While many assume that the router provided by an internet service provider will do, an upgraded wireless router is the key to unlocking what home internet can really do. Even a modest router upgrade can have a huge effect on a household Wi-Fi experience, coverage and speed.
To help narrow down the search for a new router, we’ve rounded up the best wireless routers available today. These little boxes will revolutionise 4K streaming and online gaming for households small and large. In addition to some pretty hefty options, we’ve also been sure to include affordable options so those with tighter budgets don’t miss out.
Before we barrel on into the shortlist, there is one thing we need to discuss: Wi-Fi 6. It’s a generation of Wi-Fi that’s going to be coming up quite a lot. For those who aren’t in the know, here’s a quick breakdown of Wi-Fi 6:
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of Wi-Fi tech and has plenty to offer both casual and dedicated internet consumers. It improves on the previous generation, known as Wi-Fi 5, by upping the maximum throughput of a router. Wi-Fi 6 is also more secure than previous iterations.
WiFi 6 introduces systems that automatically manage multiple connected devices. The result of this management isn’t necessarily faster overall internet speeds - this is down to your ISP and UK internet infrastructure. Rather, you get improved speed across the devices using one router - an essential property in the age of smartphones, tablets and smart home devices. Wi-Fi 6 routers generally boast larger coverage areas and can integrate into a mesh network. Wi-Fi 6 is also more secure than previous iterations.
Is Wi-Fi 6 good for streaming 4K and gaming?
Wi-Fi 6 has improved stability, signal direction and bandwidth over previous Wi-Fi iteration, which is required for uninterrupted 4K streaming and lag-free online gaming. Additionally, because Wi-Fi 6 can handle multiple devices without degrading individual device performance, anyone streaming in 4K or gaming won’t have such a harsh effect on other users, and visa-versa.
The Best Wireless Routers
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6, Dual-band | Antenna: Three | Ports: WAN x1, 2.5Gbps WAN x1, Gigabit
Balancing versatility, performance and cost is the ASUS RT-AX86U. Primarily intended as a router for gaming, the device has powers that are desired by all.
The RT-AX86U can support dozens of devices and optimise the performance of each accordingly. The range and signal strength are strong and reliable, even from other rooms, and anyone wanting to set up mesh Wi-Fi will be able to integrate the router with ease.
LAN connections are just as well catered. The router has four LAN ports and one 2.4G Ethernet port. LAN One, the first port in the sequence, is also known as the Gaming Port - it automatically sets the connected device as the router’s top priority, ensuring it receives the most stable and consistent internet connection. Similarly, Adaptive Quality of Service allows you to set task priorities - if you value streaming over web browsing, you can let the RT-AX86U know, and it’ll make sure streaming runs smoothly.
All of this isn’t even to mention the user-friendly app, security and parental control features, and mobile gaming optimisation. It’s a pretty powerful router, that’s for sure.
Not enough? Well, ASUS also offers a user-friendly app with useful security and parental control features and mobile gaming optimisation.
Boasting a squat body and eight antennae, the arachnidian TP-Link Archer AX6600 looks the business. Luckily it has the chops to live up to its imposing looks.
The tri-band wireless is excellent: one 5GHz band hits 4,804Mbps while another hits 1,201GHz, and the 2.4GHz hits 1,148Mbps. These speeds are maintained reasonably at distance, thanks to the router’s impressive range. Wired connections are plentiful, with five LAN (including one at 2.5Gbps) ports to service multiple devices with rapid speeds.
The TP-Link Tether app can be used to switch on the guest network, activate WPS, run speed tests, and set priority functions (streaming, messaging, gaming).
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6, Tri-band | Antenna: Internal | Ports: WAN x1, Gigabit LAN x5, USB 3.0 x2
Yes, it looks like it might fly off and the price is a tad eye-watering for general users, but the Nighthawk RAX80 AX11000 is impossible to overlook.
The wireless capabilities are fantastic, handling up to 10.8Gbps of data via its tri-band frequencies - one 2.4Gz (1.2Gbps) and two 5GHz (4.8Gbps) channels. It throws out its signal over 12 simultaneous streams, and the range advertises 2,500sqft of coverage.
Those craving a wired connection will also be pleased by the four Gigabit LANs and one 2.4GBps Lan port. The WAN connection is also futureproofed for internet service plans of 2Gbps, thanks to link integration.
Of course, there’s a smartphone app for simplified and quick control of router settings, Alexa and Google Assistant can be connected for voice controls. The router also comes with a trial of the Netgear security package - a good platform, but it is a shame a subscription is needed after a free trial (optional).
Some real winners can be found amongst the TP-Link Archer range, with the AX1500 being the second to feature in our top picks. It’s here because it’s the best budget wireless router around.
As a dual-band router, the AX1500 has a maximum wireless speed of 1.5Gbps: the 5GHz band maxes out at 1,201Mbps, the 2.4GHz band at 300Mbps. These speeds allow wireless devices to achieve speeds that are comparable to wired LAN connections. Also, thanks to the magic of Wi-Fi 6, the AX1500 can handle many more devices than Wi-Fi 5 routers (and that rubbish grey option provided by ISPs)
The TP-Link Archer AX1500 can be controlled via the TP-Link Tether App, which allows access to network settings and parental controls.
The Linksys Velop MX4200 is a simple and capable wireless router for a family home. As a Wi-Fi 6 router, it carries the ability to handle impressive speeds across many connected devices.
As a tri-band router (one 2.4GHz and two 5GHz), the MX4200 has a max throughput of 4.2GBps. This provides plenty of scope for home-workers, box-set bingers and online gamers to co-exist peacefully.
The advertised range of the router is 3,000sqft. This will be fine for apartments and smaller family homes, but to maintain a constant performance the MX4200 can be used as part of a mesh Wi-Fi network, a system that’s quick to set up and helps to reduce signal dead zones in and around your home. The MX4200 can be purchase in single, double or triple packs.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is also known as 805.11ax. At the base level, this Wi-Fi does what Wi-Fi always has - connect you to the internet wirelessly. But the technology in Wi-Fi 6 improves in several areas.
Wi-Fi 6 improves on Wi-Fi 5 technology by upping the maximum Gbps (Gigabits Per Second) from 3.5Gbps to 9.6Gbps. If you’re a normal bod living in the UK, this number doesn’t affect you. While some are lucky enough to get nearly 100Mbps, the average internet speed in the UK is only 35Mbps (via Cable).
What 9.6Gbps does mean for UK internet users is that each device connected to a Wi-Fi 6 router has more speed available to it. This couples with OFDMA and MU-MIMO technology, which allows a router to support more devices, and receive and process a greater amount of requests.
OFDMA - Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access
MU-MIMO - Multi-user, multiple input, multiple output
Effectively, the extra Gbps and clever communication technologies in Wi-Fi 6 prevent devices from bottlenecking each other. More devices no longer mean slower speeds. Wi-Fi 6 can directly beam a signal to a device for reduced signal loss and interference and carries some handy energy-saving features.
On top of pumped-up speeds and performance with multiple devices, Wi-Fi 6 has improved security, as it requires the use of WPA3 (a security measure that hackers aren’t keen on). Wi-Fi 5 only supported it as an optional extra.
You can read more about Wi-Fi 6 on the official Wi-Fi Alliance website.
What is link aggregation?
Link aggregation is often referred to when discussing LAN and WAN ports that have a high throughout (2.4Gbps, for example). It means that the router is linking up multiple smaller connections to act as one larger connection with increased capacity. Because link aggregation uses multiple links, it’s also very stable - if one line drops its connection this does not destroy the overall connection.
Should I use 2.4GHz or 5GHz?
As CenturyLink explains in its blog, Wi-Fi transmits to connected devices via radio frequencies. There are two frequency bands used - 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
2.4GHz is a frequency that has a wide range and is good at travelling through surfaces and obstructions. However, it has a relatively low data rate and thus slower internet speeds. It’s also the frequency used by a range of household products, including microwaves, phones, Bluetooth, wireless speakers and other internet devices, making the wavelength pretty congested.
5GHz is a short-range frequency with a high data rate. It’s less prone to interference as fewer devices currently operate on this frequency.
Devices that are close to the router and require high speeds (gaming, video calls, streaming) should use 5GHz where available. Devices further from the router performing less data-intense tasks (smart home hubs, web-browsing laptops, or smartphone messaging) will be fine on 2.4GHz.
Note that not all devices can work at 5GHz. Check compatibility before any router purchase.
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