Do you need a new modem-router?

A new modem-router can significantly improve the performance of your home network in a number of key ways.

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Modem router

As the gateway between your house and the Internet, the humble modem-router is a critical component of any home network. Unlike a standalone modem, a modem-router both manages your Internet connection and your local home network, providing a Wi-Fi network for you to connect your devices to and sharing your broadband bandwidth between them.

Since your modem-router handles every website you visit, every Netflix show you watch and every email you send, it's important that you have one capable of weathering everything you throw at it, from binge-movie nights to the dozens of simultaneous Wi-Fi connections at your next family BBQ.

Unfortunately, the modem-routers that most Internet providers bundle in when you sign up to their plans tend to be fairly rudimentary in their capabilities, with limited features and poorer performance than many of the models available for purchase separately. If you find your home network isn't performing up to snuff, it might be time to look at picking up a newer, more powerful modem-router. To determine whether it's worth shelling out the cash, you should first consider exactly what it is you hope to get from the upgrade.

Internet speeds

A new modem-router is not going to improve your Internet speed one iota. The download and upload rates of your broadband connection are contingent only on the capabilities of your Internet provider and the quality of the medium carrying data between your house and your local network exchange. If you're suffering from slow Internet speeds, buying a new modem-router is not going to remedy that.

Check out our guide to the NBN speed tiers for more information on how to choose the right Internet speed for your needs.

Faster Wi-Fi speeds

On the other hand, should you be facing mediocre Wi-Fi speeds, a new modem-router can deliver significant performance improvements on multiple levels. However, before you start comparing models, you'll want to make sure that it's your Wi-Fi and not your Internet connection that's performing below your expectations. To do this, simply connect your laptop or PC to your modem-router via an Ethernet cable and run a speed test. If the results differ drastically when compared with running the same test over Wi-Fi, it's safe to lay the blame on your modem-router's Wi-Fi capabilities.

You can dramatically increase both wireless speed and the range of your Wi-Fi network with the right modem-router. Going for one with multiple external antennas, support for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands and the 802.11ac wireless standard is your best bet if you want to avoid sluggish Wi-Fi speeds around the home.

Increased stability

Cheaper modem-routers, such as those bundled in with many broadband plans, aren't always the most reliable of devices. Whether it's Wi-Fi dropouts, diminished performance when multiple people are accessing the network at the same time or complete loss of your Internet connection, a low-quality modem-router can be responsible for a whole lot of needless frustration.

By spending a little more on a decent modem-router, you'll experience these sorts of issues far less frequently. Faster internal processors and more reliable wireless systems ensure you can simply set and forget a good modem-router without needing to reboot it every couple of days.

NBN compatibility

If you haven't joined the many Aussies already connected to the NBN yet, odds are you'll need to replace your current modem-router when you do eventually make the switch. Some Internet providers are currently offering NBN-compatible models with their ADSL and cable broadband plans, in which case you'll be all set when the NBN does roll out in your area. For everyone else, a traditional ADSL or cable modem-router is ill-equipped to handle the demands of the NBN.

Fortunately, most providers include an NBN-ready modem-router as part of their NBN plans, though you may need to pay extra depending on the length of your chosen contract. It's also worth keeping in mind that provider-supplied NBN modem-routers can suffer the same performance problems mentioned earlier, so purchasing a separate, highly-reviewed model is often a better way to go.

We've already compared 26 of the top NBN routers to see which are worth the money, so be sure to check out our analysis before handing over your hard-earned cash.

VoIP support

With the traditional copper-line phone network shutting down as part of the NBN rollout, there'll soon only be one way of making and receiving landline calls in Australia: by using VoIP, or Voice over IP technology. While VoIP functions much the same as the existing copper service from a user's point of view, since it uses the Internet to handle calls instead of a dedicated phone line, you need a modem-router with the appropriate port for plugging in your existing handset.

Most NBN-compatible modem-routers come fully kitted-out for VoIP, but if you're looking to take advantage of the cheaper call rates and greater versatility of VoIP on a cable or ADSL connection, you'll likely need to upgrade your modem-router to a newer, VoIP-compatible model.

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