With the exception of 3G or 4G 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.
Compare our best-selling wireless broadband packages 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.
BT Router Home Hub
As well as the faster and more efficient connection outlined above, the BT Home Hub is now in its fifth generation and incorporates the very latest security features to provide better security for users. It also offers impressive range around the home, making it a reliable wireless router.
Owners also benefit from the Home Hub’s Power Save feature, which switches off wireless internet access when it's not in use. This cuts power consumption by more than one-fifth, saving money on electricity bills and providing a greener option.
The BT Home Hub can be purchased separately but is free when customers sign up for selected packages. Compare BT broadband packages at uSwitch now.
Virgin Media Super Hub
Virgin Media's Home Hub equivalent, the Super Hub, is built to handle speeds of up to 200Mbps and features the latest wireless N technology. Buyers also benefit from a two-year warranty. For the inside line on Virgin Media products, head to our Virgin Media deals page.
Sky Hub cable router
Sky's 'best-ever' wireless router's selling points include easy and secure set up, Sky Smart Signal technology for the best possible signal, and intelligent power consumption. You can compare Sky broadband packages here: Sky broadband.
Other next-generation routers
Like BT’s Home Hub, the next-generation routers available with rival providers' broadband products also offer greater performance, improved reliability around the home or office, and better coverage. Enhanced routers are usually free with selected packages and can also be purchased separately.
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?