In a way, modems are the cornerstone of modern society. Kind of. They're the small black boxes that get you online. Given how reliant we are on internet access, they're pretty important.
Of course, not all modems are built equal. In some cases, the one your telco gives you when you sign up to a new broadband contract isn't great. In others, your modem may just decide to kick the bucket sooner than expected. Or it could just be that your modem isn't keeping up with the times, and is struggling to handle the increasing number of devices you're throwing on your home network.
If you feel like your current modem isn't performing, here's a quick look at some of the reasons you might want to buy a new one, and the issues it can fix.
Note: The advice in this guide is tailored towards ADSL / VDSL style modems, rather than routers or cable modems.
Why buy a new modem?
Sometimes the modem you're given by your ISP is pretty average. Depending on your provider, there's a chance you've been handed the bare minimum. While this isn't always the case, some telcos will try and save money by bundling in – quite frankly – terrible hardware.
It is however worth noting that there's a difference between slow Wi-Fi (the speed of the connection inside your house) and slow internet (the speed of the connection running into your house).
Buying a new modem can offer faster, more reliable Wi-Fi, but it probably won't speed up your physical internet connection. You might get a bit more mileage out of your connection, and you might get more stability, but - in most cases - you're not going to see dramatic results.
There's a couple of ways to determine whether the issue lies with your wireless network or with your internet connection. The easiest is as follows:
- Go to where you're having trouble with internet. Run an internet speed test. Write down this result.
- Go to the same room that your modem is in. Run the speed test again. If you're getting a dramatically higher speed than you were previously, you're likely dealing with WiFi range issues.
- If you can, disable WiFi on your laptop and connect it to your modem using an Ethernet cable. Run the speed test again. If you're getting a dramatically higher speed than either of the previous two tests, the modem's wireless functionality is a potential culprit.
- If you want to be extra sure, repeat these previous steps with another device to confirm that the issue is with the modem, rather than with the device. If you're getting the same kind of results across multiple devices, the issue probably lies with your modem.
If your Wi-Fi is letting you down, you can get a new modem, a router, wireless extender, or a powerline Ethernet adapter.
Wi-Fi issues are often an easy fix. Sometimes it's just a case of getting a more powerful modem, or plonking down a range extender. If you've got a small apartment, buying a new modem could be the fix. In a bigger place, a wireless range extender (or two) might be a more practical option.
Either way, a new device can potentially provide faster local wireless speeds, as well as more bandwidth, which means more devices can co-exist on a network without affecting performance.
That being said, some Wi-Fi issues can be a massive headache. For example, all of my kitchen appliances - fridge, oven, dishwasher, and microwave - sit in front of the wall that divides the kitchen and the second bedroom. The interference from these devices plays havoc with my Wi-Fi, and you can instantly lose your connection as soon as you walk past the kitchen. Out of all the modems I've tested in my years writing about tech, two have managed to penetrate this "wall of doom". The D-Link Taipan was the most effective.
If you actually want faster internet speeds across the board, you might be out of luck. It might just be a case of waiting until you can connect to the NBN. If you're on the NBN already, you can always pay a little extra per month for a speed pack. The majority of fixed line NBN plans can reach speeds of up to 100Mbps.
While a new modem won't necessarily speed up your physical connection speeds, it can help with other issues. Stability is a big one. If you find your internet is frequently dropping out - and you're fairly sure it's not a Wi-Fi issue - it could be your modem, or it could be a line issue. To try and determine whether it's your modem or your line, you can try doing a line isolation test. If you still have stability issues after removing all other devices from your network, you can be fairly certain the issue your modem or your line. At this point, you'll need to call your provider for further testing. Or you can try and borrow a compatible modem from a friend to see if this fixes your problem.
Last but not least, it's always worth Googling your current modem to get a feel for what others are saying about it. Australian broadband forum Whirlpool can be a good resource. If feedback is mostly positive, it's possible that your modem isn't the issue (or that you've got a faulty model). If feedback is negative, that's a good sign that it's time to get a new modem.
We'll be following this up with a guide on what to look for when buying a new modem shortly!
Old modems, routers, network equipment image via Shutterstock.