When you sign up to a broadband deal, your new provider will send you a wireless router to get started. You just have to plug it in, wait for it to light up, and you're ready to go. Other than having to type in the passcode on all your devices, there's no other setup at all. It couldn't be easier.
But here's the thing: not all routers are made equal. Some are very high end, packed with the latest technology and able to get the absolute most from your home network. Others aren't.
An easy way for a broadband supplier to keep their costs down is to work with only bare-bones routers, or models from a generation or two ago. And many people will be fine with that; for others, there's room for improvement.
Why use your own router?
Did you know that you don't have to settle for the router your provider gives you? You can use your own router instead, and there are lots of good reasons why you'd want to:
- A new router can offer a stronger and more reliable connection.
- It can give you better coverage throughout your home - maybe even stretching the signal into your garden.
- It can handle more users connected at the same time.
- A new router can let you use the latest tech with your compatible gadgets - like the latest Wi-Fi spec, Wi-Fi 6, which works on recent iPhones and many Android phones.
- It might offer built-in parental controls, which you can manage through a phone app.
- It can give you access to more advanced features, like support for a VPN or your own choice of DNS service.
What a new router won't do is make your broadband connection itself faster. If you're thirsting for more speed, take a look at the latest broadband deals or check what's available in your area to see what's on offer.
Potential downsides and other things you should know
Many broadband providers aren't overly keen on you using your own router, even though Ofcom says that you can. So while providers can't stop you, they generally won't offer tech support if you aren't using their supplied gear. And that's fair enough, since there are so many different brands and models of router on sale and they can't be expected to know how they all work.
There may also be compatibility issues with some networks. Sky, for instance, use a special kind of authentication system called MER encapsulation, so you need to make sure your router supports that - and not all do.
On Virgin Media, you can set up your own router but you need to keep your Hub or Super Hub plugged in as well, set to Modem Mode.
It can be even more complex for some specialist providers. On Hyperoptic, for example, your router needs to accept an Ethernet connection, and it won't work with your call plan. If you need to, you can use your own router for internet and the Hyperoptic router for calls.
So if you do decide to switch, always check exactly what you need before you buy, and don't chuck your official router - it might only be on loan to you, for a start! But if you ever need tech support you'll be better off plugging it back in before making the call. That's likely to be the first thing they tell you to do anyway, and - you never know - reconnecting it might actually solve your problem.
How to set up your own router
Once you've bought your router, you need to set it up. Most providers offer basic instructions on how to do this, although the precise details will differ depending on which router you're using.
The process is a little more hands-on than connecting the supplied model. In most cases you need to turn the router on, connect to it on your laptop, then log in to its Settings panel. Check the manual for details on how to do this.
From there, you'll probably have to enter a few details, including a username, as well as tick a few boxes and select a few items from drop-down lists. These are all technical things, but don't worry about that. You don't actually need to know what any of them mean.
Finally, reboot your router and - fingers crossed - it should connect you to the internet. Now all you need to do is connect all your devices again, and you're done.
Using your own router is something for more tech-minded users. You might be perfectly happy with the setup you've currently got, and see no reason to change. Either way, it is useful to get to know how your router works. In particular, it's worth taking a moment to beef up your router's security settings to help keep you safe online.