/ Technology

Why buy a broadband router off-the-shelf?

When many of us have routers at home supplied for ‘free’ by our broadband providers, is there any point in buying one off-the-shelf? Perhaps not, if our latest routers test is anything to go by.

We tested routers from the UK’s biggest broadband providers against wireless routers from well-known brands, like Belkin and Netgear.

For some reason I assumed these branded routers would perform better in our tests than the ones sent out by your broadband provider. How wrong I was.

Stick to your provider’s box

Our results show that you’re often better off using the router from your broadband provider. Sky, BT and Orange all had routers that scored higher than the top scoring off-the-shelf models. And while routers from Virgin Media and TalkTalk didn’t do quite as well, they still beat the majority.

Of course, your broadband provider’s routers aren’t actually ‘free’, since you’ll be signing up to a contract and you may even have to pay a set-up fee of some sort.

In terms of performance – the range and speed of data transfer – all of the routers (both provider and off-the-shelf) did well. Of course, it’s important to remember that the speed of your broadband is probably not down to your router; it’s the speed coming in on your line.

How old’s your router?

Where the providers’ routers really stretched ahead was in how easy it was to set up a secure wireless network. We think a router’s installation process should leave you with a working wireless network and internet connection, complete with encryption and password protection. After all, you don’t want any old stranger using your internet.

Of course, if you’ve got one of your provider’s older routers, it might not be quite as good as the ones we tested. I’m with Virgin Media and the dusty Netgear router we have on the floor of my share-house has clearly been there for some time. It certainly doesn’t give the impression of being as good as the latest shiny routers we had on test.

If this is the case for you, give your provider a call to see if you can upgrade. I can’t promise anything, but if you’re asked to pay for this, point out that you’d get a brand spanking new router if you were to move to a competitor. That could move things along nicely…

So, what type of router do you have and are you happy with it? Will our routers test influence where you get your next box from?

What type of wireless broadband router do you have?

The 'free' router given to me by my broadband provider (68%, 748 Votes)

A branded router that I bought from a shop (29%, 315 Votes)

I don't have a wireless broadband router (3%, 37 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,100

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S J Hersom says:
17 March 2012

We have a house with very thick walls through which WiFi doesn’t travel well so we use several Apple Airport routers which create one seamless network throughout the house.


I bought my Belkin router new on eBay for £13 and have never had any problems with it.

Mike JP says:
18 March 2012

I have used a Netgear WiFi DGN2200 router for about a year now, but it appears to be unreliable; am I correct in remembering that Netgear units were reportedly overheating and failing – mine does run hot even though it is in a good air flow.? It does not seem to be the WiFi connection that fails, but the wired internet connection via the phone line that fails. Is there a way that the reliability of the ‘wired’ connection back to the BT exchange can be proved?
I doubt that I would buy Netgear again.


Many of the ISP supplied router/modems are just re-badged Netgear, Dlink etc versions with different firmware which can make it difficult to use with other ISPs.

ISP supplied ones are often going to be easier to set up as they are often pre-configured with username, password and wifi passphrases, I dont think this makes them inherently easier to use though ?


Did you realise the photo used in the header is of a network switch not a router/modem as supplied by ISPs !!!
The coloured patch cables look good though


Very good. At least it’s not a router for woodworking. 🙂

David Field says:
10 August 2012

I have just changed from B T to the Post Office for my broadband . I ordered a basic wired connection, but I have an I Pad. I still have my B T wireless router, is there any way I can reconfiger the B T router to work on the Post Office system?



The basics are you need to change the settings of the BT router to match those of the new PO router AND (most probably) set the BT Router to clone the PO router MAC address. The MAC address is usually on the physical router’s label.

I suggest getting the PO router connected and working first. Enter the Router settings (usually by manually entering the router IP address in a browser address box). Copy down all the settings. Plug in the BT Router and access its settings. Change the settings to match the PO setup. Make sure to set the MAC Address Clone to that of the PO router. Restart it and it should work.


I have just been advised by Demon to upgrade my SpeedTouch 330 (supplied by them) to increase my speeds – 1.94Mbps download on test for a 7MB theoretical line, though I rarely see more than 400kB for ‘real’ downloads.
Demon only offer Technicolor 582 as an alternative, which has appalling reviews. Can anyone suggest a reliable wired modem – I have a small network running through an SMC 1016DT switch, so I do not need (or want) wireless. I work from home so reliability is as important as speed.