Everyone wants reliability And fast internet, a good router can help. The trick is figuring out how complicated standards, confusing acronyms, and sci-fi-sounding features translate to better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we lift the curtain and reveal relevant facts about Wi-Fi, routers, mesh systems and other terms. Hope you end up making a better router purchase.
Update June 2022: We added a mesh system section, links to our router guide and Wi-Fi 7 explainer, and updated the latest broadband speeds.
Table of contents
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Who is your internet service provider?
An Internet Service Provider (ISP) connects your home to the Internet, and they usually send you a modem and 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 will usually charge you a rental fee for this equipment, and their routers are usually basic in terms of performance and functionality. The good news is that ISPs are no longer allowed by law to force you to use their equipment or charge you to use your own hardware, although you may still have to return their stuff to avoid being charged.
We’re primarily looking at using your own router and using your ISP’s modem in this guide. By using your own, you may save money in the long run, but you also enjoy faster Wi-Fi, better coverage, easier configuration, and extras like parental controls and a guest Wi-Fi network Function. We’ll check your router options, but no matter which system you decide to use, please check compatibility with your ISP before purchasing. You can also search your ISP’s forums to find posts where people discuss using different routers and modems. A little research before shopping can save you a lot of trouble.
What kind of router do you need?
There are many 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 use, calculate the approximate square footage of your home before getting started.
For most people, the easiest solution is to choose a single router or a router and modem combination. Keep in mind that this device must be plugged into your existing outlet or modem via an ethernet cable, which limits where you can place it. The Wi-Fi signal is strongest near the router, and the Wi-Fi signal gradually decreases and slows down as the distance increases.
Routers should always state the coverage area, but some types of structures (thick walls, insulation, and other equipment) can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, so don’t expect to enjoy full-speed Wi-Fi at greater distances. Powerful routers with wide coverage are usually large devices with multiple external antennas, but they are often very expensive.
If you have a large house and want reliable coverage in your garden, or if your current setup has thick walls and specific dead spots, mesh Wi-Fi might be the answer. A mesh system consists of a central hub that connects like a router, and other satellites or nodes that you can place in your home.
Devices connect to the internet through the closest node, so you can achieve wider Wi-Fi coverage and more reliable connections in different areas by adding nodes. Remember that each node needs a power outlet. Mesh systems are usually more expensive than single-router setups (though not always), but they enhance coverage and reliability, and they often have extra features and control options. They also tend to be smaller than regular routers and are usually designed to blend in with your decor.
Most mesh systems are scalable, and some manufacturers allow you to link individual routers to create a mesh network, 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 will work as part of a mesh system, but TP-Link’s OneMesh technology only allows you to add compatible Wi-Fi extenders — you can’t link routers together.
Alternatives to new routers
If your question is more about coverage, and you have a problem room that wants to improve Wi-Fi, or a specific device that needs a faster connection, you probably don’t need to buy a new router. Try one of the options. Each of them has its own technical challenges and potential problems. Even when deployed successfully, they can’t match the convenience of a good mesh system, but they’re all far less expensive.
You can use a Wi-Fi repeater to spread a single router’s Wi-Fi farther and possibly boost the signal in dead spots. 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 regular Wi-Fi.
power cord adapter
Powerline adapters sold in pairs carry the internet signal through your wires. You plug one into a power outlet near the router and connect it with an ethernet cable, while the other powerline adapter plugs into a power outlet in the room where you want faster internet. For example, if you have a console or smart TV in the living room at the back of the house, they might be a good solution, but your router is in the front hall. Unfortunately, effectiveness depends a lot on your wires.
MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance)
If you already have coax cables installed in your home (probably 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 a router, network adapter or Wi-Fi extender that supports the MoCA standard. Just like a powerline adapter, it’s a great way to pass the internet signal to a smart TV, game console, or desktop that doesn’t have a strong Wi-Fi signal.
If you don’t mind the challenge and have a spare old router, you might consider configuring it as an access point or using it as a Wi-Fi extender. This can work especially well if you’re able to cable it to your main router, but it can be tricky to configure.
There are a lot of factors to consider when you are trying to decide the speed of your router. The maximum speed of the Internet is determined by your ISP. Internet speed is expressed in Mbps (megabits per second). According to Ookla’s Speedtest, global fixed broadband has a median download speed of 64 Mbps and an upload speed of 27 Mbps. Most ISPs will claim a certain speed or give you a range – like 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload – but what you actually get is usually below the maximum (especially upload speed) and must be in all of your shared connection between devices.