Should you buy or rent your router? The wrong decision cost me almost $1,000

It’s the $1,000 question: Should you buy your own router or rent it from your ISP?

Most ISPs charge between $10 and $15 a month for the equipment, while you can generally get a modem and router for less than $200. Purchasing your own internet equipment usually pays for itself in the first year, but is often associated with additional effort.

I’ve been writing about the Internet for six years, and for all six years I’ve carried a shameful secret: I rented my router Xfinity the whole time. I know – it’s like a painter renting his brushes every month. But my rented equipment worked perfectly, even though I knew I was paying extra for the convenience of an ISP-provided facility.

All this time I was paying an extra $10 to $15 for the privilege of using Xfinity’s modem and router gateway device. (Xfinity seems to increase device prices by a dollar or two every year.) That’s mostly fine with me – my internet bill is reasonable and I was okay with paying a little more for the convenience. But after looking through my old bills, I came to a number that made me change my mind: $873. That’s how much I’ve spent on Xfinity device 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 have doubled the internet speed I got. I could have booked a flight to Oslo.

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As happy as I am with my service, owning my own equipment is almost always the better option. You often get better performance – my upload speed increased by more than 2,000% – and it usually pays for itself within the first year or two.

For the convenience of not having to purchase and set up your own equipment, you may also be happy with paying a little more. However, if you want to save money in the long run and have the convenience of purchasing and managing your own equipment, purchasing your own router and modem is far more affordable.

Here’s what I learned about switching from rented gear to my own, and here’s how to make a similar switch as painlessly as possible.

How to choose the right modem and router

The best internet is the internet you never notice, and I can’t remember the last time my connection went down or I saw a buffer wheel in my house. And all with a 2017 device that Xfinity describes as a “legacy wireless gateway with limited speed and functionality.”

This shows how much the type of internet user you are depends on what type of equipment 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 larger house with multiple floors, the same router probably won’t be enough. Likewise, activities such as online gaming depend on reactions in seconds. If that instant responsiveness is important to you, it’s probably worth investing in one Gaming router this minimizes the delay.

WiFi routers range from entry-level models like the TP-Link AC1200 for $30 to advanced mesh systems like the Netgear Orbi 970 series $1,700. To Test every wireless router, CNET runs three speed tests in five different rooms at our testing facility and logs the results for download speed, upload speed, and latency. This process is repeated six times to account for variations in network performance at different times of the day.

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Ry Crist/CNET

After consulting our tips for the best WiFi routers, I decided on our budget pick: the TP Link Archer AX21about which my colleague and router connoisseur Ry Crist wrote: “It’s nothing special, but it offered near-flawless performance for small to medium-sized homes in our tests and setup is a breeze.” I only get 200 with my Xfinity plan Mbps, so the 700 Mbps that TP-Link achieves at close range is more than enough performance 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 in addition to your router. Some ISPs, like spectruminclude the modem for free, but charge extra for a router.

The most important thing to look for in a modem is compatibility. Your ISP has a page on its website that lists all the models it works with. You should not deviate from this. You may also have a choice between DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1; The newer standard offers faster speeds, but DOCSIS 3.1 modems tend to be more expensive. Other things to consider include the modem’s speed limits – make sure they’re at least equal to your internet plan – and the number of Ethernet ports.

Xfinity doesn’t offer a free modem, so I had to purchase one in addition to a wireless router. I decided on this 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 up to 867 Mbps, but that’s still way more than my Xfinity plan.

Here’s how to set up your new modem and router

Ordering the equipment is the easy part; The laborious process of setting up third-party devices keeps many customers busy for years. The process is largely the same whether you’re restarting service with a new provider or replacing old equipment. Everything you need to do is here.

1. Activate your new modem with your ISP

The modem is the device that brings the Internet to your home via a coaxial cable connected to your Internet provider’s network. Before it can work, ISPs must link your specific modem to your account. If you replace old devices, this will also turn off when the new modem activates. ISPs do this by logging your MAC (Media Access Control) number, which you can find on the bottom of the modem.

Typically, you can do this through your ISP’s app, in a live chat, or by calling a customer service number.

2. Connect the coaxial cable to your modem

After your new modem’s MAC address is registered with your ISP, you will be prompted to plug your modem into the cable outlet in your wall and plug it into an electrical outlet. You may have to wait up to five minutes. Your modem’s lights will then show you when it is receiving the Internet signal. As soon as the indicator lights light up, you can set up your WiFi router.

3. Set up your WiFi router

Each wireless router has its own setup process, so you should follow the instructions provided. In the case of the TP-Link Archer AX21, this meant disconnecting the modem’s power supply and connecting the modem to the router’s WAN port Ethernet cable, turn on the modem, and then plug the router into a power outlet. From there, I set up my new network using the TP-Link app.

That’s the short version. There is a lot more to consider when setting up a wireless router, among other things Selection of the optimal location, Set up parental controls And Protecting your privacy. However, for my purposes, I was ready to start testing my new internet connection.

Speed ​​comparison: Which setup is fastest?

I wanted to see how my new modem and router would compare to my old devices, so I ran speed tests before and after I was connected: one from my desk next to the router and one from the far corner of my apartment (unfortunately). Bathroom).

My old modem and router delivered speeds of 164/5 Mbps from my desk and 143/5 Mbps from the bathroom – not bad for an internet plan that touts speeds of 200/10 Mbps. But the speeds with my new device were breathtaking: 237/118 Mbps both at my desk and in my bathroom. By purchasing my own equipment, I not only saved money but also achieved a significant increase in speed.

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Joe Supan/CNET

I have no idea why my new gear has 10x the upload speed of my old one. I subscribe to Xfinity’s Connect More plan, which is only supposed to provide upload speeds of 10 Mbps. In 2022, Xfinity announced that it was increasing upload speeds to 100 Mbps on my plan – but only for customers who pay for its xFi Complete equipment for $25 per month. Apparently I’m getting the same benefits with my new modem and router. I assume that upgrading from a DOCSIS 3.0 to a 3.1 modem is the main reason for the increase in upload speeds.

This will save you some headaches

I ended up setting up my modem and router correctly, 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 hassle and no one wants to make their to-do list any longer, but this is one task that makes the extra effort worth it (nearly a thousand dollars in my case). In any case, a technician may need to come to your home to set up your internet. Therefore, it makes sense to have your modem and router ready to use in case problems arise.
  • Use your Internet service provider’s list of compatible modems. Routers are not tied to specific providers. However, if you need to purchase your own modem, you need to make sure it works with your ISP. Don’t cut corners here. I searched Amazon for a modem that claimed to be compatible with Xfinity and ended up having 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 deviate from it.
  • Only pay for the speed you need. Internet equipment is expensive and there is no reason to pay for a modem certified for 2,000 Mbps if your plan only gets you 200 Mbps. The same goes for routers – you don’t have to pay top dollar for a gaming router with exceptional latency if all you do is stream TV and surf the Internet.

The final result

Setting up a new modem and router isn’t fun, but is it worth it? Absolutely. Not only has my internet speed improved dramatically, but I also pay significantly less for it. I’m saving $15 a month on equipment, and at one point an Xfinity agent reduced the price of my plan for next year. My monthly bill goes from $78.54 to $50. This is far more than I expected and my new equipment will pay for itself within the first six months. My only regret is that I didn’t take the step sooner.

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