Do You Really Need An Expensive Modem?

Do You Really Need An Expensive Modem?
Image: ASUS

It’s easy to completely do away with modem-router concerns in Australia when you can get a modem as a part of your NBN plan, but should you consider swapping it out for a different one? Do you really need an expensive modem-router?

It turns out that buying the most expensive modem-router on offer doesn’t always mean getting a better experience than what you’re currently using.

What is a modem-router?

In basic terms, a modem provides your home with internet access, whereas a router routes Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections to your home. A modem-router combines these devices.

We’re going to be using the term “modem” and “modem-router” interchangeably in this article. The internet-providing box in the home is typically referred to as a “modem” in Australia, when in reality it’s likely a modem-router (a decade ago, it wasn’t uncommon to have separate modem and router devices in Australia). As such, we’re going to be referring to it this way, just to avoid confusion.

Why are some modems so expensive?

Some modems are more expensive because they offer more features than standard modems. This could include mesh capability, more Ethernet ports, faster Wi-Fi speeds, better user interfaces or even more advanced features like an included gaming VPN (GPN, if you will), but one of the more common misconceptions is that a more expensive modem means a greater internet speed.

Are more expensive modems faster?

It’s more complicated than simply saying “expensive modems mean faster speeds”. Most modems you can buy from Amazon or JB Hi-Fi will be able to achieve the maximum speeds available from most NBN providers, however, speeds faster than NBN 250 (so, faster than 250Mbps) are where maximum speeds become less important.

For example, the cheapest modem available on the JB Hi-Fi website (the D-Link AC1300) can achieve a 5Ghz Wi-Fi speed of up to 866Mbps, indicating the maximum theoretical speed that it can supply wirelessly. Conversely, the most expensive modem on offer from the tech retailer (the ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000) offers 5Ghz Wi-Fi speeds of up to 2,167Mbps.

Additionally, more expensive modems usually mean more channels, which do translate to faster speeds, as noted by Hitron. Regardless, your speed will always be throttled by your NBN plan.

These speeds might be observable on a local area network and might be observable if you’re on an NBN 1000 plan, but it’d be difficult to observe this speed difference during common daily use. Also, keep in mind that Ethernet speeds are largely dependent on your Ethernet cable (modern CAT5e and CAT6 cables can handle speeds of up to 1,000Mbps).

A practical example I can give of this happened to me just recently, when I reviewed the Eero Pro 6. My old modem was incapable of consistent wireless VR gameplay, but switching to the much more powerful mesh modem made this work fine. If you’re considering a high-bandwidth activity like wireless VR gameplay, then it might be worth considering a more expensive modem.

How do I buy the right modem?

Buying the right modem doesn’t have to be a confusing process. Here are some handy tips, broken up by what you might be most interested in.

If you want the least-painful experience possible, then go with the modem provided by your NBN provider. This gives you less device choice, sure, but this way you can hang a lot of the modem setup process on the NBN provider, whose customer support and tech support team will likely know the ins and outs of the device.

If you want to provide Wi-Fi to a big house, consider getting a mesh modem network, which requires placing nodes throughout your home to evenly spread the network out, like a big spiderweb. These are a bit pricier, but it’s a good way of removing dead spots.

If you want a no-compromises experience that offers automatic optimisation features and a deeper, more user-friendly interface, then consider more expensive modems. Some modems, such as the Eero and the ASUS range of modems, come with apps that allow you to access and change settings. Additionally, the ASUS RT-AX82U AX-5400, in particular, comes with RGB. Yup.

Other than these specific areas, you’re perfectly fine to stick to the cheaper side of things when it comes to your modem-router, however, it’s important to know the limitations of your modem and what features it doesn’t support (such as PPPoE).

Sure, nobody needs an expensive modem, but you might find a use for their more expensive features.