Opinion: Whether Netflix is suddenly struggling to load or watching a video game online lags horribly, we’ve all had problems with our Wi-Fi at some point. Sometimes a quick reset can fix all of these issues, but that’s not always the case.
It is very likely that your router is to blame for the inconsistent internet speeds, especially if you are stuck with the default router that your broadband provider gave you. For this reason, I wanted to use this week’s entry in the Ctrl + Alt + Delete column to explain the benefits of buying a new router.
There is a common misconception that the main reason to buy a router is to increase the maximum download speeds of your home network, but that’s not entirely true – at least for the vast majority of people.
Sure, moving to the latest generation of Wi-Fi routers will raise the performance ceiling, with some newer routers capable of downloading speeds of up to 500MB/s and beyond, but those speeds will likely be hampered by your broadband top speed. Subscription.
According to Ofcom, the average home broadband speed for home broadband connections in the UK was 50.5 MB/s in 2021. At these speeds, your broadband provider’s primary router will be fast enough.
But download speeds aren’t the only major consideration when buying a router. The number of bands is also important for a router, as a larger number allows more devices to maintain reliable connections with less interference.
Have you ever noticed a huge drop in internet speeds because someone else in your house is playing an online game or talking to a friend on a video call? This is a sign of an immersive router, where multiple devices use a single frequency channel. Think of it as a highway, with an abundance of vehicles causing a traffic jam.
The obvious solution to that is to open up additional avenues, which is why we’re now starting to see dual-band and tri-band routers hit the market. By splitting devices between each band, there will be less congestion and more consistent speeds.
Some routers will have 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The signal of the former can travel farther, while the 5GHz band is faster and a better choice for the likes of gaming and 4K video streaming. It is very useful to have both options, rather than a single channel where all your devices are competing for a slice of the internet pie.
Many routers are excellent at picking the best range automatically for each device, making it as simple as possible for those who are shy about messing with technology. But you also have the option to manually prioritize some devices, just in case there is a player in the house that is asking for the best possible performance.
The TP-Link Archer AX90 is a great tri-band router that can be bought for less than £250. This isn’t exactly cheap, but it will ease tensions in any home where someone’s excessive internet use is making others’ experience a slow nightmare.
There’s also another important consideration: scope. If you have a particularly large home, you may notice slower speeds (or even online dead zones) when your device is away from your router. Some routers have a better range than others, and are capable of higher performance over a greater distance. But the best option for distance is a grid system.
A grid system is basically just a router attached to at least one satellite. These satellites (shown below) help spread Internet coverage throughout your home, so you can still see fast, reliable Wi-Fi connections when sitting far away from your main router.
Mesh systems are very popular these days, and they can be purchased at an affordable price. For example, the BT Mini Whole Home Wi-Fi is currently priced at just £99.97, although it comes in a pack of three. They may not be useful in a compact home, but I have found their use in small apartments where the thick walls were creating interference to the main router signal.
Some store-bought routers can also offer a wide range of features. Parental controls are popular these days, allowing you to limit the length of time certain devices are connected to the Internet. Then you have gaming routers like the Netgear Nighthawk XR1000, which can locate servers with the lowest ping times, ensuring you get the best possible response times while gaming.
So should everyone rush to upgrade their router? not necessarily. If you live in a small apartment on your own, you may find that coverage is good and you don’t have enough devices connected to the internet for congestion to be an issue. And it may be that your Internet provider will make it very difficult for you to upgrade to a third-party router, so it may not be worth it – for example, BT requires you to use a BT Hub router to watch BT TV.
But if you’re in a condo or family home, buying a new router can see a marked improvement in your internet experience. So check out our best routers and best gaming routers lists, and consider eliminating your internet problems once and for all.
Ctrl + Alt + Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals, and more. You can find it in Trusted Comments every Saturday afternoon.