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Modem vs Router: What’s the difference for NBN?

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

Nathan Lawrence
Apr 12, 2022
Icon Time To Read3 min read

A modem is a networking device that connects you to the internet, and a router is also a networking device, but it’s used to share that modem-powered internet connection inside your home. That’s the short answer for the question of modem vs router. For the longer version, read on.

Everything that’s needed to get you online that’s outside your home is handled by NBN or your NBN provider, so you don’t need to worry about that part. But when that internet connection gets to your home, that’s where you need either a modem and a router, or a modem-router to actually use the internet in your home.

What's the difference between a modem and a router

Things get complicated when people start referring to a router as a modem, which is incredibly common these days. In fairness, it is at least partially understandable given the rise of modem-routers during ADSL2+ days, plus it’s not helped by the reality that routers are also sometimes called gateways. Too many different or shared names for a limited number of networking devices.

Basically, a modem is there to send and receive internet data and only has a single Ethernet port for sharing that internet connection. A router is dependent on an Ethernet connection to a modem to share the internet around the home. And a modem-router combines the job of both pieces of networking equipment.

Still confused? Think of it this way: a modem establishes a connection to the internet, while a router distributes that connection through your home, usually through a wireless signal. A modem-router serves double duty by both connecting you directly to the internet, and routing the signal to your devices.

Telstra Smart Modem 3

Best NBN modems

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

NBN plans that come with networking equipment

Some NBN providers operate as bring-your-own providers when it comes to networking equipment (routers specifically), but others either include a modem-router, router or mesh WiFi system to help connect your home. If you are in the market for some new networking gear, thankfully, it’s easy to switch NBN providers.

Below is a daily updating list of cheap NBN 25 plans that either come with networking equipment or let you buy your own.

And below is a daily updating list of cheap NBN 50 plans that either let you buy your own networking equipment or it comes with the plan.

Finally, below is a daily updating list of cheap NBN 100 plans that either come with networking gear or let you pay for it.

Different NBN modem and router needs

FTTP modem vs router

Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) has an NBN utility box outside the home that connects to an NBN modem inside the home. This NBN modem needs to be connected to a compatible router to share the internet connection around your home.

FTTN modem vs router

Like FTTC, Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) connects to the telephone wall socket for internet, but unlike FTTC, it uses a VDSL2-compatible modem-router to both send and receive internet data as well as share the internet around the home.

FTTB modem vs router

FTTB is the same as FTTB in terms of networking requirements, meaning you need a VDSL2-compatible modem-router to have internet connectivity in your home.

HFCmodem vs router

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) connects to the NBN via NBN utility box on the outside of the home, which then connects to an NBN modem via coaxial wall outlet. This NBN modem then needs to be connected to a compatible router to share the internet in your home.

Fixed Wireless and Sky Muster modem vs router

Regional and rural NBN connections are delivered via either Fixed Wireless or Sky Muster technology, and both use an NBN modem that needs to be connected to a compatible router for in-home internet.

Other networking devices

There are a couple of other networking gadgets in the home that are designed to liaise with a modem, a router, or a modem-router. For homes that want as many Ethernet connections as possible, a networking switch can connect to a router to further delineate local network traffic, whereby the router can mainly tackle wireless connections, and the switch takes care of wired connections. Technically, a modem can connect directly to a networking switch, but this would eliminate wireless connectivity in the home.

WiFi extenders are handy for larger homes that want to expand the signal of a WiFi router to far-reaching parts of the home or outside. These networking devices are designed to mirror and extend an existing WiFi network. If your internet is slow, you can always make use of a WiFi extender, booster or alternatives.

In many respects, WiFi extenders are old tech when stacked next to their successor: the mesh WiFi system. Mesh WiFi systems let you effectively add additional compatible WiFi satellites that act as routers, which means better and more consistent signal strength, all on which is treated as a single local network.

That said, the more devices you add, the trickier troubleshooting becomes, as each device can form a critical part of the home network connectivity chain: one weak link can result in no internet connection.

Modem and router FAQs

Do I need a router if I have a modem?

The short answer is yes. However, most modems already have an in built router, negating the need for an additional router. However, if you're modem is a standalone modem, then yes, to connect your devices to the internet, you'll also need a router.

Which is better, a modem or a router?

Well, they're slightly different. A modem is what will get you connected to the internet, whereas a router helps distribute that internet connection to different devices in your home or hub. However, you'll find the majority of modems actually play the role of router these days (and are usually called modem routers).

So if your modem doesn't have a router component, you'll have internet, but you wont' be able to connect your devices to it.

Can I get the internet with just a router?

It depends. Some hardware provided by NBN Co acts as your modem, so you won't need to worry about also bringing a modem, you'll just need a router. But generally speaking, you'll need a modem if you want internet.

Do I still need a modem with the NBN?

It depends if your NBN hardware already has one installed. For instance, you'll need a modem router if you have an FTTB or FTTN NBN connection. For other connection types, like FTTP, FTTC, Satellite NBN or fixed wireless, you'll just need a router.

Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence has been banging out passionate tech and gaming words for more than 11 years. These days, you can find his work on outlets like IGN, STACK, Fandom, Red Bull and AusGamers. Nathan adores PC gaming and the proof of his first-person-shooter prowess is at the top of a Battlefield V scoreboard.

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