One Simple Way to Save on Internet Forever
Imagine the absurdity of renting a car as a daily driver. You still have to pay for gas, of course, but surely there must be a less expensive way to access a motor vehicle, right?
The pricing is slightly different, but the same logic applies to home internet access. In this case, the gas is your internet service, and the rental car is the modem or router your internet service provider (ISP) rents you. The average consumer spends over $100 per year on equipment rental fees from their ISP. For the same amount, you can buy your own — potentially better performing — router and save on your monthly internet bill.
Benefits (and Detriments) of Buying a Router
One of the most surprising benefits of buying your own router is that your ISP can’t throttle your connection speed if you exceed your data cap. Overage fees may still apply, but at least your download speed will escape unscathed. The benefit of buying your router is the monthly savings on equipment fees. Most internet providers rent routers and modems for anywhere between $9 and $15 per month, which adds up over time, especially if you’re under a contract.
Buying your router isn’t all savings and upgrades though. Once you’ve opted out of your internet provider’s equipment, the company can’t help with yours. If you decide owning your router is the right move for you, make sure you can effectively set up and support your own equipment. Otherwise you may have to pay for professional installation and technical support.
Router vs. Modem: Which One Do I Need?
Many consumers use the terms “router” and “modem” interchangeably. Most rental modems and routers are modem-router hybrids or devices that perform both functions. If you don’t purchase a modem-router combination, you will need both devices unless you don’t have any need for home Wi-Fi. If you’re a resident of the 21st century, however, odds are you have some kind of wireless internet needs.
A modem takes all the raw data pumped into your home network and rearranges it into something we can recognize instead of something that looks like a computer screen from “The Matrix.” Modems are specific to network connection types, meaning DSL, cable, and fiber-optic networks each require modems compatible with that particular flavor of internet service. Modems use an ethernet cable to connect to your router.
Your router, on the other hand, takes your wired network and allows for wireless access. Routers generate your home Wi-Fi network and, like with modems, there are three specific types: single-band, dual-band, and tri-band, which use one, two, and three wireless frequencies, respectively, to form your home wireless network.
What You Need to Know When Buying a Modem
Different connection types (DSL, cable, and fiber-optic) require different routers. When choosing a modem, make sure you choose one that is compatible with the connection type your internet provider uses. A DSL modem, for example, won’t function properly when trying to connect to a cable network.
Keep an eye on modems’ data over cable service interface specification — what you’ll see abbreviated as DOCSIS. DOCSIS ratings control how much of your network speed your modem is able to use. A network capable of 5 Gbps download speeds won’t actually give you those download speeds unless you ensure your modem has the proper DOCSIS rating. DOCSIS 3.1 is currently the highest rating and allows speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
The first step toward determining the modem you need is understanding your household bandwidth needs. Once you figure that out, you can focus on finding a router your internet provider can support.
What You Need to Know When Buying a Router
Any router is compatible with any modem, more or less, but not all routers are created equal. Routers create your home Wi-Fi network using one of two network types: 802.11ac (the faster and more modern network type) or 802.11n (which is older and slower). All 802.11ac devices will work with 802.11n devices, but 802.11n devices will not work with 802.11ac devices.
If your home contains several devices that access your network at once, routers boasting dual-band (or even tri-band) capabilities can help keep your devices functioning as fast as you expect. Dual-band Wi-Fi operates over two wireless “bands”: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Slower devices occupy the 2.4 GHz band while faster devices occupy the 5 GHz band. Tri-band routers use a second 5 GHz band. Remember that dual- and tri-band routers come at a higher price point, so check your home bandwidth needs to see what kind of router fits best.
Modem-router combination devices streamline your method of internet access. Instead of needing both a router and a modem, modem-router combination units perform both functions. Many rental units provided by internet service providers are combination units, but plenty are available for consumer purchase. Many modem-router combination units cost as much or less than purchasing a separate modem and router.