Fiber Modem: When to Use an Alternative One and How to Choose it

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A few words about choosing the fiber modem to replace that of the provider: why shop around and what characteristics to check.

Despite the battle that has been waged on the subject of free modems concerning the possibility, by private and business users, of freely choosing the Router to use with the network connection activated at one of the many Italian telecommunications operators, they are still many – today – the providers who tend to serve their devices to customers. To entice users to subscribe to the offer, it is said that the modem router is included for free in the subscription when in reality, even by examining the conditions of the subscription, it is easy to find out what the monthly rental or purchase fee for the device is.

With resolution no. 348/18 / CONS AGCOM has established that the subscriber end-user of any telecommunications operator has the right to choose and install a proprietary modem router rather than being forced to use the terminal proposed to him.

When activating a subscription, the user has the right to decide whether to use a modem router already in his possession by activating an offer that does not provide for its supply by the provider.

Before proceeding with the purchase, it is essential to check that the device in your possession that you intend to use meets the manager’s minimum technical requirements.

Even in these days, almost a year and a half after the approval of the AGCOM resolution, we happened to see providers that, at least online, do not offer the possibility of activating connectivity offers that do not provide for the supply of the modem. In one case, we even realized that by trying to press the Remove button to delete the modem router, not only was no discount applied to the monthly fee, but the same device was automatically re-entered when the order was sent.

It is always good to contact the individual operators by telephone and ask for information on the offers and the relative costs of the subscription proposals without a modem router.

In July 2019, AGCOM itself certified that the provisions contained in the resolution were still largely disregarded by many operators.

AGCOM pointed out that the resolution also intervened on existing contracts, with a specific provision in cases where such equipment was supplied for consideration. ” Against the appeal to the Lazio Regional Administrative Court of an operator (TIM, editor’s note), this provision is currently sub iudice and, therefore, still not implemented “, the Authority pointed out.

On 23 October 2019, the appeal was discussed before the judges of the Lazio Regional Administrative Court, and the sentence was announced on 29 January 2020 (search at this address by entering “2018” as the year and “12197” as the appeal number).

The AGCOM resolution, after the favorable opinion of the Lazio Regional Administrative Court, assumes full value also for existing contracts.

Whoever is paying for the modem router must receive an alternative offer or have full power to return the modem and terminate the existing subscription without paying additional fees.

When and why to use an alternative fiber modem to that of the provider

For many years we have talked extensively about alternative modem routers in the pages of techsmartest.com. Let’s summarize the reasons for choosing a third-party fiber modem instead of the one proposed by the operators.

1) Avoid paying the gold weight for a modem that is worth much less than what you are paying

Whether the modem router offered by the provider is purchased in monthly installments on the invoice or provided for hire, just multiply what you are paying by the number of months to get the cost that will eventually be incurred. This amount is usually much higher than top-of-the-range modem routers from leading manufacturers, which offer advanced features, among other things. Those who had entered into offers with rental fees are often still paying installments for devices supplied years ago.

2) If you do not trust what the provider does with remote management

Telecom operators can intervene in the configuration of the modem routers they provide to users by installing updates and setting “ad hoc” rules. They can also do traffic shaping even if these interventions are not usually applied on subscribers’ devices: Internet speed limited by the provider: here’s how to find out.

In any case, if you don’t like the idea that a third party can change the configuration of the modem router, then choosing an alternative fiber modem allows you to manage all the settings on your own and in complete freedom.

3) Because the management of NAT often does not live up to expectations

The Network Address Translation (abbreviated, NAT) technique consists of modifying the IP addresses in the headers of data packets in transit. In simple terms, the public IP address (static or dynamic) assigned by the Internet provider to the modem router is shared by all devices connected to the local network (via Ethernet cable or WiFi). NAT is the mechanism that allows you to discern traffic to or from a certain device connected to the LAN from that belonging to all the others.

Alternative fiber modems allow you to manage the devices connected to the local network in a more timely manner, activate the forwarding of traffic on the various ports ( port forwarding and port triggering: Port forwarding, what is it and what is the difference with port triggering ) with granular and very precise rules, define advanced policies for quality of service (QoS) by prioritizing certain types of traffic and even configure VLANs for network segmentation local ( VLAN: what they are, how to use them and why ).

The last two possibilities are particularly useful in the business environment because they allow you to penalize data transfers that are less important than others, ensure a minimum level of service, and separate portions of the network for security purposes.

4) Presence of VPN clients and servers

Some more advanced modem routers not only offer the possibility of establishing a connection to a remote VPN server (think of a company spread over several offices and branches) but also allow you to accept VPN connections. A VPN service allows you to connect to your office (but also to your home network) securely wherever you are and, for example, access shared resources on the LAN even thousands of kilometers away.

Even on older modem routers, updated with DD-WRT custom firmware, it is possible to configure and activate an OpenVPN VPN server.

5) Firewall far from perfect

Most of the operators’ modem routers integrate basic firewalls whose behavior is not customizable by the users.

6) Improving the coverage of the wireless network

Several modem routers offered by Italian providers allow you to activate WiFi (often also on the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency band) with a signal that hardly guarantees the desired range of coverage.

The best modem routers on the market, on the other hand, use technologies for the correct direction of the signal ( beamforming) and to avoid congestion situations, with an automatic and dynamic choice of frequencies and an optimal allocation of available resources to client devices ( MU-MIMO, What is MU-MIMO and can it improve the WiFi connection? ).

7) More secure

Guest networks are the best tool to connect third-party devices to your WiFi network without them having visibility into the main LAN and the clients connected to it.

The fact is that some models of modem routers provided by Internet providers allow the creation of guest networks. Still, the users connected to these have visibility on the main LAN.

8) Advanced VoIP management

With the fiber optic connectivity offers, voice is conveyed by the telecommunications operator via VoIP. Using your own devices, it is possible to use an advanced switchboard to activate answering machine, blacklist, to enable automatic answering machines, to transfer calls, and much more. All possibilities are often lacking on devices provided by providers.

How to choose a fiber modem

There are xDSL modems (which support both ADSL / ADSL2 + and VDSL connections over optical fiber, even only up to the street cabinet, therefore not only with FTTH architecture but also FTTC / FTTE) or pure VDSL / EVDSL products.

First of all, if you want to replace the telecommunications operator’s device with your device, you will need to focus on routers with integrated modems, that is, capable of negotiating the connection with remote DSLAM equipment.

Second, it is essential to check the profiles supported by the modem router: a line that with the 17b profile does not reach 100 Mbps with the 35b profile used in the case of EVDSL ( Enhanced VDSL ) will do it (up to 200 Mbps downstream): see What is profile 35b for FTTC optical fiber and how it works.

In the case of FTTH connections, the chosen Router must usually have a Gigabit Ethernet Full-Duplex Auto-Sensing WAN network interface. with support for the IEEE 802.1q protocol.

We said earlier that the voice on fiber lines is managed via VoIP abandoning the historical analog telephone: it is, therefore, necessary to equip yourself with the latest generation device that supports direct connection of telephones or a DECT base, for example. Otherwise, a VoIP device capable of connecting autonomously to the telecommunications operator’s SIP server or a switchboard must be connected downstream.

Until some time ago, the problem consisted of recovering the data from using the VoIP line: the providers did not provide this information. With a little tenacity, it was still possible to retrieve it in other ways.

Today, after the initial resistance, thanks to the AGCOM resolution no. 348/18 / CONS, all the main providers are also providing information for the VoIP service.

This page kept up to date by AVM provides links to operator pages containing information to configure VoIP lines and users.

The reference page of TIM, for example, is this, that of Vodafone this, that of Fastweb this other.

Login credentials (username and password) can be requested from the respective customer support services, while information such as SIP proxy, SIP proxy port, and the transport protocol is publicly disclosed.

In the case of the former monopolist, using the TIM Telephone app, it is possible to read the username and password in clear text: VoIP TIM parameters also available on the Telephone app: here’s how to retrieve them.

The various operators’ reference pages contain information to configure the Internet / WAN section of the modem router (VPI / VCI, encapsulation, username, and password to be entered). The connection must be set as ” Always on / active “.

On the WiFi side, it is advisable to opt today at least for an AC router (802.11ac) even if it now makes sense to invest in a WiFi 6 (802.11ax) compatible device.

In September, the WiFi Alliance released the first WiFi 6 certified devices list.

Here is selecting the first 802.11x WiFi 6 routers, products that offer top-level performance even if still quite expensive.

Finally, the presence of USB ports allows the possible connection of storage devices to be shared within the local network and, in some cases, to connect external 4G / LTE modems to be used automatically as a backup if access from a fixed location should have any temporary problems.