Monday, 21 November 2016

Have Router, Will Broadband

Have Router, Will Broadband

What's the best approach to a new ISP if you already have a modem/router?

If you've spent any amount of time browsing around for a new broadband package or leafing through the endless bits of junk mail that contain the most recent broadband deals you'll notice one thing: all broadband suppliers seem to be very keen to throw in a new modem/router with the deal. Sometimes these units are off-the-shelf models you'll see in you local computer store, and others are bespoke models designed specifically for certain vendors.

If you're happy with your current setup, there's no need to worry, but if you’re looking to migrate to another service, be it for better speeds, improved support or simply to save some money, you may want to consider taking up one of these offers. The thing is, you've got a perfectly good router sat on the shelf, flickering away. Why bother with the new model a company can send you? Is it better to stick with your own model, or would a move to a new unit be a good idea? Can you even find new broadband deals that don't come with a new router? Let's have a look.

Package Deal

It's far from the effective tool it once was thanks to the increased saturation of broadband in the market and the overall increase in popularity the internet has these  days, but providing a 'free' router to new customers is still one way providers can help tempt more sales. Previously, when not everyone had an existing router, getting one bundled in was a benefit, especially for those not as knowledgeable in such matters. However, today it's rare for a computer owner not to have a modem/router already installed. This could be down to having an existing broadband package or from buying one from elsewhere. Either way, many people question the validity of getting a new router when they move to another supplier and wonder what the best option is.

The truth of the matter, despite what broadband support team may be told to say, is that the router you use will rarely make much different in terms of your broadband provider. All routers are basically the same in terms of core functionality, and all can handle broadband connections the same. There are differences, of course, and you'll need a router that's designed for the connection you have or are going to get. You'll need a DSL router for ADSL connections or a cable router for fibre optic connections. This is easy enough to work out, and as long as this basic specification is taken into account, you’re often set.

Some providers will heavily try to convince you that you need their specific router, and I've heard many people talk about their arguments with sales and support people in the past, but this is not true. A modem is a modem, and as long as its the right kind, it'll work. Even ВТ, which uses its own branded range of hubs can be used with any other compatible router, you don't need to use the supplied model. There's a big reason industry standards exist, and one of these is to ensure ease of use for the customer and minimal confusion over purchases.

If you're feeling particularly cynical, you could say that companies that use their own branded devices are trying to trick you into using their own product with the fear of other, off the shelf models not working. This is likely very true, and it's an understandable marketing ploy, but that's all it is, a trick. In fact, most devices that appear to be custom built for specific providers are anything but and are usually standard off the shelf models that are simply re-branded for the service provider or have had the internal components shoved in a shiny new chassis. Whatever the case may be, the device is still a normal modem/router.

So, if you don't actually have to use a packaged device, even one that's unique to a provider, can you opt out and save money?

Thanks, But No Thanks

We've been asked by readers if it's possible to get a new broadband contract without a packaged modem/router and what the best deals for this are. This isn't an easy question to answer accurately, as the market and offers available are always changing. The more suitable question here would be what are the benefits and shortcomings of using your own router, as in most circumstances, not getting a packaged router will barely affect the price.

True, you may be able to swing a deal with the sales people, and in many cases you may be able to knock some money off the initial set-up period, but aside from  this, most companies don't really earn much money on the inclusion of a router as part of the package, that is, if they don't explicitly sell them.

Some providers do charge a fee for the router, especially those who supply branded models like ВТ. There's a big reason they can do this, though, which we'll come to later, and it's a common tactic used to force customers into a lose/lose scenario. If a supplier simply provides a standard model router, it's usually not a major problem. Charges can be inclusive as part of the monthly payment, be a one-off payment, or even if it's free they can add a delivery cost.

So, what are the benefits of keeping your own router when moving to a new broadband supplier?

First and foremost you have a router you know works for you and one that you're already familiar with. This router will likely be already set up with your passwords, wi-fi network, and you'll probably have multiple devices connected to it. Moving to a new supplier will only require the input of a new user name and password for your service and nothing more. Everything else will work as it did.

Keeping an existing router will also mean you’ve got the model that has the features and security you want. You picked the router for a reason, and there's no  guarantee the provided model will have the same functionality. This is important to note, and it's wise to check the features of any new router offered by a supplier to make sure it offers the same level of features.

If you can save some money, even just with regard to the set up of your new service, sticking with your existing router may be a good idea. Again, just be aware that this will likely not affect your actual monthly payments.

Quality is a big concern here. It's possible that any router you've purchased could well be of better quality than a provided one. Although not always the case, of course, especially if you have an old, outdated router, the new model may be inferior. Sticking with your router could offer better security and a generally better build quality. We've seen some pretty cheap and nasty units supplied with deals in the past, as companies will always try to save money when possible.

The last major benefit of sticking with your own router is actually to make use of both the old and new. If you stick with our old modem/router as your main device, you could actually use the provided model to extend your network or simply provide more wired sockets for more devices. Using a router as a Wi-fi extender is a very good option here if you have wi-fi reception problems. Doing so could save more money as you won't have to buy a new device outright, and you're spending money on the new broadband service anyway.

Out With The Old

Of course, just as there’s a good point to anything, so too are there downsides. Sticking with your existing router may seem like a good idea, but for many users, it's actually not, and there are a few reasons for this.

The most common reason is the one we hinted at earlier, and this involves support. The vast majority of broadband suppliers will refuse to support anything other  than the hardware they supply. If this hardware is branded, it makes things even easier for them. ВТ, for example, won't support that old Netgear router you have, as the company uses its own Home Hubs. Should you run into any problems to do with the router end of things and you're using your own model, you'll be left out in the cold.

For users who can troubleshoot their own networks, this isn't a problem, but if you're unable to do so and rely on provider support, this is a major problem, meaning you'll be far better off using the provided device.

Upgrading is very possible when you approach a new supplier. Many users stick with an old model router for a long time, either due to familiarity or to save money. This can be a mistake in the long term as older router are often less secure than more recent models that have better built-in firewalls and other security features. Older model modem/routers may also be unable to get the full potential out of a new broadband connection or more up to date wi-fi hardware. For example, you may have an older model that doesn't support Wireless N and only supports G. IF you have devices that can handle the superior wi-fi system, a new router could allow this.

Most suppliers will at least deliver a router that has support for current broadband speeds and wi-fi tech, even of the router itself isn't the best around. This may still make it an upgrade from your existing, older model, so it's not always wise to write off the packaged model right away. Consider the benefits as well as the downsides of ditching your trusty older device.

Another concern is VoIP. Often this can be tricky to get working correctly with some routers, and by sticking with the provided router from your ISP, you'll have a much easier time with the service.

Lastly, routers can be a pain to set up if you're not experienced, and although most are easy to set up these days, troubleshooting can be trouble. Therefore, using a provided router will guarantee support to help you or even allow an engineer to set things up for you. If you use your own router, this may not be an option.

Always Inferior?

We've mentioned that ISP-supplied can be of poor quality, and this can be the case, but in many instances things have improved over the years and some packaged units are actually very good. A lot of people really like their ВТ Home Hubs, for example, especially the more recent 'Smart Hub' or Home Hub 6. This comes with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wi-fi b/g/n/ac, has four 1Gb Ethernet ports, USB connectivity, 7 internal antennas and a range of very useful BT-specific features like Smart Wireless, ВТ Smart Scan and great quality interference filters. These hubs are usually very easy to set up, even for the layman and can usually be supported remotely by an engineer with no problems.

The big problem some more advanced users have with these is the restrictive nature of the device software. Often these are very limited in terms of user-end functions, and a lot of the advanced options you'll usually find on routers are hidden away or even removed. This makes them far less flexible than store-bought models. If you're a more advanced user who likes to be hands-on, these are probably best avoided. If you're happy to simply have the router do its thing and don't care about tinkering, there's no need to worry.


If you've made your mind up and don't want any supplied hardware, what's the best way of approaching a new broadband offer, and are there any that come without hardware?

To answer the latter first, no, not really. An ISP will always try to supply a router, be it for a charge or for free, as they have to assume you're a new customer with no existing hardware. The routers they provide will cost little compared to the yearly sum they make from subscribers, and as most contracts are at least 12 months, the router cost is quickly offset. There's simply no real benefit for an ISP to make specific packages available without included hardware.

Most of the time, however, the hardware is free, in that it costs no extra on top of the amount you’re paying for the service, and you'll be very unlikely to get any  reduction if you choose to refuse it. This means you may as well accept the router, even if you don't plan on using it. At the very least you'll have a spare router available should you need it.

Just be extra careful when you're shopping around for a new supplier, and double-check that the hardware is free and not inclusive or rolled into the overall cost. Sometimes the cost of the router will be spread across your yearly payments, and by opting to use your own router, you can actually reduce your payment amounts. This is quite rare, however. These offers will usually give you the option of buying the router outright too. This can be useful, and it also lets you directly compare the cost of the ISP's device with that of others on the market.

The Best Deal?

Which is the best broadband package to go for is an often asked, rarely ever answered question. It's hard to answer for one reason: there's no such thing as the best deal.

Sure, there are deals that cost less, and that's great if your sole defining criteria for a good deal is cost, but for most users the important aspects of a broadband deal aren't sorely limited to cost, and more is involved, such as speed, data limits, contract length, availability, extra features, fair usage policies and so on. There's a lot to take in, and for this reason there's no one ultimate deal. Instead there are the best kinds of deal for your specific use, and this is how you pick the best for you.

It's tempting to go for the fastest and largest data cap possible, but if you're a user who only spends time online with Facebook and the odd YouTube video, you're not going to get the most out of this package and could save money on a cheaper package. Flowever, if you download or stream a lot and play a lot of online games, you'll likely want to focus on data caps and overall speed, with cost actually being of lesser importance here.

This is the only way to approach any broadband deal, regardless of packaged hardware. Even if you don't need a new modem/router, focus on the actual broadband package instead as you may find the best package for you comes only with a free router.