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How to Choose the Right Router For Your Home

If you’re signing up for a new broadband plan, should you pay extra for the router the provider offers, or will the old router from your previous provider do the trick? Or, should you go out and buy yourself a brand new one of your choosing? Canstar Blue explores the options.

If you’re on the hunt for a new Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) plan, it could also be a good time to weigh up your router options. Internet service providers often package routers with their plans. However, there’s usually an added commitment or cost involved. This means you’ll need to sign up for a 12-month contract to get one free, or purchase the router upfront on an open-term plan.

Alternatively, you may want to go out and buy your own router. Or, simply use one you already have laying about.

Whether packaging a router with your plan, or going down the BYO path, it pays to do your research. Each household is different, and when it comes to routers it’s not necessarily a case of one size fits all.

There are many factors to consider. They include: your broadband plan, the capabilities of the router you’re using, the number of devices connecting simultaneously, the physical dimensions of your home. 

In this article:

What does a router do?
Weighing up your household’s requirements
What to look for in a router
Router features to consider
Routers for a larger home

Your home network: what is the router’s role?

Routers have traditionally worked in conjunction with modems to create home networks. However, in a UFB fibre-to-the-home set-up, the optical network terminal (a small box installed inside your property, often referred to as an ONT) effectively performs the functions of a modem. So for a fibre plan, you only need to worry about a router.

The router then connects directly to the ONT (fibre box) via an ethernet cable. Once the router is connected, you’ll be able to proceed with setting up and managing your home network. Keep in mind that all the devices accessing internet on your home network do so via the router. The router’s role is to manage local network traffic and facilitate the flow of data via wireless (wi-fi) and wired (ethernet) connections.

That makes the router pretty important for fast and effective home internet.

Weighing up your router requirements

It may not be the flashiest or most attention-grabbing device you own, but without an appropriate router, you’ll likely experience ongoing connection issues, regardless of your provider and plan.

To put this into context, you might be paying top dollar for a high-speed broadband plan, while using some of the latest-and-greatest computing devices. But if your router isn’t cut out for the job, your connectivity will suffer.

With this in mind, when weighing up your router requirements, you need to factor in your household’s broadband requirements. This will determine which router features and capabilities are necessary.

Consider factors such as:

  • Broadband plan – what type of broadband plan are you on? Not all routers can handle ultra-fast broadband speeds. You don’t want to pay for speeds you can’t use. And, conversely, you don’t need a router built for hyper fibre speed if you’re only on a standard broadband plan
  • Online services – if you regularly use data-intensive services and push your plan to the limit, you require a router capable of keeping up. Gaming is a good example of this, and there are many gaming routers available
  • Number of devices connecting – how many devices regularly connect to the internet in your household? The more devices connected, the more strain on your router. Also do you envisage more devices being added in the short- and long-term?
  • Type of devices connecting – what range of devices makes up your home network? Do you connect via wi-fi alone, or do you connect physically via ethernet, too?
  • Number of people – how many people regularly access the internet in your household? As with devices, the more people connecting the more strain on your router
  • Household dimensions – if you’re in a comparatively confined space, your router probably won’t have too many issues providing wi-fi coverage. However, if you need coverage for a larger space, you must weigh up your options, such as mesh routers. 

Also, it’s important to be aware that if you are considering using a BYO router, you need to ensure compatibility with your provider. Plus, any steps that may need to be taken to configure it and get it up and running.

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that if you are currently experiencing broadband bottlenecks, as a first step it’s worthwhile getting in touch with your provider to confirm the cause of the issue. If it’s the router, then it will be time to go shopping.

→Related article: Broadband Speed Test: Troubleshooting Internet Speed

Compare broadband with Canstar Blue

Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ internet providers compares NOW, 2degrees, Bigpipe, Contact, MyRepublic, Nova Energy, Orcon, Slingshot, Spark, Stuff Fibre, Trustpower and Vodafone, and awards the best our 5 Star rating:

See Our Ratings Methodology

The table above is an abridged version of our full research, so to find out more about NZ’s best broadband providers, just click on the big button at the bottom of this story.

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Router speeds: what should you look for?

There is a range of router features that can assist you in getting the best internet connection.

While wi-fi speed capabilities are important, don’t overlook the role ethernet connections can play. For instance, connecting data-intensive devices, such as smart TVs or game consoles, via ethernet can help free up the wi-fi component of your home network.

Meanwhile, when it comes to wi-fi, routers typically broadcast on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. The 2.4GHz band offers better range, while the 5GHz band greater speed. Most routers provide dual-band capabilities, but tri-band (2.4GHz and x2 5GHz) is also an option. By connecting devices to a mixture of the two or three bands, you’ll better avoid overcrowding the network. For example, connecting every device in your household to the 5GHz band could slow it down, while leaving the 2.4GHz band completely free.

In assessing router speeds, key features to keep in mind include:

  • Wi-fi standard – the standard defines a router’s wireless performance capabilities. Wi-fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) is the most recent, and best, standard. It delivers significant performance upgrades over previous standards. There is also wi-fi 5 (also known as 802.11ac), which remains a widely used standard and is fine for average users
  • Wi-fi speed – is measured in Mbps (megabits per second). Routers typically advertise the total maximum wi-fi Mbps speed capacity provided across the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. For example, a dual-band AC2900 router can theoretically provide a maximum speed of 2900Mbps across the 2.4 and 5GHz bands
  • Wired speed – a router’s LAN ports provide for wired ethernet connections. Speeds of 1Gbps (gigabits per second; 1000 Mbps) are commonly available. As mentioned above, using wired connections can help free up the wireless component of your network. And more ports means more wired connections.

→Related article: NZ’s Cheapest Broadband Plans

Router features that can boost your home network

Beyond a router’s speed capabilities, there are some additional features worth considering. Many new-release models sport features variously designed to enable streamlined internet access and effective home-network management.

It’s worth weighing up the full scope of features available to determine what fits your internet usage and budget.

Router features to look out for include:

  • MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) – enables more efficient router communication with multiple devices simultaneously
  • OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) – is a wi-fi 6 feature that improves data transmission, catering for the requirements of multiple devices at once.
  • QoS (quality of service) – allows for the prioritisation of different applications on a network, paving the way for efficient network traffic control
  • Band steering – automatically steers dual-band devices (devices in your network capable of connecting over both the 2.4 and 5GHz bands) to the less congested 5GHz band
  • Beamforming – detects device locations, and then focuses the wi-fi signal to where it is required
  • Ports – as advised above, LAN ports allow for the connection of devices via Ethernet. USB ports allow for the connection of devices (such as a printer), which can be shared on your home network
  • Parental controls – may include features such as limiting screen time and restricting website access
  • Security – routers can support a variety of security protocols, including the WPA, WPA2 and WPA3 protocols, which provide varying levels of security

Mesh routers: wi-fi coverage for larger spaces

If wi-fi coverage throughout your household presents an issue, it could be worth considering a mesh router. These types of routers, which have become an increasingly popular option in recent years, can extend coverage to hard-to-reach spaces.

Mesh routers comprise a main router and a number of additional access points, referred to as nodes. These nodes can be positioned around your household to improve wi-fi coverage.

The access points and main router combine to create a single wi-fi network, each separate node broadcasting the wi-fi signal. Connecting devices can automatically switch between nodes as you move around your household for a more seamless experience.

For instance, if you live in a two-storey house, you could position the main router downstairs and an access point upstairs. If you are browsing on your mobile phone while walking upstairs, it will automatically switch nodes, keeping your connection strong. 

→Related article: What is Google‌ ‌Nest‌? Smart‌ ‌Tech‌ ‌for‌ ‌Your‌ Home‌

This differs from a wi-fi booster/extender, which is designed to pick up the signal from the router and extend its range. While it may be effective in doing so, it typically provides a weaker and slower connection. Mesh routers broadcast the same signal, from multiple nodes, giving a consistent connection.

Notably, many providers are now offering mesh routers with their plans, while there is a range of third-party options available.

Compare broadband providers for free with Canstar!

About the author of this page

 Martin KovacsThis report was written by Canstar author Martin Kovacs. Martin is a freelance writer with experience covering the business, consumer technology and utilities sectors. Martin has written about a wide range of topics across both print and digital publications, including the manner in which industry continues to adapt and evolve amid the rollout of new technologies

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