There are two kinds of Internet routers available: wired and wireless.
When you sign up for a new broadband deal, you'll receive a wireless model rather than a wired one from your internet service provider (ISP).
That's because wired ones have become outdated and tend to only be used by those who want to get online via an Ethernet cable.
Wireless routers allow you to do that, too, and most come with at least four Ethernet ports for connecting PCs, TVs and other in-home gadgets to the internet.
What is a wireless router?
A wireless router is an electronic device that works as a router — meaning it sends data from the internet cable to a device — and as a wireless access point so this data can be shared through radio signals instead of another cable.
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.
How do devices connect to a Wi–Fi router?
To connect to your router, you'll be prompted to enter a password on the device you're using. This is usually supplied by your ISP and can be found on the bottom of the router.
This tends to be a series of numbers and letters, designed to offer heightened security and protect your network from being used by others illegally.
What else can a Wi–Fi router do?
As well as being able to provide wireless access to the web and other services on smartphones, tablets and PCs, you can use your router to make calls over the internet, saving on expensive phone bills. You can also use it to access digital TV, using products such as Apple TV, Amazon's Firestick, Google's Chromecast or a smart TV.
Which are the best wireless routers?
Every ISP gives its users a router. If you pay for a basic ADSL package, you can expect a simple router that does the job and offers few bells and whistles.
However, if you sign up for fibre-optic broadband, you can expect a better model with more features. The best on the market are definitely BT's Smart Hub and Virgin's Super Hub.
BT Smart Hub
The replacement for BT's excellent Home Hub, the Smart Hub is available to customers who sign up for the BT Infinity Broadband package.
Its primary reason for standing out from the crowd is its powerful Wi–Fi connection: The Smart Hub features seven antennae to offer a bigger range than any other ISP's router.
It also offers next-generation AC Wi–Fi, which means you can connect more than one device and still take advantage of ultra fast speeds.
BT has loaded its router up with Smart Scan tech, which chooses the least congested channel to give you a solid connection and automatically restarts itself if there are any problems.
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
Now in its third iteration, Virgin's Super Hub comes with every broadband package offered by the entertainment giant. It only has five antennae compared to BT's seven, but it has the same AC standard Wi–Fi and works with Virgin's market–leading 200Mbps Wi–Fi.
With speeds that fast, you can access the web on a string of devices at once without noticing any major drops in speed. Just be aware that speeds can drop at peak times, as Virgin makes clear on its website.
Like the BT Smart Hub, it also has four Ethernet ports for making wired connections, but there is no USB port.
The router is actually made by Netgear, but support is offered by Virgin and it comes with Virgin branding, too.
Sky Q Hub
Tying in with the launch of its new Sky Q streaming TV service, the Sky Q Hub is the pay TV provider's most powerful router yet, putting it in the same league as Virgin and BT.
It comes with the latest AC standard Wi–Fi for connecting to the best new tech out there, the same 5Ghz band as its competitors (for faster, more reliable web access) and, Sky boasts, it can handle having up to 64 devices on its network at once.
While that's unlikely for all but the most hardcore of users, there are other more regular features which will appeal to everyday punters.
It has special powerline networking, which means you'll be able to send signal from your router to a connected Sky Q TV box.
The upshot is that you'll be able to stream TV easily without having to worry about the Sky Q Hub's range.
However, it's somewhat let down by only having two Ethernet ports. Not ideal if you want to connect a number of devices using a cable rather than Wi–Fi. There's also no USB port.
TalkTalk Super Router
Not to be outdone by its major rivals, TalkTalk's Super Router offers many of the same features as the products from BT, Virgin and Sky.
It has the ability to switch signals so you get the most reliable connection at any one time. 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 drop out.
TalkTalk says it can offer speeds up to 38Mbps, some way off BT and Virgin, but its dual band smarts — the same found in all of its rivals — does mean that connections should be solid for the most part.
There is a handy USB port for connecting dongles and other web–connected devices such as printers and hard drives. Four Ethernet ports round out the picture.
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