Routers and Wi-Fi extenders

A router is a very specific kind of device. It receives your internet connection, and then distributes (“routes”) it to your computers and devices. Its internal computer can manage that connection in a variety of ways – for example, making it more secure, restricting access at certain times of day, or disallowing particular kinds of internet services to come through.

It also allows computers and devices to “talk” to each other. For example, allowing all devices to access a single printer, connecting speakers around the house, or receiving data from weather stations around the property.

The connection can be routed via cables or wirelessly (Wi-Fi).

The Wi-Fi signal on your router can also be extended throughout your premises to provide connectivity in all locations.

This page looks at the different types of routers that you can use to ensure you have the best possible connectivity wherever you need it.

Do I need a router?

It’s possible to connect your computer directly to a stand-alone modem using an ethernet cable, and access the internet that way.

If you want to access the internet using Wi-Fi – wireless connections – you need a Wi-Fi router.

Some modems are combined with a Wi-Fi router. This means you have the choice of using both a wired and a wireless connection.

Some modems, however, do nothing except receive the internet connection. If you want to use wireless devices with this kind of modem, you will need a separate Wi-Fi router.

Most modern internet devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and smart accessories are designed to work wirelessly.

If you need to share your connection among wired computers and devices only – for example, two desktops and a printer on the same table – you could consider a network hub, or a switch. These are much cheaper than routers. However, they only operate using cables.

This page does not discuss hubs or switches.

What modem or router is supplied with my connection?

Connection Modem Router
nbn™ Sky Muster™ satellite Modem only supplied and installed by nbn. Bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
nbn™ Fixed Wireless Modem only supplied and installed by nbn. Bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
nbn™ FTTN Combined modem/router bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
nbn™ FTTP Fibre Termination Device supplied by nbn – NTD (Network Termination Device) only. Bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
nbn™ FTTB Combined modem/router bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
nbn™ FTTC Combined modem/router bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
nbn™ HFC “Splitter” supplied by nbn.  Network Termination Device (NTD) supplied by the provider. Bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
Mobile broadband Combined modem/router bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.
Non-nbn™ Fixed Wireless (WISP) Combined modem / router usually supplied by your supplier.
ADSL Combined modem/router bought or supplied by you. If bought from your internet provider, they will offer support.

When do I need to upgrade my router?

It depends on the age of the router. If you’re switching connection types, or trying to improve connectivity around your house, upgrading your router might help.

Contact your new service provider and your trusted technical advisor.

Choice Magazine: How to fix Wi-Fi black spots around your home

What is the typical router setup?

Internet connection setup

This depends on the kind of router you have, but let’s assume that your internet connection box (modem, or Network Termination Device, depending on the sort of connection you have), router, and all other connection devices are separate boxes.

  1. The external line connects first to the modem, Network Termination Device (NTD), or connection box. You can connect your computer directly to this box with an ethernet cable.
  2. The modem, NTD or connection box may then connect to a router. Sometimes the modem is combined with a router in the same box.

The router sends the internet connection to all your devices, either wirelessly (through Wi-Fi) or using an ethernet cable.

Are all routers the same?

All routers will have some standard parts to them:

  • Power source. Most are plugged into mains power, but some smaller units are battery-operated.
  • Ethernet ports. These are the plugs to receive the internet connection from the modem (if it’s a separate unit), and to plug in cabled devices. Routers to be used with nbn™ Sky Muster™ connections must have a WAN/internet port that supports DHCP.
  • Antennas: Most routers are now designed to send and receive Wi-Fi signals. Many routers will have antennae to improve their reception.

However, not all routers are suitable for use with all internet connections; you may not be able to re-purpose an ADSL router for an nbn™ connection, for example.

Check with your supplier that the router you’re looking at will support the connection you’re using.

What kinds of routers are there?

Standard router

This box has all the standard connections. You would use this router to connect to a standalone modem; for example, on an nbn™ Sky Muster™ satellite or nbn™ Fixed Wireless connection.

Your internet service provider can provide you with a router when they install your internet connection. It will be an additional cost – generally between $100-$200.

The routers supplied by service providers are generally good, solid quality boxes, with names such as D-Link, Netgear, or ASUS. Your service provider may also pre-setup your router, meaning you need to do nothing more than plug it in, and it’ll work with your modem. Check with your provider if the router you are purchasing is “plug and play”.

If you use your service provider’s router, it makes setup and troubleshooting much easier, as your provider will offer support.

However, you can buy your own router if you have specific needs and feel confident you can manage troubleshooting yourself.

There are many places to look to get reviews of routers. The following links are some examples.

PC Mag Australia: The Best Wireless Routers for 2021

Modem/router

This is a standard router, with a modem installed inside.

The modem is the computer that actually makes the internet connection. In dialup days, it made a literal phone call to your internet service provider, making a distinctive noise. These days, the connection stays on all the time and is silent; but the modem is still required.

Modem or connection boxes (depending on the type of connection) are generally supplied by, or available through, your internet service provider. If you use your service provider’s router, it makes setup and troubleshooting much easier as your provider will offer support.

For connections such as nbn™ Sky Muster™ and nbn™ Fixed Wireless, you can’t bring your own modem, or use a modem for another connection type. You must use the one supplied by nbn. This modem is owned by nbn and must be left with the dwelling if you move, as it won’t work at another location.

There are currently no combined modem/routers for nbn™ Sky Muster™ and nbn™ Fixed Wireless connections.

However, you may be able to buy modem/routers for other connection types.

Check with your service provider before buying anything.

ATA/router

This is a standard router that adds in a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Analogue Telephone Adaptor (ATA) plug. This allows you to plug in your ordinary phone handset and make phone calls over the internet, instead of using your landline.

This is a useful way to test VoIP, without going all the way to buying an IP phone.

Lifewire: The 6 Best Phone Adapters (ATAs) of 2021

Dual WAN router

This allows you to feed two separate internet connections into the same router.

This can be useful if you have multiple internet connections into your premises (for example, satellite and mobile broadband).

This allows all your networked devices, including printers, speakers, and the like, to be used regardless of the internet connection you are currently using.

It does not allow the connections to be combined, but some routers will automatically switch between connections depending on the conditions you program in – including if one stops working altogether (called a “failover”).

It also allows you to easily test whether your connectivity or low speed issues are related to your network setup, or to the internet connection itself.

Some sample brands and pricings are listed at the following links.

Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters

In any location, there will be spots where your wireless signal isn’t as strong as others. It may be blocked or broken up by walls, or have too many devices using the same signal in one location.

You might also want to extend your signal beyond the usual range of your wireless router.

Wi-Fi extenders take the wireless signal from your Wi-Fi-enabled router, and extend it further.

They can be quite cheap, small devices. Many plug directly into a power point, taking up virtually no room at all. They don’t have to be the same brand as your main router.

They may also help you work out if a slow connection is due to network issues or internet issues.

They do have limitations, however; as they’re essentially just passing on the main router signal, it can get degraded or broken up the further away the extenders get from the main router.

Mesh router

These are like having multiple cordless handsets for your landline phone. There’s one central main wireless router and multiple satellites or nodes that take the connection signal and repeat it wherever you need it.

It’s like a Wi-Fi extender, but with more computer intelligence and power. The nodes “mesh” together much more seamlessly as they’re all part of the same setup, so the signal they provide is much stronger and more reliable.

In particular, you could broadcast a strong and reliable 5Ghz signal (see below) to everywhere you need, which better supports modern internet services such as streaming music or video, “Smart Home” or Internet of Things (IoT) systems such as Telstra Smart Home or Apple HomeKit.

The range of a mesh router should easily allow a good-quality internet signal to be sent out to external buildings or devices on a rural property.

They are more expensive than a Wi-Fi extender, and your service provider may not be able to provide full support for internet connection issues with a mesh system, unless it’s one they’ve provided to you.

Point to point connections

These are also called “wireless bridge” or “Wi-Fi bridge” systems. They broadcast a local internet connection over larger distances using matched antennas and equipment at both the sending and receiving end.

The antennas must have “line of sight” to eachother; that is, you just be able to see the destination from the starting point. Hills will break the connection, for example. Even heavy vegetation such as trees can cause the connection to break up.

However, where your conditions are suitable, this setup could help you send your internet connection from your main residence to outlying buildings or location on your property.

What is the speed and range of a wireless router?

There are two parts to the speed and range of routers: broadcast frequency, and protocol.

Frequency

These are the radio bands that wireless signals broadcast over.

  1. 2.4Ghz. Broader range, more reliable around interference, but slower.
  2. 5Ghz. Narrower range, has more problems with interference, very fast.

A general rule of thumb in home networking says that Wi-Fi routers operating on the 2.4 GHz band can reach up to 45 metres indoors and 100 metres outdoors.

Because it uses narrower wavelengths, a 5 GHz Wi-Fi connection can have more problems with interference than 2.4 GHz connections, and so will usually have a slightly shorter effective range – about 3 to 5 metres shorter.

Most routers have both frequencies built-in to them and will switch between them depending on their own computer intelligence.

However, you can tell your router just to use one or the other, in order to test or fix connection issues.

More information: Is 5 GHz Wi-Fi Better Than 2.4 GHz?

Protocol

Protocols are standards that dictate how electronic systems “talk” to eachother. Wireless communications have their own protocols, all starting with the numbers “802”.

These ranges are very approximate, as they depend on how the actual router is set up and designed.

From oldest and slowest to newest.

  1. 11a. This is the oldest protocol. It has a range of about 35m indoors.
  2. 11ac.
  3. 11n. This is the most recent common recent protocol. It has a range of about 70 metres indoors.
  4. 11ax. Also called “Wi-Fi 6”, and still very new.

More information: 802.11 Standards Explained

Can a router help manage my data usage?

Yes, to an extent. You’ll need to install specific software (“firmware”) on your router, however, as most of them don’t have that ability built in.

This software may allow you to monitor the traffic coming from specific devices, or what remote services are using data.

Installing and managing this software requires a certain level of technical expertise. Your internet service provider probably can’t help you with this; we recommend finding a trusted network advisor and asking them for assistance.

Some popular data management firmware suppliers are:

More information:

For more information

What Is a Router and How Does It Work?

Understanding Wi-Fi and How It Works

Choice Australia: How to find the best wireless router, Wi-Fi mesh or wireless extender