/ 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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anon the mouse says:
15 March 2012

Depends on what your ISP allows too. Virgin have only recently added Modem mode to the firmware, allowing people to use their own routers again if they want.

ISP Routers are good enough for most household tasks, so why spend money on a new router when you don’t need to?

Cayman says:
16 March 2012

I can tell you why. I’m on my 4th VirginMedia Superhub in 14 months. The engineers are all great, but they all say “I’m not going to lie to you, we’ve had quite a lot of problems.”. Plus the performance for my home network that is not related to my Internet is spotty and also falls over when the Superhub dies. No music, no printer etc. I was hoping the Which survey would go deeper than just Internet connection. As so many things in the house start to be dependent on an internal WiFi network, the need for a reliable router becomes greater than the need for a reliable modem with router attached. Think printers, music, lights, heating, security.

Not sure about this “which” research conclusion.
I can only speak from experience. I’m with TalkTalk and I went through three wireless routers in as many years. I got to the stage where I bought a better quality wireless router off ebay at a budget price (£10) and I keep the TalkTalk offering as a reserve. So far the cheapo ebay unit which is also of a higher technical spec’ has lasted better than any of the TalkTalk units, the latest of which is now sat on the reserves bench.
This approach works better for me because it’s such a hassel getting a new router out of TalkTalk when their low quality unit goes pop each time.
Perhaps customers of other ISP’s do better?
Don’t know.

I am using a Thomson wireless router that looks similar to one you have tested and was supplied by my ISP for £5, supposedly post & packing.

I don’t have any problems except that it gets quite warm and must therefore be using quite a lot of power. I must put it on a timeswitch to save power, because it stays on all the time unless I am away for a day or more.

It is advisable to keep your router switched on all the time. The modern equipment in most BT Exchanges use error automatic measurement to determine the maximum speed sustainable between the customer router and the Exchange equipment. This can take 10 – 14 days before the exchange determines the best speed suited to your line conditions.

If you switch off your router the exchange handles this as high error rate and will switch your connection to its lowest speed. When you switch the router back on, it can take another 10 days or so for the connection to be stabilised again.

Your post highlights the need to include power consumption as part of the router specifications. The Linksys WAG160n, which I use, consumes around 7 Watts, so it isn’t too bad. Many manufacturers like Belkin don’t even specify the consumption!

Thanks terfar. I was told to leave my router on overnight for a couple of days, when I first used broadband.

I know the theory but my neighbour turns the router off overnight and has no problem. In fact, I get a slightly faster connection if I take my laptop to the neighbour’s house.

Hopefully, ISPs now have sufficiently clever software to allow for the possibility that people might want to switch their routers off overnight. I might have a chat with my ISP to discuss this.

Roger Greenwood says:
16 March 2012

I use a non-branded router bought online. The ones found in high street shops are usually overpriced and possibly not suitable – do your own research if possible. Back street (independent) shops not part of a chain are usually far better than high street, particularly when asking for advice.

I have a router [business hub] supplied by BT.
2Wire gateway 2701HGV-C.
After the 3rd failed they gave me money to buy one, a simple £40 Netgear 150 does the trick for my office as we download very little, do not game online at the office and just use it for communication, surfing, web maintenance and the radio.

At home I have an older netgear model which has stayed on for about 4 years now without any breakdowns, just the occasional reset.

Every modem [remember the alcatel speed touch] and now routers provided by my ISP’s has failed.
I wouldent even bother taking one out of the box anymore.

Paul McCredie says:
16 March 2012

I’m with Be who provide a router that has to be returned when you terminate your contract. I prefer to use my own Netgear router because it incorporates a hardware firewall which complements the software firewalls on my PC’s. Admittedly the downside is that you have to have some knowledge to be able to set the firewall up effectively.

I switched my BE supplied wireless router (a SpeedTouch) for a Linksys WAG160n. A lesson learnt from both routers is the need to ensure that you have the latest firmware installed.

The Linksys raised my Internet speed from approximately 8 MBp/s to over 10 MBp/s and the wireless-N enables me to get a full 55 dBm signal in my garden office compared to 65-70 dBm

Although I note that a number of ISPs do provide better routers these days, I still recommend getting a good mid-range router.

Virgil says:
16 March 2012

I’ve got a very old D-Link that AOL gave about 2 tot 3 years ago. They said I’d got a new one when I signed up for super fast broadband for 12 months last year. I didn’t get it until late Jan year when they rang me up to sell me something and I informed them that I intended to switch to BT once my contract with them is up.
I’ve been with AOL for over 15 years and had no real problems but I do intend to change ISP ( probably to BT ) later this year.

Ian says:
16 March 2012

It all depends..
I’ve never had a problem with reliability but the Virgin router I use at home gives much better wireless through the house than the Sky router I had last year.

If you’re trying to run videoconference on your broadband in the office some of the free routers cannot handle the open ports that you need. Buy a router for proper management.

This article does little to tell us anything about router performance.

Gareth says:
17 March 2012

I’m have Virgin cable broadband, with a Netgear wgt 624 wireless router. It has a hardware firewall and choice of encryption but it does have an annoying habit of occasionally crashing for no apparent reason.

Hi Gareth

The locking up should be resolved if you update the router firmware. Log in to the router and check the firmware version. Go on line to NetGear support and check for the latest firmware for your router and download.

Log in to your router and back up the configuration to your computer before proceeding as firmware updates will invariably reset the router to factory defaults. Connect to the router using a wired network connection for the firmware upgrade. (You can bring the router to the computer if necessary as once you have downloaded the new firmware you don’t need to be connected to the Internet to complete the firmware update.) Follow the NetGear prompts to upgrade the firmware. Restart the router when completed, log in again and RESTORE the configuration.

Note that you may need to log in using the factory default username/password and if so, make sure to change the username/password again for security.

This is actually quite a simple procedure.

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.

You’re unlikely to find a good ADSL2+ modem/router that doesn’t have wireless and four network ports. There are a few without wireless, but they’re mostly junk. If you stick to Linksys (Cisco), D-Link or NetGear, you should get a good device. You can switch off the wireless (saves unnecessary power, interference and increases security).

Do you use all 16-ports? If you can manage with just 5 ports, you may find that getting a router with an integral 5-port gigabyte switch will save money in the long-term as newer ADSL2+ modem/routers are now much more power efficient, especially as they are 24-hour on devices.

I struggled fro months after my BT-supplied Voyager 2091 router failed and I installed a Home Hub 2 that BT had provided. Drop-out was dreadful. I called BT and an engineer eventually came out and spent a long time not solving the issue, despite changing the Home Hub 2 for a new one in his van. I’d thought the wirelss coverage would have been better with later model routers. Wrong! I bought a Netgear Extender in the beleief that I would add range to the wireless signal from the HH2. Right! And wrong! WHen it connected with the router, it gave a strong signal. Problem was that the router was so poor that the Netgear extender frequently lost the poor wireless signal from the HH2. By this time, I’m getting bad earache from wife and daughter who also couldn’t hold a decent wireless connection, although the HH2 is still internet-connected (lights are all blue). I finally decided that I’d speculatively try a Belkin Play DB600N+ modem/router. Problem solved instantly. Dispensed with HH2 AND Netgear Extender (now redundant) because I have a wireless signal direct from the Belkin everywhere in the house! I’ve used the Belkin for fully a year now and I can’t remember having lost a wireless connection even once in all that time. You’ll NEVER convince me in a month of Sundays that independent suppliers’ devices are no better than ISP-supplied equipment!
Despite having been courted on numerous occasions by BT to upgrade to Infinity since the local exchange went fibre optic, I’ve resisted doing so because I don’t trust BT’s Home Hubs any more. I still read in forums about wireless connection issues with HH3s. So, at the end of this month, when my renewal falls due, I expect to be going elsewhere.

David says:
20 November 2012

I had BT for 12 months including calls but the monthly charges usually came in between £35 ang £38.
I had no problems with their router. We changed to the Post Office and are on router no. 4. We were told we were a long way from the exchange, is it a different exchange? This last router doesn’t drop out but we cannot get one laptop to bring up the Internet even though it says its connected.

Derbytup says:
4 July 2015

Be very careful to check with your new supplier if their router will do everything you need. We switched recently to John Lewis Broadband having researched Which? articles and have now found that the Sagemcom router they supplied cannot support our home burglar alarm. Don’t just rely on their statements check with others. Our alarm company has tired and the problem seems to be not so much the router but the firmware. We are now having to get our own router, but which one!