Buying an ADSL modem is not an easy choice because some modems are best if you live close to the local phone exchange and others are better if you live far away, as well as their prices, features and capabilities varying a lot.
Many Australians have ADSL or ADSL2+ broadband internet access. This requires an ADSL modem plugged into your phone line to connect to the internet and then share the connection via network cables or WiFi to all the devices in your home which access the internet.
More Features Doesn’t Neccessarily = Better Product
Comparing the specifications alone it would seem that the Billion 7404VNPX ($270+ at time of writing) has extra features (ADSL2+ with auto failover switch to 3G data, 3 WiFi antennas and Gigabit ethernet) that the slightly cheaper Netcomm NB9WMaXXn lacks ($200+ at time of writing).
However sometimes its better to chose a product which has less features that all work reliably rather than a product which is a packed with as many features as a swiss-army-knife but some of them don’t work all the time.
This is one of those situations. I tested the Netcomm NB9WMaXXn vs Billion 7404VNPX at 2 locations in Sydney which have Internode ADSL2+ broadband internet connections.
The first one was close to the local phone exchange with a top quality phoneline underground, the second place was in an apartment far from the local phone exchange with a phone line cable that is open to the rain and weather in parts.
Both modems could hold a solid ADSL connection at the location close to the local phone exchange with a top quality phoneline. The Billion 7404VNPX seemed more aggressive in trying to get top speed, achieving an ADSL2+ connection speed about 10% faster than the Netcomm NB9WMaXXn (10mbit vs 9mbit).
However the tables were turned at the apartment far from the local phone exchange with a dodgy phone line cable. The Netcomm NB9WMaXXn was able to hold a solid reliable ADSL2+ connection at 6mbit for over a week compared to the Billion 7404VNPX which connected at a faster rate 7-7.5mbit but was very unstable, disconnecting at random intervals every day.
This is because the Netcomm NB9WMaXXn uses a Broadcom chipset which is generally recognised as one of the best options for people with dodgy phone lines who want a modem that provides a stable ADSL/ADSL2+ connection without needing manual configuration to make it reliable.
Both modems were used with Internode’s Nodephone VOIP phone call via the internet service. The Netcomm NB9WMaXXn VOIP quality was reliable, with clear voice quality indistinguishable from a real landline phone whereas VOIP conversations using the Billion 7404VNPX were regularly spoilt by crackly sounds and echoes.
Really fast Wireless N WiFi speeds are supported by both modems at the 2.4ghz frequency and both performed admirably, providing WiFi coverage for laptops and mobile phones in all parts of both testing locations.
Both modems have administrator interfaces which haven’t really evolved or become more user friendly in the last 10 years and could do with being reworded and made more user friendly eg: the Netcomm NB9WMaXXn requires the IP address of your VOIP SIP server which is very silly and Billion sometimes needs you to save settings twice before they stay saved. Unfortunately this isn’t unique to Netcomm or Billion because it applies to all the modem brands I’ve ever tested.
Verdict – Netcomm NB9WMaXXn is the Safe Reliable Option
Neither modem is particularly fantastic looking but the sleeker Netcomm NB9WMaXXn looks slightly better in my opinion if you have it positioned in your lounge room to connect to a NAS, TiVo, internet connected TV etc. A black case option would be good as most home theatre equipment is black.
If you want an ADSL2+ modem which is going to be solid and reliable for a budget price, are going to use VOIP for cheap phone calls or live far from your phone exchange or have a bad quality phone line, than the Netcomm NB9WMaXXn is far more likely to provide a trouble free internet experience.
On the other hand if you live close to your phone exchange, have a reliable good quality phone line and won’t use VOIP than the Billion 7404VNPX is more likely to give you a faster ADSL2+ connection speed as well providing the benefit of Gigabit ethernet networking.
I live in the 2nd testing location with a bad phone line and bought the Netcomm NB9WMaXXn after I reviewed it because I need clear voice quality since I use VOIP phone calls all the time and would rather have a reliable rock steady 6mbit connection to the internet rather than the slightly faster but very frustrating unstable connection the Billion 7404VNPX provided.
Other Options – Router with Dual Wireless N and Gigabit Ethernet
If you already have an ADSL modem you’re happy with but want fast Wireless N WiFi access with dual 2.4ghz and 5Ghz bands as well as Gigabit ethernet networking you may be considering buying a separate Router/Wifi solution that plugs into your modem like the Netgear WNDR3700 or Belkin Play Max.
I’ve tried both and would suggest buying the Netgear WNDR3700 which looks boring but worked flawlessly during my tests. Belkin’s Play Max promised more features but proved to quite be frustrating when trying to actually use them in real life.