Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3: get connected (review)

Boosting the Wi-Fi signal around your home, with 4G fallback for when disaster strikes, the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 has you covered.

Whichever part of the NBN’s Multi-Technology Mix runs to your door, there’ll be times when outages – planned or otherwise – leave you in the lurch. While it’s easy to hotspot your notebook or tablet from your phone, a broadband modem/router with 4G fallback offers the added advantage of keeping your entire home online and your home phone working until your NBN service is restored.

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all take advantage of their mobile networks to offer 4G fallback in their flagship NBN home broadband modems. The Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 – only available to Telstra customers – also steps up to Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax, helping deal with those wireless blackspots around your home so you can make the most of your broadband connection.

Review: Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3

Australian website here
Price Free for new Telstra customers on 24-month plan, $9 p/m for 24 months for existing customers
Warranty 2 years
other You can read other GadgetGuy Telstra news and reviews here

first impressions

Compared to the Gen 2, the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 stands a little taller and wider – but not so much that it’s unlikely to fit in the same location in your home.

The subtle design doesn’t have a lot of distracting lights and buttons on the front, just a simple light which changes color to indicate the status of your broadband connection. Access to advanced features like the WPS button for easily connecting Wi-Fi devices is on the back – which is good from an aesthetics perspective but perhaps frustrating if you need to access it often.

Like its predecessor, you’ll find a WAN Ethernet port for connecting to your NBN box and four LAN Ethernet ports for connecting wired devices like your desktop PC and Network Attached Storage. There’s also a USB2.0 port for connecting a printer or external storage, surprisingly stepping down from USB3.0 on the previous generation Telstra Smart Modem.

You’ll also find external antenna connectors for boosting your 4G signal. Finally, there’s a PSTN port for connecting your home phone, assuming you still want a home phone line.

Keep in mind the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 only works with a Telstra NBN connection (I’m with Aussie Broadband, so I tested it on my mother-in-law’s Telstra NBN50 connection). Upgrading from her Gen 2 was easy, simply a matter of unplugging all the cables from the back and plugging them into the corresponding plugs on the Gen 3.

There’s no need to configure the Gen 3, everything gets up and running automatically, even the home phone service. Keep it mind, it will have a different W-Fi network name and password to your existing Telstra modem.

To make life easier you could just change them on the Gen 3 to match your old modem, but you still might need to reconnect some devices because the Gen 3 takes advantage of new WPA3 security.

Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 specs

Wireless WiFi 6 802.11ax
Fallback 4G LTE
Bands Dual band 2.4 GHz (4×4) / 5 GHz (4×4)
ports Gigabit WAN x1
Gigabit LAN x4
Phone x2
DSL x1
USB2.0 x1

Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 features

The biggest improvement with the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 is the move to Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax, which offers improvements in both speed, coverage and reliability. To make the most of it, you’ll want Wi-Fi 6-compatible devices.

The Wi-Fi network also takes advantage of bandsteering, automatically shifting your devices between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands depending on which is offering the best performance in your current location. As you walk away from the modem to the other end of the house, your devices might switch from fast 5 GHz to reliable 2.4 GHz, then back again as you move closer to the modem.

If you find that the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 still isn’t enough to cover all the wireless blackspots in your home, it’s also compatible with EasyMesh for connecting to Telstra’s Smart Wi-Fi Boosters as part of Telstra’s Wi-Fi Coverage Guarantee. If customers aren’t satisfied after 30 days, they can cancel their Smart Wi-Fi Booster repayments with no further charges and receive a one-month credit.

When it comes to 4G fallback, Telstra has increased the maximum speed to 25/5 Mbps. While it likely falls short of your fixed-line speeds, it’s enough to keep you afloat in an emergency. You don’t pay any extra for that mobile data.

It’s not a seamless transition to 4G fallback – downloads, streaming and voice calls are all disrupted for at least 30 seconds during the handover – but it’s enough to ensure you can keep working. When your fixed line service reconnects you’ll automatically switch back.

The modem also features “SmartFix” to fix network problems in the background, with Telstra saying it proactively fixes 15,000 services a month.

Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 quality

When it comes to Wi-Fi coverage and speed, the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 offers a small but clear improvement on its predecessor – perhaps not enough to make it worth the upgrade.

When in the same room as the router, testing on a Wi-Fi 6 capable 2021 MacBook Pro, the difference between the Gen 2 and 3 is negligible in terms of signal strength – around 95% – and internet speeds. Surprisingly, the Gen 3’s ping time of 17 milliseconds is slower than the Gen 2’s 10 ms.

Moving to the next room, the Gen 3’s 5 GHz strengths begin to shine through, seemingly at the expense of the 2.4 GHz network. Signal strength drops to 75% (5 GHz) and 82% (2.4 GHz) bands. This beats the Gen 2’s 70% 5 GHz signal, but doesn’t quite keep up with the Gen 2’s 85% 5 GHz signal.

On the 5 GHz network, speed tests reveal the two modems are still neck and neck on download speeds, but the Gen 2’s upload speeds begin to fall behind by a few Mbps.

Moving four rooms away to the other end of the house, the difference in signal strength is even greater – with the Gen 3 outgunning the Gen 2 on the 5 GHz band but still lagging behind on 2.4 GHz. At this point, on the 5 GHz network, the Gen 3 has the upper hand on both upload and download speeds.

That said, at the other end of the house the Gen 3 is achieving 54.29 / 17.21 Mbps on an NBN50 connection, while the Gen 2 is delivering 51.36 / 16.89 Mbps. Realistically, the difference probably isn’t noticeable during day-to-day use, but it could be more striking if your network is loaded up with a lot of Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices.

GadgetGuy’s take

Assuming you’re a Telstra NBN customer and live within Telstra’s 4G mobile footprint, there’s a lot to like about the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3. Wi-Fi 6 offers some performance benefits and future proofing, while the step up to 25 Mbps 4G fallback will be welcome by those who are forced to rely on it regularly.

While the Gen 3 offers a slight Wi-Fi performance boost on the Gen 2, it’s probably not worth upgrading for this alone. If the Gen 2’s coverage doesn’t cut it in your home, it’s unlikely the Gen 3’s slight improvement will save the day. Depending on the layout of your home and the issues with your Wi-Fi coverage, you might be better off sticking with the Gen 2 and spending your money on a Telstra Smart Wi-Fi booster.

Would I buy it?

Yes, if I was a new Telstra NBN customer. If I was an existing customer, unhappy with the Wi-Fi coverage of the Gen 2, I’d consider a Telstra Smart Wi-Fi booster instead.

Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3

Offering Wi-Fi 6 with 4G fallback, the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 3 is a solid choice from Telstra NBN customers.

Positives

4G fallback

WiFi 6

Slight speed and coverage boost over Gen 2

Negatives

USB2.0 instead of 3.0

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