Canstar Blue reviews and compares wireless routers from TP Link, Belkin, D-Link, Netcomm, Netgear, Telstra Gateway, Huawei & iiNet based on performance & reliability, speed, value for money, range of reception, ease of use, features & overall customer satisfaction.
See our Ratings Methodology.
Getting a quality wireless router can mean the difference between a frustrating internet experience and a pleasant one. Quite often your provider gives you a wireless router when you sign up to a broadband plan. While they will get the job done, they are usually nothing spectacular. Providers might give you no choice but to use the router they provide, and while this can be convenient, what’s offered up for free may not be the latest and greatest. You may also have to pay extra if you want to upgrade your modem, and at this stage you may as well go your own route.
Some internet service providers even make you bring your own (BYO) wireless router. In this case, don’t necessarily count this as a curse, rather a blessing in disguise. Having to bring your own wireless router is a great way to get your hands on a quality one, or even save a few bucks as opposed to purchasing a provider-supplied one.
If you’re looking to ‘go it alone’, where should you look for a quality router? To offer some guidance, Canstar Blue has surveyed more than 1,200 Australian adults who have bought a new wireless router in the last three years, to find out how they rate their device based on several important factors, including its performance & reliability, ease of use, range of reception and – of course – speed. As you can see from the ratings table above, TP Link has emerged as the most highly rated brand this year.
We’ll go into detail about the eight brands in this year’s review shortly. But for now let’s consider some of the key factors you should consider before speeding into a purchase decision. To get started, consider that our research identified the following drivers of overall customer satisfaction:
It’s interesting to note the lack of importance placed on extra features, suggesting that consumers want a wireless router to get their much-needed Wi-Fi connection without all the bells and whistles. With that being said, one of the major perks of having a wireless router is the extra networked storage. What this means is that by plugging a USB into your router you can – on some models – access what’s on that USB from any Wi-Fi connected device.
Those surveyed also seemed to be pretty ‘with it’ as far as wireless routers go. For example, 74% think they know where to position their router in their home to get the best reception. This generally means avoiding corners, walls and having the router in a prominent position for all your devices to enjoy.
Speaking of the NBN, a large number of consumers surveyed also said their old router wasn’t suitable for the NBN. 40% said they had to upgrade because of the rollout. So what makes a router ‘NBN ready’ and what do all the numbers and codes mean on the side of the box? Click the links below for some helpful info:
A wireless router connects your personal devices – such as mobile phones and tablets – wirelessly to the internet. This is done through the router acting as a ‘link in the chain’ of your home’s wireless network, with the wireless router forwarding IP packets from one network to another. That is to say, a router is a device that joins two networks together, in this case being the router to the internet, and your router to your devices.
Routers are also used to ‘daisy chain’ networks around your home. This is particularly useful if you need to get wireless internet signals into the farthest reaches of your home. This can get complicated and the signal can potentially get diluted the more ‘links in the chain’ you have, but wireless routers do present a convenient way to ‘route’ the internet around your home.
Many people just ‘plug and play’ with their router, but knowing about your router’s Wi-Fi standards and bands, classification and features is important for selecting a capable wireless router for your needs.
You may have seen the various numbers and letters specifying your wireless router’s ‘standards’. Simply put, you should be looking out for routers with standards of ‘802.11n’ or ‘802.11ac’. All standards are backwards and forwards compatible, but with data speeds increasing significantly since standards were introduced, it’s important to get a router with decent standards.
Higher-demand usage – like online gaming and downloading large files – is likely to need the 5GHz band, while lower-demand requests such as general browsing are likely shifted to the 2.4GHz band. This frees up the higher speed band for those who need it.
Long story short, you should ideally be looking for a dual-band, 802.11ac wireless router. Failing that, an 802.11n router will do the job and is the cheaper and more commonly-available of the two standards of wireless router – any older standard and you run the risk of suffering from an inferior speed capacity.
Beyond the standards stipulated above, there are a few other numbers and letters to look out for when buying a wireless router. You might have seen codes starting with an ‘AC’ or ‘N’, followed by a three or four digit number – N600, AC1900 and so on. This is the Wi-Fi classification – it’s worth paying attention to it. The numbers stipulate, with dual-band routers, the combined speed of both bands, rounded to the nearest 100. For example, ‘AC1900’ roughly means a 600Mbps link speed using the 2.4GHz band, and 1300Mbps using the 5GHz band.
So the next time you see one of these classifications when shopping for a wireless router, know that the number roughly translates to maximum link speeds, and the faster your internet has the potential to be. However, as with most technology-related things in life, it takes two to tango:
Your wireless router’s classification is an important figure to look at, but keep in mind that buying big doesn’t always equal big value if your devices don’t have the same designation.
Wireless routers generally vary in cost when they possess more bells and whistles and nifty features. Features such as router range, connection quantities, security and software designations, among other features can all make or break a router experience.
The comedic tragedy and irony with a 5GHz band is that it can actually reduce the range of your router, as the higher frequency is more susceptible to obstacles. To increase your chances of a fast connection, you’ll need both a compatible device AND less obstacles for the band to contend with. 2.4GHz bands don’t usually suffer from such a ‘prima donna’ attitude and are less susceptible to obstructions and distance. All things considered, with the two bands over the same distance and with no obstructions, the 5GHz one will be quicker.
In times of need, do you want a Ferrari or a Sherman tank to drive over that ditch and rescue you from certain death in a war? While the 5GHz band may be great if your router is sitting directly in front of you, if you’re upstairs in another room surrounded by walls, while the router is downstairs in the kitchen, you might find yourself being connected to the 2.4GHz band more often. If this is your common scenario, buying a 5GHz wireless router may be a waste of money, though one with dual-bands can still be a great investment.
Routers with an ‘N’ classification can support a maximum of 30 device connections, while ‘AC’ routers can support around 100. This is likely why the ‘free Wi-Fi’ in the café is so slow, as everyone is trying to connect and is overwhelming the wireless router. While 30 connections is probably more than enough for your household, if you’re running a small business with frequent clients and a few staff all trying to connect, you might find your wireless router in need of an upgrade!
But for the most part an ‘N’ router with 30 connections is likely all you need.
Routers themselves act as a form of firewall simply by adding another ‘link in the chain’ for potential hackers and attacks to contend with. However, some routers offer additional security features, such as:
Other features clearly fall under the ‘bells and whistles’ category. Some routers feature extra support for wireless printers, as well as various USB slots for plugging in media drives that can be accessed by everyone on the network. Other features such as gigabit LAN ports are also handy for getting the best speed possible, to connect your device directly with the wireless router. Ideally, routers should have multiple LAN ports. These are just some of the features you can expect, and generally the more you spend the more of these bells and whistles you can expect.
Now we’ve outlined the basics about wireless routers, let’s review the brands in our ratings to see what they have on offer.
There are many brands and products out there, with many boasting similar-sounding names. This makes it difficult to find the wireless router that will be best for your needs. A lot of internet providers will also give you a router when you sign up to a plan – often their own brand, or a rebranded one! However, the following eight brands can generally be considered as the ‘biggest’ of the bunch. Here is an overview of what each has to offer.
TP Link was the only brand to get five stars for overall satisfaction in our latest review. This marks a solid improvement over last year’s ratings where it was rated three stars. Its wireless routers certainly stand out from the crowd, with many boasting four or more antennas. Indeed TP Link’s most impressive router seems to be the Archer C5400 (pictured), with up to 5.3Gbps tri-band link speeds and eight antennas. As for its other devices, there is a wide variety of prices from the $100-mark to top-line routers costing over $300. In addition to overall satisfaction, TP Link also achieved top marks in other important areas, such as speed and performance & reliability. The only area where the company didn’t achieve the maximum score was value for money where it still rated a respectable four stars.
A manufacturer of all things ‘technology accessories’ – from webcams to smartphone cases to wireless routers – Belkin was the only brand in this year’s review to score five stars on value for money. Most of its wireless routers are finished in an attractive piano black, with prices ranging from as little as $60 to nearly $300. The most ‘tech-forward’ of the range seems to be the AC1750, which Belkin claims is up to 4.3x faster than some other devices. It features dual-band connectivity, with speeds up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band. It also features Norton parental control systems for peace of mind with children. Belkin was rated four stars for overall satisfaction, but despite its top marks on value, it has to settle for four stars in most areas, plus three stars on performance & Reliability.
D-Link has a large range of wireless routers to suit a variety of budgets. Prices start at about $60 and the most expensive is a whopping $700 – it’s named the ‘MU-MIMO’ and looks like a spaceship. It features dual-band technology, with a AC5300 classification. It also boasts a massive eight antennas, aiding in its spaceship look. For those on a more modest budget, there are various cheaper models on offer. Prices start at just $60 with a modem/router with an N300 classification – likely all customers need on an ADSL connection. Those surveyed were pretty satisfied with what D-Link had to offer, as the networking brand was rated four stars for overall satisfaction and for most other research categories. The only exception was ease of use where it rated three stars.
The brand commonly used by big internet providers including Internode and TPG as their stock bundled router, Netcomm has a wide variety of wireless routers. Most of the time, you can’t just go out and purchase a Netcomm router from your closest electronics store – you have to sign up to a provider that then offers you the router. In this case, providers might offer it to you for $0 if you choose a 24 month contract, or have it as an added option for a 12 month or monthly contract. However, you can still pick up a Netcomm router when you take the ‘go it alone’ approach to your internet service. Netcomm rated four stars for overall satisfaction in our latest review, as well as every other category, including crucial areas such as speed and value for money.
NETGEAR is one of the most well-known networking brands out there, earning four stars overall in our latest wireless routers review. However, it did achieve the maximum five stars in one specific area – that of features. NETGEAR has a large range of routers, but arguably the most standout is the Nighthawk. The Nighthawk series boasts four blade-like antennas, a slimline black case and ultra-fast 5.3Gbps link speed across three bands. Be prepared to pay for such ferocity though, with the cheapest Nighthawk models starting at around $300, with some of the dearer ones costing $800 and more. However, don’t think that you’ll have to pay this much as some NETGEAR routers can be had for as little as $40-$50. NETGEAR was rated four across all research categories, except features where it leads the field as the only brand to get five stars.
Telstra has a range of its own-branded ‘Gateway’ wireless routers. There are two models in the current range, compatible with ADSL, cable and NBN internet connections. It should be noted, however, that cable connections may require an additional adaptor, which is included in the purchase price. The base Telstra Gateway router costs around $170 and provides 802.11ac technology, while the most expensive ‘Frontier’ model costs $390 and also allows for mobile 4G connectivity. This uses the Telstra 4G network as a backup if your home Wi-Fi goes kaput. These routers can be had from $7 per month or $16 a month additionally, respectively. Telstra Gateway was rated four stars overall and for most other categories but rated three stars on value for money and ease of use.
Huawei might be better-known for its mobile phones, but it also produces a large range of pocket Wi-Fi and dongles. While it doesn’t produce any modems or routers for fixed-line internet connections, if you have a mobile broadband plan, Huawei has you well covered. Perhaps the most noteworthy model is the ‘E5786’, which boasts 4G LTE capabilities, with maximum speeds of 300Mbps – that’s quite remarkable for a tiny pocket Wi-Fi unit. It boasts 10 hours of battery life and boasts fast connectivity to Wi-Fi and hassle-free set-up. Huawei has partnered with Optus to deliver bundled broadband plans and models are available from $15 a month. Huawei was rated three stars for overall satisfaction and for most other categories, except for speed where it achieved four stars.
iiNet is well-known as an internet provider and also provides its own-brand Wi-Fi routers/modems on a range of broadband plans for $0 upfront. For this inclusion you will usually have to sign up to a 24 month plan, but routers can be purchased for other plans. The modem included in most plans is the TG-789 model (pictured), which boasts AC classification, gigabit speed potential and dual-band connectivity. This modem ordinarily costs $89 outright and is NBN-ready. iiNet’s modem was rated three stars overall and for every other category. If you’re on an iiNet 24 month plan, chances are you’re using this modem already!
No matter the brand of router, it pays to know a bit about the tech specs that are bandied about, as well as all the jargon related to speed and connectivity. Often, purchasing the most expensive wireless router out there isn’t always the best way to go, as you’ll need the latest devices to make the most of it.
It’s worth knowing a bit about your devices and if they can make the most of the latest technology, and then basing your wireless router purchasing decision off that. Chances are you could potentially save a few bucks in the process! Wireless router shopping can be a bit confusing, but with the right knowledge it can actually be a bit of fun. We hope this buying guide helps a bit!
Canstar Blue commissioned Colmar Brunton to survey 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have purchased or been given a new wireless router or modem in the last two years – in this case, 1,233 people.
Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then alphabetically. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.
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