Choosing furnishings for a new apartment can be one of the most exciting parts of moving. But before you decide on the perfect throw rug or macrame plant hanger, there’s one essential item you might need to shop for first: a wireless router.
Wireless routers, also known as WiFi routers, create and broadcast the wireless networks that connect devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones to the internet.
They’re also crucial for managing your network’s security and getting the most from your internet service. Below, we’ll give you a quick introduction to choosing a router with seven questions to help you make the right choice.
How to Choose a Router: Seven Important Questions
Should I rent a router from my ISP?
Most internet service providers (ISPs) rent routers to their customers for a monthly fee. Renting through your ISP is a good choice for many people since you’ll get a router that your ISP has tested extensively for compatibility.
Using a router from your ISP also guarantees access to your ISP’s support services, including installation and remote support.
If you want to use your own router, it’s critical you choose a model that your ISP supports. Most ISPs offer a list of supported routers on their websites, but these lists aren’t always comprehensive. If you’re not sure about a specific model of router, get in touch with your ISP and confirm that they support it.
What’s my budget?
Considering your budget is a key part of deciding which router is right for you. Fortunately, budget-friendly router models are more common than ever, with numerous highly rated routers available for $70 or less.
If you rent a router, you’ll pay a small monthly fee instead, which can be handy if you’d rather spread the cost out.
For a high-performance router that can handle tons of devices and high speeds, you may need to push your budget higher, into the range of $150-300. Specialty routers, such as gaming and business routers, offer extra options that can boost your router’s performance in ways that may matter for your specific use cases.
Do I need WiFi 6 or WiFi 6E?
Wifi 6 is the most widespread current iteration of the WiFi standard, and it comes with a range of useful features that improve a router’s speed, capacity, and security. Fortunately, nearly every new router on the market offers WiFi 6 support.
If you need a high-performance router, consider choosing a model with WiFi 6E support. WiFi 6E allows your router to broadcast an extra frequency band in the largely unused 6GHz wireless spectrum, offering faster speeds and lower latency.
It’s particularly useful for gamers, remote workers, and anyone else who needs access to lots of bandwidth on demand.
What speeds and capacity do I need from my router?
Your router can affect the maximum speed of your internet connection, so it’s also worth looking at a router’s top supported speeds when deciding which router to buy. Most users today will be fine with any router that offers gigabit speeds (at least 1,000 Mbps).
A gigabit-ready router can accommodate nearly any broadband connection today at full speed. Only a handful of very fast fiber internet connections will need a router with speeds higher than a gigabit.
Another key performance factor is how many devices will be using your network at once. If you’ll have numerous wireless devices on your network, look for a dual-band or tri-band router.
These routers can broadcast multiple networks simultaneously, providing extra space for all your devices. If you want to connect multiple devices via Ethernet connections, make sure to get a router with multiple wired LAN ports.
What security features should my router have?
A router also serves as the gatekeeper that prevents unauthorized users from accessing your network. At a minimum, any modern router should support WPA2 password encryption, and the current gold-standard WPA3 encryption is even better. (WPA3 support is built into WiFi 6, so this shouldn’t be hard to find.)
Other security features you might want to look for in a router include a built-in firewall and the ability to create a separate guest wireless network. These aren’t must-haves for everyone, but they can be extremely useful for anyone who wants to step up the security in their home network.
Should I get a modem-router combo?
Modem-router combos are exactly what they sound like—a modem and a router in the same enclosure. These devices are a practical all-in-one option for anyone who wants an easy plug-and-play internet solution, which is why many ISP rental routers today are actually modem-router combos.
However, combo routers might not be the right choice if you need extensive customization features on your router or modem, since they’re typically designed for a simplified experience.
Should I get a mesh router?
If you have a large home or one where the layout is less open, a mesh router can be an effective way to ensure coverage throughout your space.
Mesh routers use a network of nodes placed throughout your space, seamlessly handing off the transfer from one node to the next when you move your device.
However, a mesh system costs more than a normal router, since you’ll need not just a mesh-enabled router but at least one extra node. (Most starter sets come with a router plus two nodes.)
Not sure whether you need a mesh router? If you already have a router, set it up and run an internet speed test in rooms around your home or apartment, especially in areas far away from your router.
If you’re not getting usable speeds in rooms where you’ll need a strong WiFi signal, your home might be a good candidate for mesh networking.
Your router may be a small device, but it’s a critical piece of any 21st-century home. Choosing the right one will reward you with a fast, stable, and secure WiFi network.