A wireless router, also known as a Wi-Fi hub, is the small electronic device supplied by your internet service provider that allows you to connect to the internet. It connects to your home broadband line and sends data from the internet cable to your Wi-Fi-connected devices.
Wireless routers are the industry-standard way to connect to the internet in your home as wired routers have long been outdated, and are only really used by those who want to connect to the internet via an Ethernet cable.
Most wireless routers also come with at least four Ethernet ports to allow you to connect PCs, TVs and other in-home gadgets to the internet.
How does a Wi-Fi router work?
Plug your phone or cable line into your router and data will be sent through the connection to the router.
The Wi-Fi router then takes this data and converts it into radio signals, which are then picked up by devices with Wi-Fi capability such as laptops, tablets, smartphones and games consoles.
In addition to accessing the internet on your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can also use your router to connect Wi-Fi-capable devices in order to stream and download digital TV. Streaming devices such as Apple TV, Amazon's Fire TV Stick, Google's Chromecast or a NOW TV stick as well as all smart TVs.
How to use a wireless router
When you first connect to your Wi-Fi router you’ll be prompted to enter a password, which is typically supplied by your provider and will be printed on the bottom of your router. It’s usually a long and confusing series of uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers, making it difficult to remember but also virtually impossible for others to guess. This is done in order to offer heightened security and protect your network from being used by others illegally.
Be sure double-check when entering letters to make sure they’re in either uppercase or lowercase, otherwise you’ll have to enter the whole thing in again. Some routers have removable cards with all your log-in details written on them to save you from having to crouch around your router as you type in your password and details.
It should be as simple as that — your device will then connect to your wireless broadband automatically when in range. Once you’ve connected your devices to the Wi-Fi you won’t need to enter the password again until you want to connect a new device.
If your password isn’t recognised or you’ve connected and there’s a signal but no service, then you’ll need to contact your broadband provider to make sure everything is ok on their end.
What is a Wi-Fi booster?
A Wi-Fi booster (or Wi-Fi extender) is just that, it boosts the signal of your home or business’ Wi-Fi signal. Typically a small device that you plug into an electrical outlet, it pulls in an existing Wi-Fi signal, amplifies it, and then broadcasts the stronger signal. This is an efficient and affordable way to increase the range of your Wi-Fi router without the need for cables throughout your home or multiple Wi-Fi routers with separate passwords.
Should I buy a Wi-Fi extender?
If you have a few areas of your home that struggle to get a decent Wi-Fi signal, then a booster could be an ideal solution. This is especially common for houses on multiple floors. For example, if your Wi-Fi router is in the kitchen on the ground floor, you may find you get a poor signal on the third floor, especially for older houses with thick concrete walls throughout. Simply plug in your Wi-Fi booster upstairs to help the devices in your bedrooms connect to the router all the way downstairs.
However, there’s a big difference between a weak Wi-Fi signal and slow broadband speeds. If your broadband is slow even when your devices have full Wi-Fi signal, then the problem lies with your broadband service, not your router.
If you suspect your broadband speeds are too slow, run our speed test to find out.
Which are the best wireless routers?
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.