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What are the best wireless routers?

What are the best wireless routers?

With the exception of mobile internet, when people talk about 'wireless broadband', they're usually referring to internet with Wi-Fi. In other words, broadband packages that allow you to connect to the internet wirelessly.

Most broadband providers nowadays include wireless routers in broadband packages as standard.

However, it could be worth buying a new one if it offers better security than your existing wireless model or has a better range.

The new generation of wireless routers are also sleeker, easier to install and better designed than previous iterations. They also look a lot nicer than older versions, so they shouldn't be too much of an eyesore in your home.

You can compare broadband deals here, then read on to find the best broadband router for your needs.

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Is the best wireless router worth it?

Do you live with lots of internet users? Are lots of electrical devices like computers, smartphones, laptops or tablets usually connected to the Wi-Fi? Is your house big or multi-storey? Depending on the answers, getting the best router may be a waste of money, or it may improve your connection.

But if the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then a good wireless is a smart idea.

Pros

  • No wires!
  • Fast
  • Ability to connect LOTS of devices simultaneously

Cons

  • Lacks the consistency of a cable connection
  • People can steal your wireless signal -- unless your security is tight
  • Signal interference

Plus, if you need to connect a wired internet cable for any of your devices, most of them have a few ethernet ports in the back to get you online.

The best routers and N routers

As is often the case with technology, a lot of jargon is involved with wireless broadband, which can be very off-putting for people new to it.

We've made a list of the most common terms, best practices and wireless standards to help clear things up.

What is the best broadband router for me?

The type of your broadband connection might come up, but that shouldn't affect the type of router you'll receive, except if you go for a copper ADSL deal. Routers for these connections usually have fewer features than for faster broadband packages.

If you choose fibre broadband or Virgin Media's cable broadband, the router your provider gives you will usually be the highest standard a free one can be.

You could pay extra for a third-party one, but it would only really make a difference if you're an extremely heavy internet user, or knowledgeable of the technology enough to get the most out of it.

What does B, G or N stand for?

It's a wireless standard that tells you how fast your router can go. The first ever wireless standard was called 802.11, but this needed to be revised as they got better, and the letter refers to the speed they max out at.

B routers take speeds of up to 11Mbps, G routers take speeds of up to 54Mbps and an N router can hit over 100Mbps. So a router that says 802.11n can support speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Most new wireless routers nowadays are 801.11ac, also known as Wi-Fi 5. This is capable of withstanding broadband speeds much higher than most UK households can currently get (around 866Mbps).

But we're also starting to see the introduction of 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6. Not only can it allow speeds up to 3.5Gbps, but it will also allow for many more devices to connect to it without clogging up the channels. As a result it's set to be a game-changer for large venues like stadiums and airports.

What's a channel?

On your router configuration page, you may see something that talks about wireless channels. Each channel has a spectrum, and it's what the signal broadcasts on. If lots of people are using the same channel, it can get congested.

Channels 1, 6 and 11 can be reached through the 2.4GHz band on your router. They are usually the best for the UK because they have the highest frequency ranges, which makes them very popular and more likely to get congested. If you notice slow speeds, you can try to change it to something that fewer people use.

Most modern routers also offer a 5GHz band now, which contain a much wider range of channels from 36 all the way to 165. You could switch to this band if you're noticing your Wi-Fi speeds are lagging due to demand.

What do WEP, WPA and WPA2 mean?

These are different types of security keys for your wireless connection, but some are better than others. WEP is the weakest, and you should avoid using it. Always use the highest security possible. WPA is okay but WPA2 is much, much better. If you can, add MAC address filtering.

What's MAC address filtering?

A MAC address is a unique code that identifies your network adapter. It is NOT the same thing as a MAC code, which you used to need when switching your broadband provider.

A MAC address will look something like 00:4F:6G:00:EE, and it will be 100% unique to you. No other device in the world will have it, and anything that connects to the internet has to have one.

When you set up your router, you can tell it to only allow connections from specified MAC addresses, meaning that you have to add them individually otherwise the device can't connect, even if it has the password.

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Which broadband provider has the best wireless router?

Every broadband provider will send a Wi-Fi router to all of its new customers. If you get a basic ADSL package, you can expect a simple router that does the job of connecting you to the internet and very little else.

However, if you sign up for fibre-optic broadband, you can expect a better model with more features. Here are the routers some providers are offering.

BT Smart Hub 2

The second generation of the BT Smart Hub is available to customers who sign up for a BT Superfast Fibre Broadband package.

Like its predecessor, the BT Smart Hub 2 is one of the most advanced Wi-Fi hubs available, featuring seven antennae to access a bigger range of Wi-Fi signals than any other ISP's router.

The Smart Hub 2 also has built-in Smart Scan technology, meaning that it will constantly monitor your hub’s connection and switch channels or reboot the connection automatically if it detects a problem.

The same firewall and BT Parental Controls from the company's previous models are also included, so you can restrict web access if needed. There is also a USB port for connecting printers or creating a network by using a USB dongle.

Virgin Media Super Hub 3

Virgin Media includes its Super Hub 3 in every broadband package they offer. And while it may only have five antennae compared to BT’s seven, it still has the same AC standard Wi-Fi and works with Virgin's market-leading ultrafast broadband speeds.

Produced by Netgear, one of the world’s biggest computer networking companies, the Super Hub 3 has four Ethernet ports for making wired connections, but unlike the BT Smart Hub 2, it doesn’t have a USB port.

Sky Q Hub

Sky continues to impress with upgrades to the technology in both its set-top boxes and its Wi-Fi hubs. The original and already-impressive Sky Q Hub comes with the same 5Ghz band as its competitors and, according to Sky, can handle having up to 64 devices at once.

The newer Sky Hub has a total of eight antennae for even better connectivity, as well as four Ethernet ports –– as opposed to just two on the Sky Q Hub –– and is VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) enabled, allowing you to make calls directly over the internet.

The Sky Q Hub has special powerline networking, which means signals can be sent from your router to a connected Sky Q TV box. This means that you'll be able to stream TV easily without having to worry about the Sky Q Hub's range.

TalkTalk Wi-Fi Hub

TalkTalk has invested heavily in their Wi-Fi Hub, ensuring that their service is just as good as the other major broadband providers.

Like BT, TalkTalk’s Wi-Fi Hub has seven antennae allowing for greater connectivity even at busier times, switching signals between 5GHz and 2.4GHz to get you the most reliable connection.

It does this by using AC standard Wi-Fi and checking where your AC–compatible tablet, smartphone or laptop is. It can then switch to a faster signal without you noticing any loss of service.

TalkTalk has also included a handy USB port for connecting dongles and other web-connected devices such as printers and hard drives, as well as four Ethernet ports.

One of the biggest appeals of the TalkTalk Hub is that its sleek design will mean you won’t have to hide it behind furniture or in cupboards. Having it proudly on display will also mean that its signal will be less interrupted and should reach throughout your home with ease.

Visit the Uswitch wireless broadband comparison page for our best deals from UK providers.

See our wireless broadband deals

For more information on wireless routers see our guide entitled what is a wireless router?

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