Should You Buy or Rent Your Router? The Wrong Decision Cost Me Nearly $1K

Should You Buy or Rent Your Router? The Wrong Decision Cost Me Nearly $1K

Here's the $1,000 question: Should you buy your own router or rent one from your Internet service provider?

Most ISPs charge between $10 and $15 a month for equipment, while you can usually get a modem and router for under $200. Buying your own Internet equipment usually pays for itself in the first year, but it often comes with some additional headaches.

I've been writing about the Internet for six years, and I've shared an embarrassing secret for all six of those years: I've been renting my router. Xfinity the whole time. I know — it's like a painter renting his brushes every month. But my rental devices have worked fine, even though I know I'm paying a premium for the setup convenience ISP provides.

All this time, I've been paying an extra $10 to $15 for the privilege of using Xfinity's modem and router gateway device. (Xfinity seems to add a dollar or two to the cost of equipment every year.) This has been fine with me for the most part — my internet bill is reasonable, and I'm fine with paying a little extra for the convenience. I am But after digging through my old bills, I came across a number that made me reconsider: $873. That's how much I've spent on Xfinity equipment fees over the years.

With the money I spent renting Xfinity equipment, I could have bought it. The most advanced router CNET has ever tested. And then bought another one as a backup. I could double the internet speed I was getting. I could book a flight to Oslo.

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As satisfied as I am with our service, owning your own equipment is almost always the better option. You'll often get better performance — my upload speed increased by over 2,000% — and it will usually pay for itself within the first year or two.

You may be perfectly content to pay a little extra for the convenience of buying your equipment and not having to set it up. But if you're looking to save money in the long run, and are comfortable buying and managing your own gear, it's a much better deal for your own router and modem.

Here's what I learned about making the switch from rental equipment to your own, and here's how you can make such a switch as painless as possible.

How to choose the right modem and router

The best internet is the internet you've never seen, and I can't remember the last time I had a connection or saw a buffering wheel in my house. And all this with a 2017 device that Xfinity describes as an “old wireless gateway with limited speed and functionality.”

This shows what kind of internet access devices you need. I live in a 750 square foot apartment, and my internet needs are mostly limited to video calls and TV streaming. If you live in a large house with multiple floors, a single router likely won't cut it. Similarly, activities like online gaming depend on split-second reactions. If that quick response is important to you, it's probably worth investing in one. Gaming router which shortens the interval.

Wi-Fi routers run the gamut from entry-level models like the TP-Link AC1200 $30 Up to ultra-advanced mesh systems such as the Netgear Orbi 970 series $1,700. To Test every Wi-Fi router., CNET ran three speed tests in five different rooms in our testing facility, logging results for download speed, upload speed and latency. This process is repeated six times, with variations in network performance at different times of the day.

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Ry Crist/CNET

After consulting our picks for Best wireless routers, I decided to go with my budget pick: the TP-Link Archer AX21, of which my colleague and router expert Ry Crist wrote, “It's nothing fancy, but it offered flawless performance for small to medium-sized homes in our tests, and it's easy to set up.” Enough for.” I only get 200Mbps through my Xfinity plan, so TP-Link's close-range 700Mbps is more than enough juice and only costs $75.

Do you need to buy a modem?

Depending on what type of internet you have, you may need to purchase one. Cable modem Except for your router. Some ISPs, eg Spectrumadd a modem for free but charge extra for a router.

The main thing to look for in a modem is compatibility. There will be a page on your internet provider's website that lists all the models it works with, and you shouldn't stray from it. You may also have a choice. DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1; The new standard provides faster speeds, but DOCSIS 3.1 modems are generally more expensive. Other things to consider are the modem's speed limits — make sure they're at or above your Internet plan — and the number of Ethernet ports.

Xfinity doesn't provide a free modem, so I had to buy one in addition to the Wi-Fi router. I chose Hitron Coda Modem — a DOCSIS 3.1 model that is one of the cheapest Xfinity-compatible models I could find at $100. It only supports download speeds of up to 867Mbps, but that's still much faster than my Xfinity plan.

How to set up your new modem and router

Ordering the goods is the easy part. The temptation to configure third-party equipment is one that keeps many users on the hook for years. The process is largely the same whether you're starting a new service with a new provider or replacing old equipment. Here's everything you'll need to do.

1. Activate your new modem with your ISP.

A modem is the piece of equipment that brings the Internet to your home through a coaxial cable connected to your Internet provider's network. Before this can work, ISPs need to connect your specific modem to your account. If you are replacing old devices, they will also turn off the new modem as soon as they are activated. ISPs do this by logging your MAC (Media Access Control) number, which can be found on the bottom of the modem.

You can usually do this through your internet provider's app, in live chat or by calling a customer service number.

2. Connect the coax cable to your modem.

After your new modem's MAC address is registered with your ISP, you'll be prompted to connect your modem to a cable outlet in your wall and plug it into a power outlet. You may have to wait up to 5 minutes, and the lights on your modem will let you know when it is receiving an Internet signal. After the indicator lights turn on, you're ready to set up your wireless router.

3. Set up your Wi-Fi router.

Each Wi-Fi router has its own setup process, so you'll want to follow the instructions provided. In the case of the TP-Link Archer AX21, this meant unplugging the power from the modem, connecting the modem to the router's WAN port. Ethernet cable, powering on the modem and then plugging the router into a power outlet. From there, I set up my new network via the TP-Link app.

This is the short version. There are many other things to consider when setting up a wireless router, including Choosing the best location, Setting up parental controls And Protecting your privacy. For my purposes, though, I was ready to start testing my new Internet connection.

Speed ​​comparison: Which setup is the fastest?

I wanted to see how my new modem and router would compare to my old devices, so I did speed tests before and after they were connected: one at my desk with the router and one at the far end of my apartment. From the corner (sorry, the bathroom).

My old modem and router returned speeds of 164/5Mbps from my desk and 143/5Mbps from the bathroom — not bad for an Internet plan advertising speeds of 200/10Mbps. But the speeds on my new equipment were eye-popping: 237/118Mbps both at my desk and in my bathroom. I didn't just save money by buying my equipment — I was actually getting a significant speed increase as well.

Rotor speed test Rotor speed test

Joe Sopan/CNET

I don't know why my new device has 10 times the upload speed of my old one. I subscribe to Xfinity's Connect More plan, which is supposed to only have 10Mbps upload speed. In 2022, Xfinity announced that it's increasing upload speeds to 100Mbps on my plan — but only for customers who pay for its $25-per-month xFi Complete device. Apparently, I'm getting the same benefits with my new modem and router. My best guess is that the DOCSIS 3.0 to 3.1 modem upgrade is the main reason for the increase in upload speed.

How to save yourself some headaches

I finally got my modem and router set up properly, but I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Here's what I would do differently:

  • Buy your modem and router on day one. Moving is a pain, and no one wants to add to their to-do list, but it's a chore where the extra effort pays off (about a thousand dollars in my case). It doesn't matter if a technician has to come to your home to set up your internet, so it makes sense to have your modem and router ready to go in case of any problems. .
  • Use your Internet service provider's list of compatible modems. Routers aren't tied to specific providers, but if you have to buy your own modem, you'll want to make sure it works with your ISP. Don't cut corners here. I found a modem on Amazon that said it was compatible with Xfinity and had to return it a week — and several hours of phone calls — later. Your provider should have a page listing all the modems it works with — don't stray from it.
  • Pay only for the speed you need. Internet equipment is expensive, and there's no reason to pay for a modem certified for 2,000Mbps when you're only getting 200Mbps with your plan. The same goes for routers — if you're just streaming TV and scrolling the Internet, you don't need to pay top dollar for a gaming router with exceptional latency.

The bottom line

Setting up a new modem and router is no fun, but is it worth it? Absolutely. Not only have my internet speeds improved dramatically, but I'm paying significantly less for them. I'm saving $15 a month on equipment, and out of nowhere, an Xfinity agent lowers the price of my plan for the next year. My monthly bill is going from $78.54 to $50. This is more than I expected to save, and my new equipment will pay for itself in the first six months. My only regret is that I didn't jump in sooner.

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