Everyone wants reliable and fast internet, and a good router can help. The trick is figuring out how to translate the complicated clutter of standards, confusing acronyms and sci-fi-sounding features into better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we tear back the curtain to reveal the relevant facts about Wi-Fi, routers, mesh systems and other jargon. Hopefully you will be better equipped to buy a router eventually.
Updated June 2022: We added mesh systems to the section, linked to our router guide and Wi-Fi 7 explanation, and updated the latest broadband speeds.
Table of Contents
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Who is your ISP?
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) connect your home to the Internet, and they usually send you a modem and a router (sometimes in a single device). The modem connects your home to the wider internet; the router connects to the modem, and you connect all your gadgets – wired or wireless – to the router to access that connection. ISPs often charge you a rental fee for this equipment, and their routers are usually basic in terms of performance and features. The good news is that by law, ISPs may no longer force you to use their equipment or charge you to use them. your own hardwarealthough you may still need to return their items to avoid fees.
We are very much looking at using your own router in this guide and using your ISP’s modem. Using your own can potentially save you money in the long run, but you can also enjoy faster Wi-Fi, better coverage, easier configuration, and additional features like parental controls and guest Wi-Fi networks. We review your router options, but whichever system you decide to go with, check the compatibility with your ISP before you buy. You can also search your ISP’s forums to find posts where people are discussing using different routers and modems. A little research before you shop can save you a big headache.
What kind of router do you need?
There are various ways to make your Wi-Fi faster, and buying a new router is one of the most obvious. To help you decide what type of router to go for, calculate the rough number of square feet of your home before you begin.
The simplest solution for most people is to choose a single router or a combination of router and modem. Remember that this device must be connected to your existing connector or modem via Ethernet cable, which limits where you can place it. The Wi-Fi signal will be strongest near the router and will gradually fall off and slow down the further away you get.
Routers should always specify square feet of coverage, but certain types of construction – thick walls, insulation, and other devices – can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, so don’t expect to enjoy full-speed Wi-Fi over longer distances. Powerful wide-coverage routers are often large devices with multiple external antennas, but they are usually very expensive.
If you have a large home and want solid coverage in your garden, or you have thick walls and specific dead spots with your current setup, then mesh Wi-Fi could be the answer. Mesh systems consist of a central hub that connects like a single router, as well as additional satellites or nodes that you can place around the home.
Devices connect to the Internet through the nearest node, so you can get wider Wi-Fi coverage and a more reliable connection in different areas by adding a node. Just keep in mind that each node needs an electrical outlet. Mesh systems are typically more expensive than single-router setups (though not always), but they do improve coverage and reliability, and they often boast additional features and controls. They also tend to be smaller than regular routers and are typically designed to fit into your decor.
Most mesh systems can be expanded, and some manufacturers allow you to link individual routers to create a mesh so you can start with a single router and add more as needed. Just make sure you understand which devices are compatible. For example, any Asus router that supports AiMesh can function as part of a mesh system, but TP-Link’s OneMesh technology only allows you to add compatible Wi-Fi extensions – you can not connect routers together.
Alternatives to a new router
If your issue is more about coverage, and you have a single issue where you want to improve Wi-Fi, or a specific device that needs a faster connection, you may not need to purchase a new router. Try one of these alternatives. They each have their own technical challenges and potential problems. Even when successfully implemented, they will not come close to matching the convenience of a good mesh system, but they are all much cheaper.
You can use Wi-Fi repeaters to spread Wi-Fi from a single router a little further and potentially boost the signal in a dead spot. These devices are a good solution for some people, but they can be inefficient, prone to interference, and often create a secondary network with a different name than your regular Wi-Fi.
Power Line Adapters
Sold in pairs, power cord adapters send an internet signal through your electrical cords. You plug one into an electrical outlet near your router and connect it with an Ethernet cable, while the other power adapter is plugged into an electrical outlet in the room where you want faster Internet. They can be a good solution if you have a console or a smart TV in your living room at the back of the house, but your router is in the foyer, for example. Unfortunately, efficiency depends heavily on your electrical wiring.
MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance)
If your home already has coaxial cables installed (perhaps for cable TV), you can use them to create a reliable wired network that offers high speeds and low latency compared to Wi-Fi. You can purchase routers, network adapters, or supported Wi-Fi extensions MoCA standard. Like power adapters, this can be a great way to send an internet signal to a smart TV, game console or desktop that does not receive a strong Wi-Fi signal.
If you do not mind a challenge and have an extra old router lying around, you can consider configuring it as an access point or using it as a Wi-Fi extension. This can be especially effective if you are able to connect it to your main router via cables, but the configuration can prove difficult.
There is plenty to consider when deciding how fast your router should be. The maximum speed of your internet is determined by your ISP. Internet speeds are specified in Mbps (megabits per second). The average global fixed broadband speed is 64 Mbps for downloads and 27 Mbps for uploads, according to Ooklas speed test. Most ISPs will set up to a certain speed or give you a range – such as 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload – but what you actually get is often lower than maximum (especially upload speeds) and needs to be shared between all your connected devices.