/ 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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Paul Goodwin says:
26 May 2022

Apologies if what follows has already been discussed or, if I’m at the wrong place. I will be surprised if I’m the first person to have fallen foul of this. I would like to take this up directly with Which but I got directed here – so here goes:

It seems to me that when evaluating the performance of routers, Which seems more preoccupied with the WI-FI performance and very little about the digital serial line side of the connexion.
I bought an ASUS RT-AX92U hub/router after reading the Which test review extolling it’s virtues, particularly the ‘easy set-up’; to replace the router as supplied with my, NowTV broadband. In a nutshell, ASUS routers won’t work with broadband lines that use a method known as DHCP (option 61) to embed the serial line userid and password (the method NOWTV uses). This was confirmed by ASUS technical support.
When testing routers, Which should be setting them up to networks from all the major broadband providers to find out those routers that will work and those that won’t. I’ve gone and wasted £190 on a device that I bought upon Which’s recommendation.

Kevin says:
26 May 2022

That’s a valid point about WiFi router reviews and basic functionality.

This isn’t a perfect solution, but if the problem with the Now router is simply lack of support for new WiFi tech and other features, it would allow you to use the ASUS for your wireless network, and give access to all the other features on the ASUS.

Try plugging the ASUS into the existing router using the WAN port on the ASUS connected to the Ethernet port on the existing router using a standard [Cat5/6] ethernet cable, you should then be able to connect to the Internet via the ASUS.