With the exception of mobile internet, when people talk about 'wireless broadband', it's not actually the internet connection that is 'wireless' — it's the router.
In the case of home broadband, your internet connection comes to your house through a cable, and the router then divides (or routes) the internet connection between all the devices connected to it. To make a network wireless, you don't need a special connection; you just have to buy a wireless router.
Most broadband providers nowadays include wireless routers in broadband packages as standard, but it's always worth checking.
Sometimes it's worth investing in a new one because it may have better security than your existing wireless model, have a higher range or broadcast on more channels. The new generation of wireless routers are also sleeker, easier to install and better designed than previous iterations.
You can compare broadband deals here, then read on to find the best wireless router for your needs.
Is the best wireless router worth it?
Do you have more than one computer in more than one room? Are any other devices like 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.
If you just have one or two desktop PCs and they're close to the router anyway, investing in a new-generation wireless router probably isn't worth it. But if the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then wireless is a good idea.
- No wires!
- Ability to connect LOTS of devices simultaneously
- Lacks the stability of cable
- People can steal your wireless signal -- unless your security is tight
- Signal interference
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 novices. We've made a list of the most common terms, best practices and wireless standards to help demystify things.
What do I need to look for in a wireless router?
If you connect via a BT phone line, then you need an ADSL wireless router. If you connect via cable (i.e., fibre-optic broadband), then you will need a cable router. Confirm your connection type before you buy to make sure you're getting the right router for your broadband.
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.
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 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 and change it to something that less people use.
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.
Which are the best wireless routers from providers?
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 one of BT’s Superfast Fibre Broadband packages.
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.
For more information on wireless routers see our guide entitled what is a wireless router?