Ask LH: Should I Buy My Own Router Or Use One From My ISP?

Hi Lifehacker, I've just finished building a new house which has Cat5e cabling and am looking at my modem and router options. It seems that the best speed I can get is ADSL2+ so the download and upload capabilities of the modem aren't going to be critical; the ability for the router to transfer traffic around the home network at maximum speed is going to matter more. However, most of the hardware offered by ISPs doesn't offer gigabit ports; 100/10 is as good as it gets.

My question is this: should I accept the modem provided by the ISP and then add in a switch, or should I source a separate modem/router myself? Any suggestions or recommendations? Thanks, Need Nifty Networking

Router picture from Shutterstock

Dear NNN,

This is definitely a question where we'd love to hear readers chime in: experiences with hardware and ISPs vary a lot. In your situation, the best approach is probably going to be to take on whatever modem/router is supplied as standard by your ISP, then add your own gear to share it around the house. This is why:

  • Using "standard" equipment makes troubleshooting easier if there are any issues. If you're using a "non-supported" modem, you'll spend a lot more time trying to convince phone support that your own gear isn't the cause of the problem. That will doubly be the case if you're also routing data from that device directly to multiple systems through your in-home cabling
  • Adding your own gear gives you more flexibility for the cabled portion of your network: most ISPs these days are focused on Wi-Fi performance more than connectivity.

Incidentally, we'd recommend paying the outright buy price for the modem rather than taking it "free" but signing up for a 24-month contract — that restricts your ability to change provider down the track.

The case for buying a single device and using it is that you can be sure of maximum speed when transmitting online content to your cabled network — but since your ADSL2+ connection won't remotely approach gigabit speeds, that doesn't seem important in this instance.

That's our take, but again, we'd love to hear how other readers have tackled this. Tell us in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Personally, I've always bought my own kit and always gigabit . But it depends on what you're network use is like. Are you streaming movies from a HTPC or just looking for data access throughout?

    Trouble shooting from the ISP helps - but only sometimes. I've found that most issues doesn't require you to access your router/modem anyways!

    Finally, WiFi access; most routers provided are using 802.11g, not n or ac, so that is another thing you will need to consider.

    If you want high transfer speeds and greater control, but your own kit.

      And Dual Channel..
      Most ISP kit is still only 2.4GHz.
      And ISP's quite often charge full RRP...

      If the OP can live with all the disadvantages and get away with just buying a cheap Gigabit switch , that's the way to go.
      But if you want/need n or ac WiFi, or Dual Channel, or other advanced features, the disadvantage of buying your own is only going to be an issue if you have connectivity problems..

      If you're getting a "free" modem, but still want to buy your own, store the freebie as a backup to switch in before you call your ISP help-line to resolve any line issues.

    The default modem/router I had from Optus dropped the connection twice a day. Moved to a Billion 7800NL an it's been rock solid ever since, so I think it's an "experience may vary" question.

    I use my own device, but have the device supplied by my ISP in a cupboard just in case I have any issues (at which time I can use their standard device - otherwise they don't do the same level of troubleshooting).

    I've found a couple of problems with most ISP provided devices :-

    1) they use Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) rather than Gigabit (1000Mbps) LAN ports - no impact on your Internet speed, but restricts the speed you can move things around your network at home
    2) they have far inferior WiFi (most are single band N, and don't allow replacement of standard antennas)

    But always be prepared to have the ISP device connected to a single computer to avoid the "I'm sorry, but we don't support that [far superior] device", or "It must be caused by your Network settings".

    One thing to take into consideration is how you are going to get your landline to work if you are hooking up to the NBN. You may find their solution better, otherwise, like me you will need a separate little box to get it going. Having said that though, when I got the NBN hooked up I stuck with iPrimus because they had the best value deals in my town, but they wanted to supply me with a router that was inferior to the one I already had (Asus RT-N56U), so I told them not to send it. They sent it anyway, and then after I returned it registered post, and I got confirmation that it had been received, they kept emailing me to return it, to the point of warning me of service cutoff..! I made many phone calls, waiting for their service dept and confirming that they had in fact received it, and it was only after my telling them I was going to call the ombudsman that they got their act together...

    Last edited 05/05/14 9:45 am

    You are on ADSL so you have a lot more choice; I am on Optus Cable and have to use one of their modem routers. However from what I read and the issues I have had with their current Netgear offering, the router part is not up to task.

    I think some ISP's choose to supply sub par modem/router combos with their plans (especially if they are offered "free"). In this case it might be worthwhile getting a separate router and running the modem in bridge mode.

    I have heard in the case of Optus Cable this option works really well. Yet to try it though.

    If they are offering the modem free then take it... if not, it could be worth looking into reviews on the model being offered and then make a decision as to whether its one you want. Again thats a benefit of being on ADSL.

    ive always used my own devices, ive never had an ISP provided one.
    but if you are given one without a massive contract, then i dont see why not to use it.
    Get a decent GigEswitch, and connect all your devices to that, i would suggest this even if you have your own device. you are only going to have up to 4 GigE ports on a router anyway.

    I'd agree that it's better to go with the ISP supplied model, but I'd disagree that "using a 'non-supported' modem, you’ll spend a lot more time trying to convince phone support that your own gear isn’t the cause of the problem". I've been using iiNet's BoB for a while now, and have a lot of line issues. Every time I've been in contact with an (almost certainly line) issue, the support staff have asked me to hook up a different modem/ router before they look beyond the hardware (and on occasion, asked me to hook the current device up in a different house). I keep an old Belkin N1 modem/router and a no longer identifiable NetComm "just-modem" for the sole purpose of using them when I have to contact iiNet support. Even then, I've been told to send back four BoB's in less than 2 years, and I'm certain there was nothing wrong with at least three of them. I've also sometimes started the support call with the N1 and switched to the BoB - I don't think it's made any difference to the length of call or level of convincing required.

    The real benefit is that I haven't had to pay for the replacements - iiNet has replaced each one free of charge. They're refurbs, sure, but free refurbs. Their support may have driven me to tears at times, but I can't fault their commitment to customer service. [end adver-comment]

    I've always used my own modems. Sometimes if they have a free modem supplied with the contract, I take it and have a play around with it, but then fall back to my own device. Reason for that is sometimes they provide you with a brand that allows the ISP to lockdown the modem (Telstra im looking at you...) and that really is a downer. But sometimes they provide a full retail product. I signed up with netspace which was bought out by iinet couple of years ago, and I used their supplied netgear wireless modem as it was a good device.
    I would recommend to look around and find out what device they send out and go from there. But as stated above, some of the tech is a little older and may have slower interfaces so best to see which one they send.

    I always look at the network from a straight forward 3 step process.
    1) Modem - Can be (relatively) cheap as it's only doing the DSL modulation/demodulation job. A good modem though will increase your synch speed and deal with SNR issues without dropping your connection entirely.
    2) Router - Choose a good one that can handle as many (a)synchronous connections as possible. It has to manage all your cabled and wireless devices. So don't be stingy here.
    3) Switching - This is where I plug in both cable switching and wifi range extension. As it's the way you do the last leg. Mostly you can connect directly to you router. But if the house is cabled up well a good switch will clean up all the cabling or add a range extender to ethernet at the other end of the house.

    Ditch the ISP-supplied modem unless it has consistently good reviews. Most ISPs aren't going to splash out on high-end gear as they would have to pass on the cost to customers ... and this would put most off. Hence you're likely to stuck without high-speed WLAN or LAN hardware.

    It's a myth that you have to use your ISP's device and that no others are "compatible". ADSL2 has international standards and pretty much any mainstream manufacturer's modem will comply. And therefore work.

    So, that said, I'd suggest getting an all-in-one device that can be the modem and router. There's nothing wrong per se with having different devices for the two roles ... but having one unit do it all means less space, another free power outlet, simplicity, etc ...

    Some modem/routers (like the DSL2870B we had) come with the major telcos settings pre-configured. It was a simple matter to chose during setup and the device did the rest. If yours doesn't do this, the necessary settings for most ISPs can be found on Whirlpool.

    I have telstra cable and as far as i know am stuck with the modem router provided... Has anybody managed to find an alternative???

    A good quality router to set up the home network (the wireless router i use assigns addresses based on the MAC address of each device, so they don't change & you don't have to set up static addresses). Then you can use any modem you like for internet access. The bigpond 3G modem i have has the wireless turned off, & is connected by ethernet cable to the router. I like to use it unbridged so there are multiple firewalls.

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