A few weeks ago, I found myself suddenly shopping for a new router. Initially puzzling transient “No Internet Connection” service outages became constant in a few days, and the culprit was finally readily identifiable. Router failure symptoms can include isolated wireless or Ethernet cable connection failure and marked slowing of data transmission. Rarely are there dramatic puffs of smoke or other visual indications of failure. Premature failure can be caused by excess heat, electrical surges, mechanical shock, static electricity and corrosion, but electronic devices still inexplicably fail under seemingly ideal circumstances. Warranties range from one to three years, but there is still no reliable way to predict product lifetime.
For many of us, our wireless routers have been collecting layers of dust as they have quietly worked for years. Set it and forget it often seems to work just fine – until it doesn’t. It may actually be a good idea to replace a router before it quits. Technology has improved steadily over the years and you may be far behind the new normal. Transmission speed and distance doubled in 2003 with the arrival of “G” routers, again in 2009 (N routers) and yet again in 2013 (AC routers). Security and sophistication have similarly improved. If your wireless router is more than four or five years old, you should seriously start thinking about replacing it, especially if firmware (internal control program) updates are no longer available.
Some of your other wireless products, like microwave ovens, cordless phones and even your garage-door opener share the same 2.4GHz wireless frequency band as your router, and interference from them can degrade your connectivity, as can other routers nearby. Newer routers can auto-select the clearest channel, and offer the option to utilize the less congested 5.0GHz frequency band.
Most tech experts recommend a separate modem and router over a combo unit or “internet gateway”. You get more features, settings and power from a stand-alone router. If you have a number of newer wireless phones, tablets, printers and stream movies and music throughout your home, you will benefit from a sophisticated router.
If you rent your modem and router, you will usually have paid the full retail price in less than one year. Rental equipment is usually never updated and may even prevent renters from changing settings or updating firmware. Buying rather than renting will almost always save money and provide significantly better equipment. If you choose to follow this route, contact your ISP (Internet Service Provider) for a list of approved equipment or system requirements before you buy new equipment. Be prepared to learn a few new skills or find someone who can help with installing your new network.
Basic, dual-band models of 802.11ac routers that are adequate for apartments and smaller homes often sell for under $100. Better coverage and added features come at a premium – prices range up to $300. Mesh routers can provide whole-house and even outdoor wireless coverage by using multiple routers interacting with each other. It’s a lot cheaper and easier than rewiring the whole house!