OPINION: Whether it’s Netflix suddenly struggling to load or an online video game seeing horrible lag we’ve all had problems with our Wi-Fi at some point. Sometimes a quick reset can fix all those problems, but that’s not always the case.
It’s very possible that your router is the culprit for inconsistent internet speeds, especially if you’ve stuck with the default router that your broadband provider gave you. For this reason, I wanted to use this week’s entry in my Ctrl+Alt+Delete column to explain the benefits of purchasing a new router.
There’s a common misconception that the main reason for purchasing a router is to increase the maximum download speeds of your home network, but that’s not strictly true – at least for the vast majority of people.
Sure, moving onto the latest generation of Wi-Fi routers will raise the performance ceiling, with some of the latest routers capable of download speeds of 500MB/s and beyond, but those speeds will most likely be handicapped by the maximum speed of your broadband subscription.
According to Ofcom, the average home broadband speed of UK home broadband connections was 50.5MB/s back in 2021. At those speeds, a basic router provided by your broadband provider will be plenty speedy enough.
But download speeds aren’t the only major consideration when purchasing a router. The number of bands is also important for a router, as a greater number allows for more devices to retain reliable connections with less interference.
Have you ever noticed a big drop in internet speeds because someone else in your home is playing an online game or speaking to a friend via video call? This is a sign of an overwhelmed router, with multiple devices using a single frequency channel. Think of it like a motorway, with an abundance of vehicles causing a traffic jam.
The obvious solution to this is to open additional roads, which is why we’re now starting to see dual-band and tri-band routers hit the market. By divvying up devices between each band, there will be less congestion and more consistent speeds.
Some routers will have both a 2.4GHz and 5GHz band. The former’s signal can travel further, while the 5GHz band is faster and a better option for the likes of gaming and 4K video streaming. It’s extremely useful to have both options, rather than a single channel where all of your devices are competing for a slice of the internet pie.
Many routers are excellent at automatically picking the best band for each device, making it as simple as possible for those who shy away from tinkering with technology. But you do also have the option of manually prioritising certain hardware, just in case you have a gamer at home who demands the best performance possible.
The TP-Link Archer AX90 is a fantastic tri-band router that can be bought for less than £250. That’s not exactly cheap, but it will ease tensions in any home where someone’s heavy use of the internet is making everyone else’s experience a sluggish nightmare.
There’s also one other important consideration: range. If you’ve got a particularly large home, you may notice slower speeds (or even internet dead zones) when your device is a far distance away from your router. Some routers have better range than others, and are capable of a higher performance at a greater distance. But the very best option for distance is a mesh system.
A mesh system is essentially just a router that is bundled with at least one satellite. These satellites (as pictured below) help to spread the internet coverage throughout your home, so you can still see fast and reliable Wi-Fi connections when sat far away from the main router.
Mesh systems are really popular these days, and can be bought at an affordable price. For example, the BT Mini Whole Home Wi-Fi is currently priced at just £99.97, despite coming in a three pack. They may not be useful in a compact home, but I’ve even found use of them in small flats where thick walls were creating interference for the main router’s signal.
Certain store-bought routers can also offer a wealth of features. Parental controls are common these days, allowing you to limit the length of time certain devices are connected to the internet. And then you have gaming routers such as 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 every single person rush out to upgrade their router? Not necessarily. If you’re living in a small flat by yourself, you may well find that coverage is fine and that you don’t own enough internet-connected devices for congestion to be an issue. And it may be the case that your internet provider will make it extremely difficult for you to upgrade to a third-party router, so may not be worth the hassle – for example, BT requires you use the BT Hub router to watch BT TV.
But if you’re in a flatshare or a family home, then purchasing a new router can see a significant improvement to your experience using the internet. So have a check of our best router and best gaming router lists, and consider putting your internet woes to bed 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. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.