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Most people don’t give much thought about if they should rent or buy their WiFi router until it starts flashing red right in the middle of their favorite Netflix show. And even then, it’s usually forgotten again after a quick reboot.
But have you ever wondered how much you’re paying for that little blinking box, and whether you could be saving money? And what about the kind of service you’re getting for your hard-earned dollars? You might be renting your WiFi router because it was the simplest solution at the time, or even because you didn’t know you had other options. Depending on your networking needs, buying your own router might provide more advantages than renting. Read on to learn more about if you should rent or buy a WiFi router.
Renting internet equipment from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) costs anywhere between $5 (Spectrum) and $15 (CenturyLink) per month at the time of writing, with the average price coming in at around $10. Some ISPs may provide a separate modem in addition to the WiFi router, but often the modem and router are combined into one unit.
For example, if you’re paying $10 a month to rent a combined modem/router; that’s $240 in rental fees over two years. However, you could easily pick up a similar unit for around $100, or even less. In under a year, the equipment will likely have paid for itself in savings on rental fees. In addition to the potential cost savings, the big benefit of buying a WiFi router is getting a much better model than the one provided by your ISP.
If you’re creating a home network setup for your family, for instance, you could get a router with faster speeds, better range and the ability to connect to more devices at once. You can even get routers with smart home integration, so they can be controlled using Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
If your ISP provides a separate modem and router, bear in mind that you’ll have to replace both pieces of equipment with your own to avoid a rental fee (you can also replace a separate modem and router with an all-in-one unit). The modem is the part that converts the incoming signal, and the router is the part that wirelessly beams the signal around your home. Your ISP should provide a list of modems and routers that are compatible with their service.
One reason people rent rather than buy is simply to avoid extra hassle. When renting, the ISP sends over everything you need to get started, and it provides tech support, offering peace of mind for the technophobic. The ISP will also replace a rented router in the event that anything goes wrong.
Renting might also be preferable if you switch ISPs frequently. That might be because you move a lot, or because you switch providers every year or so to get the best deals. Not all WiFi routers are compatible with all ISPs, so you could find that the router you bought the previous year won’t work with the ISP you switch to.
In the past, some ISPs have charged customers a rental fee even if they provided their own equipment, but this practice will soon be prohibited by U.S. law, according to Ars Technica.
The naming convention for WiFi routers—AC1200, AX5400 and so on—gives you an idea of their specifications. AC means the router works with WiFi 5, whereas AX means it works with the newer WiFi 6. The number is the theoretical maximum speed of the router in megabits per second (Mbps).
WiFi 6 is faster than WiFi 5 and can handle several devices all at the same time with little dropoff in speed, but it’s only just starting to be incorporated into computers; therefore, buying a WiFi 6 router is more about future-proofing.
If you have a 1 Gbps+ fiber internet connection, you might want a high-end router to make the most of that speed, particularly if you do a lot of high-speed online gaming, working from home, and 4K streaming. A good example is the TP-Link Archer AX6000, which will set you back around $300.
High-end routers also generally feature tri-band: They broadcast one signal at 2.4 GHz and two separate signals at 5 GHz. Each signal is like a separate network, so they can potentially connect to more devices at once without slowing everything down. Dual-band routers broadcast one signal in 2.4 GHz and one in 5 GHz, while older, single-band routers only use 2.4 GHz.
For most households with fewer than ten connected devices, a dual-band router in around the AC2000 range should be more than sufficient. The ASUS RT-AC66U B1 is nice example of an AC1750 dual-band router at around $100 or less.
If you’re a very light internet user and you only have a DSL connection, you can get away with an even cheaper router. After all, there’s no point in paying for a fast router if your connection is slow. A good example of a budget router is the D-Link DIR-1360-US, an AC1300 model which is a snip at around $70. As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid single-band models and anything below AC1200.
Ultimately, buying can potentially save money in the long run and provide faster speeds. But buying also comes with the extra work of choosing a router, setting it up and replacing it if need be. Configuring a new router is relatively uncomplicated, but if the idea of doing anything vaguely technical spins you into a panic, then consider the cost of renting as the cost of peace of mind when choosing the right internet plan for your home.