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Stop using 2.4GHz and rely on 5GHz Wi-Fi: ACMA NBN modem study

If you cannot hit 100Mbps speeds, it could be your modem's awful 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor on

No surprise: attenuation is real as Enex shows longer copper runs produce slower speeds.

(Image: ACMA)

A study of 43 devices conducted by Enex for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has "unexpectedly" shown 5GHz Wi-Fi outperforming 2.4GHz in long-range testing, negating a major reason to continue using the slower 2.4GHz band.

"The 2.4GHz band is often promoted as a better choice for longer range communications," Enex said in its report. "However, Enex's findings did not support this. Operating in the 5GHz band appears to be the best choice for consumers under all circumstances."

"The 5GHz band also has the benefit of more recent technology developments which includes features such as directional beamforming and MU/MIMO (with up to eight antennas and multiuser sub-channels)."

The test also found 30% of modems could not hit 100Mbps on 2.4GHz at a range of 5 metres.

"This would most likely result in a consumer being unable to reach the performance capability of a typical NBN 100/40 FTTN/B service using a Wi-Fi connection," Enex said.

Once walls were put in the way, 26% of devices could hit 10Mbps on 2.4GHz, while 40% could achieve a data rate over 80Mbps using 5GHz.

Enex found a signal strength difference of over 20dB between the two Wi-Fi bands in some devices, with 5GHz having the stronger signal, which it said could be the reason for 5GHz performing so well.

See: TPG is still king of NBN speed report

"A large number of devices have 2.4GHz Wi-Fi that is incapable of supporting the higher data rates currently offered by FTTN/B NBN services," Enex said.

"In fact, some of the devices tested were barely capable of supporting the lower data rates offered by certain FTTN/B NBN services."

Of the 43 devices tested, 26 were purchased from retailers while 17 were sourced from 10 NBN service providers.

While cost was not an indicator of performance, Enex found the costlier modems offered greater functionality.

For customers in multi-story buildings, Enex saw variability in signal, particularly on modems with external antennas set to point straight up.

The testing found that incorrectly isolated additional phone sockets have the capacity to reduce performance on the NBN by half.

Enex said that on copper runs of up to 450 metres, most devices could hit 80% of the advertised line speed.

One device was outright rejected for use on the NBN, that being the Linksys X6200 AC750.

Also: ACCC questions fairness of NBN basic pricing

"Telcos and modem suppliers need to provide good advice to consumers about the features and performance of individual modems, especially Wi-Fi performance," ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said.

"Consumers should also ask their telco about the performance they can expect from the modem supplied to deliver their service."

Last week, NBN revealed it was considering introducing 100/20Mbps plans.

"The new speed tier recognises that most residential customers download far more than they upload and a new product that prioritises download with an associated new wholesale bundle discount may help them to avoid paying a price premium for relatively high upload speeds that most customers do not use or require," the company said in a statement.

According to the latest instalment of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Wholesale Market Indicators Report, to the end of March, more than half of all NBN customers are now on a 50Mbps plan, after the network crossed the threshold of having a majority of customers on 50Mbps and 100Mbps plans last quarter.

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