up your NBN connection so that you can make the best choice for your needs, circumstances and connection type.

What’s the difference between FTTN and FTTP?

Both Fibre to the Node (FTTN) and Fibre to the Premises deliver NBN services to your home using some level of fibre optic cable. In the case of FTTP, it’s pure fibre optic cable all the way, which means that these plans can take advantage of the very fastest NBN plans at the NBN 1000 tier if desired. Here’s a selection of competitively priced NBN 1000 plans that FTTP homes and businesses could take up:

Fibre to the Node delivers in a different style, using the pre-existing copper telephone cabling (remember landlines? They were a thing… once upon a time) to run to a centralised node in your neighbourhood, usually a not-so-small green cabinet with an NBN logo on it somewhere. Fibre optic cables run from that node to an NBN exchange, but the use of copper for the last few metres – or few hundred metres or more in some cases – means that the actual speeds you can hit can be highly variable. If you’re lucky enough to have the node sitting basically outside your front door, NBN 100 might be achievable:

But if you’re some distance from the node, NBN 50 might be all you could get – or even NBN 25 for particularly lengthy distances or where the copper is in a bad state. NBN Co does have an upgrade plan in place for FTTN connections to be upgraded to full FTTP.

Do I need a different router or modem for different connection types?

NBN Co handles the cables coming in to your house or place of business, but when it comes the hardware that you need to get the Internet flowing – whether that’s over an ethernet cable or more commonly over Wi-Fi – you do need to ensure that you’re getting hardware that’s going to work for your particular connection.

For Fibre to the Node connections, you need both a modem – this is the hardware that (essentially) receives and sends the data to and from the NBN for you – as well as a router to then send that Internet connection to all of your devices. It’s honestly not common to see standalone modems any more, but if you only wanted a modem and were, say, connecting to a single computer from that connection over ethernet, then what you’re strictly looking for is a modem device that advertises that it’s VDSL2 compatible with support for NBN Co’s UNI-DSL specification. If you’re buying a new device in Australia, it’s very likely indeed that it would already cover that base, but it’s worth asking in any case from your retailer (online or in store) because if they do indicate it’s compliant and it ends up not working, you’re covered under Australian consumer law.

In most cases, what you’re far more likely to end up being offered is a modem-router; this combines the modem functions needed for FTTN with an integrated Wi-Fi and Ethernet router to share it within your home or business premises. Again, it’s going to be rather rare to see Australian sellers providing non-compliant devices these days, because the needed specifications have been in play for a very long time indeed. That might not apply if you’re buying from an overseas seller, however.

For the vast majority of modem-router devices sold for FTTN purposes you’re likely to need very little configuration to get them up and running; for more established brands you may find that the setup routine includes a drop-down list of Australian NBN ISPs, meaning all you have to do is select them for a list. You can always ask your NBN ISP for the details you’ll need to self-configure as well.

For Fibre To the Premises homes and businesses, you don’t need the modem part of the equation, because that’s handled by hardware installed by NBN Co itself, essentially speaking. Here you can just use a router connected through to your NBN connection, though mostly that could also be an actual modem router; the point of difference there is if there’s a direct Ethernet WAN port that you’d use for the NBN connection rather than the VDSL2 port (with a different plug head, so it’s impossible to get “wrong”) used for FTTN connections. Most modem-routers are easily configured for direct connections this way – and again you may find that a reputable brand modem-router has a configuration profile for the big NBN players ready to roll.

Telstra Smart Modem 3

Best NBN modems

Still got questions about NBN modems? Check out our comprehensive guide here

Is it worth just getting the modem/router my ISP sells?

If you just want to get online with a minimum of fuss, one way to do just that is to opt for an ISP supplied router or modem-router. You’re essentially guaranteed that they will work – it’s not like the ISP is going to want to sell you incompatible products – and that they will support you if you need troubleshooting to get it working on their connection. Here’s a range of NBN plans with included modems:

There are some details to consider when going down this route. Most ISPs do not offer much in the way of a range of devices, and in order to provide units as cheaply as possible, most of them are quite basic. That’s fine if your needs are modest and you don’t (for example) need your Wi-Fi to go a long distance from your connection point, but it could make a good NBN connection point feel like a slow one if it’s racing into your home only to be hampered by being on slower hardware when it gets there. This does vary by NBN ISP and by the choices you get, so doing a little research is wise here.

The other factor to consider here is how you end up paying for that extra hardware. In some cases an ISP might only offer a modem or modem-router that you have to buy upfront, in which case we’d suggest checking the model number specifically and make sure you’re getting it at a good price.

In other cases it might be “free”, but only if you stay with that NBN ISP for a period of time – typically a number of years. Some NBN ISPs offer the modem-router over a 12 or 24 month contract separately to the NBN service; in those cases it’s worth checking upfront if the hardware will work with other NBN ISPs if you did choose to switch to a different provider. 

Alex Kidman
Written by
Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is some kind of word-generating AI from the future that somehow worked out how to sneak back in time to 1998 to start its journalism career. Across that time, including editorial stints at ZDNet, CNET, Gizmodo, PC Mag and Finder, as well as contributions to every major tech masthead, nobody has quite managed to figure out this deeply held secret. Let’s keep it between us, OK?

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