The best wireless routers of 2019: This is the best Wi-Fi gear you can buy in the UK
The humble wireless router is the centre of the internet connected home. It’s the gateway between your phone, laptop, games console and TV to the internet and it’s a vitally important piece of kit. Yet, ironically, for many people, it’s the one product they’d rather ignore; the black box that sits in the corner and is expected to work without intervention or fuss, despite the fact that many may not have spent any money on it at all.
With demands on home Wi-Fi growing, however, ignoring an old, slow router is simply not an option. If you want to stream 4K TV around your house or hi-res audio, for example, you need your wireless to be fast and reliable. And with the increase in smart home devices, routers need to be able to cope with more concurrently connected devices than ever.
The good news is that the world of Wi-Fi and wireless routers is constantly evolving and there are loads of fast, easy to use routers on the market today. But how do you choose the best wireless router for your needs? Is the best wireless router for ADSL and fibre connections the same as the best wireless router for cable customers? Well, wonder no longer – our guide to the best wireless routers of 2019 is here to help you decide.
Best wireless routers of 2019: Choosing a wireless router
Picking the best wireless router depends on a number of factors, the most important of which is the type of internet connection you have. This will also dictate whether you can ditch your ISP-provided model altogether, or whether you’ll have to use it side by side with the new one.
ADSL customers have the widest choice since ADSL is the most widely supported connection among router manufacturers in the UK. First check that your supplier is happy to provide your ISP login details (Sky, for instance, refuse to); if it is, you should be able to swap your old router for a new, more powerful one without too much fuss.
Before you take the plunge, though, you do need to be aware of a couple of things. First, not all ADSL routers also support VDSL for fibre broadband connections and this is especially prevalent among cheaper models. If you do buy one of these devices, you won’t be able to connect it directly to your phone socket and will need to daisy chain it with your original router, which isn’t ideal. However, VDSL support is growing rapidly so with the right router you’ll be able to completely replace your existing kit.
Cable connections like Virgin Media are the least broadly supported by third-party routers and this means you’ll almost certainly need to use your existing router in tandem with any new model you buy. The good news is that doing this is easy. Virgin Media’s ISP-supplied router is easily switched into modem mode, making it straightforward to hook up a replacement.
In this case, you need to look for a router that has a WAN port. These are plentiful and they tend to be cheaper than the equivalent ADSL/VDSL box, too, so your choice is pretty broad.
The third option, and it’s a relatively recent development in wireless circles, is to choose a mesh networking kit. These usually connect via cable to the back of your existing wireless router and extend the range, speed and reliability of your wireless network by bouncing it around multiple network “nodes” you place around your house.
The way in which mesh network devices work varies from one manufacturer to another, and they’re usually quite pricey, but the effect is the same. You get a much stronger, more reliable wireless network with greater range than a simple single-router system.
Understanding the numbers
Whichever type of wireless system you choose, though, you should always choose a product that supports the most recent 802.11ac wireless standard. All such routers are dual band, and they’re capable of faster speeds than basic 802.11n routers, and most laptops, tablets and phones now support the standard as well.
Note, though, that the numbers manufacturers use to sell their compatible routers can be a little misleading and confusing. An AC1900 router doesn’t actually deliver data transfer speeds of 1,900Mbits/sec; that number is, in fact, the sum of the maximum rated speeds over 802.11n and 802.11ac combined.
For cable connections you may need to use your existing box in tandem with any router you buy
Even then, the best speed you can achieve will be further limited by the fastest speed your connected devices can go and, more importantly, the number of anntennas it has.
If, for instance your laptop’s Wi-Fi hardware supports 2×2 MIMO and you have a 3×3 MIMO router rated at AC1900, the fastest maximum speed you’ll see it connecting at is 867Mbits/sec.
That’s because an 3×3 MIMO AC1900 router delivers 802.11n network connections at up to 600Mbits/sec and 5GHz 802.11ac connections at up to 1,300Mbits/sec. And because you’d need a 3×3 MIMO capable laptop to get the full 1,300Mbits/sec, top speeds for 2×2 MIMO devices are capped at 867Mbits/sec. The table below should clear it up:
|Router ‘rating’||802.11ac; 1×1 MIMO devices||802.11ac; 2×2 MIMO devices||802.11ac; 3×3 MIMO devices||802.11n devices|
Even in ideal circumstances, you won’t see file-transfer rates reach your router’s theoretical maximum Wi-Fi speeds, thanks to network protocols, bottlenecks and other overheads. However, with the right kit, you should be able to approach performance similar to that of a wired Gigabit Ethernet connection. It’s worth noting that using multiple devices at the same time will split the available bandwidth unless you use a Wave 2 router with Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO).
Remember also, that upgrading your router won’t guarantee the fastest possible wireless speeds: you’ll also need to invest in additional network kit for your PC or laptop if they don’t support 802.11ac.
Best wireless routers of 2019: Reviews
1. Google Wifi
Price when reviewed: £325 for a triple pack; £118 per single unit – Rating: 5/5, Recommended
For a long time, the most effective way to improve the range and reliability of your wireless home network was to invest some money in a decent router. The arrival of a clutch of new “mesh Wi-Fi” systems in recent times, however, means that there’s a newer, better way.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems exist as an add-on to your existing router and extend the wireless signal by bouncing it around a series of mini wireless router boxes, installed at regular intervals around your home. Google Wifi is the best we’ve used so far – perhaps not the fastest, nor the cheapest, but easily the cleverest and simplest to setup and maintain.
The app, in particular, is brilliant, allowing you to set up guest networks and parental controls with ease, but what we like most about Google Wifi, though, is that it adapts to its surroundings, monitoring the airwaves around and about and switching wireless channels when it detects congestion and interference. Read our Google Wifi review here
2. TP-Link Archer VR2800
Price when reviewed: £170 inc VAT – Rating: 5/5, Recommended
The TP-Link Archer VR2800 proves that you don’t have to spend the earth to get a top-performing wireless router that’s chock full of features. This router supports all the very latest wireless standards and the very fastest AC2800 speeds as well with 2167Mbits/sec speed over 5GHz and 600Mbits/sec over 2.4GHz.
It performs superbly as a result and it’s extra flexible, too, with both VDSL2/ADSL2+ connections and a dedicated WAN Ethernet port for connection to external modems. It even works with Sky’s ADSL and fibre broadband offerings, which is something not every DSL router can boast.
Add a raft of simple but powerful features, including effective parental controls and a useable, effective mobile app, and you have a cracking router at a very tempting price. If you’re looking to replace your current wireless router, you could do a whole lot worse than this.
3. TP-Link Deco M5
Price when reviewed: £180 inc VAT for a triple pack – Rating: 5/5 Recommended
Mesh networking is the way the wireless router industry is heading at the moment and the latest company to jump on board is TP-Link. Its Deco M5 system delivers three satellite nodes for the same price as the two you get with Google Wifi and there are a couple of bonus features as well: antivirus protection for the network for three years plus comprehensive, category-based parental controls.
Technically, the Deco is a match for Google Wifi, too. Each node features a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports and supports wireless speeds of up to 867Mbits/sec and, thanks to the presence of Bluetooth and an excellent mobile app, setting it all up is a doddle. The only weak spot we found was that, in our testing, speed was a little slower at close range than with Google Wifi.
Still, for £180, you can’t really complain. It might be more expensive than BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi and the same price as Google Wifi, but you’re getting more features than both and wireless coverage that’s at least as good. It’s a fantastic way to extend your home wireless network.
4. D-Link EXO AC2600
Price when reviewed: £99 inc VAT – Rating: 4/5
The D-Link EXO AC2600 ticks all the right boxes for under £100; it might not be the speediest router or come equipped with the features we see on competing models, but it’s cheap, has a great design and excellent wired connectivity. The AC2600 is a dual-band router which provides a dependable coverage thanks to its four antennae and full support for 802.11ac. You’ll find USB 2 and USB 3 connectors located on the rear for sharing external drivers and four Gigabyte Ethernet ports.
If you’ve been putting up with a dodgy WiFi connection from your outdated router for far too long, we’d point you in the direction of D-Link’s no-fuss model. It’s sure to speed things up.
5. Netgear Nighthawk X10
Price when reviewed: £349 inc VAT – Rating: 4/5
Netgear’s Nighthawk range of routers has been a long-time favourite here at Alphr but this year the company has truly outdone itself with the Nighthawk X10. This is the most expensive standalone router we’ve ever tested and, probably, also the biggest. It’s an absolute beast.
So, what do you get for your money? The first thing to note is that the X10 doesn’t come with an ADSL/VDSL modem built in, which is disappointing for the price. But, otherwise, it’s a router with more features and power than you could ever possibly want. It has six Gigabit Ethernet ports and the very latest in 802.11ac Wi-Fi quad-stream technology, it can run a Plex Server natively from any connected hard disk or USB thumbdrive and it’s the fastest, most powerful wireless router we’ve ever tested.
Price when reviewed: £230 inc VAT – Rating: 4/5, Recommended
It’s a bit of a hulking beast, and the price is high, but Asus’ range-topping router performed brilliantly in our tests. Its tri-band wireless lets multiple users get maximum network performance, and although its USB speed isn’t the best, it’s a good buy for speed freaks. Read our Asus RT-AC3200 review here
7. BT Smart Hub
Price: From £50 – Rating: 5/5
We don’t normally include ISP-supplied device in our best router roundups, but BT’s latest Smart Hub is good enough to live with the best. It has a total of seven internal antennae, enabling 4×4 MIMO 802.11ac wireless in the 5GHz band and 3×3 MIMO over 2.4GHz.
That means a top theoretical speed of 1,700Mbits/sec and 450Mbits/sec respectively – a big improvement over the 1,300Mbits/sec and 300Mbits/sec maximum of the previous Home Hub. Most importantly, the latest BT Wi-Fi performs brilliantly, delivering great speed and stability in parts of my home that many routers struggle to deliver any kind of connection to.
As with most ISP routers, it isn’t replete with features, but new and existing BT customers owe it to themselves to consider upgrading to the latest BT router. It’s a cracker. Read the full BT Smart Hub review here
8. Netgear Orbi
Price when reviewed: £400 – Rating 4/5
The way home Wi-Fi networks work has remained unchanged for years, but in 2017 it’s all set to change, thanks to a wave of new products that aim to cloak your home with strong Wi-Fi goodness, all but eliminating dead spots. We saw Sky Q offering something similar to this last year with its pseudo-mesh networking TV system, but Netgear’s Orbi takes it a level up.
This elegant system employs two connected tri-band routers, one hooked up to your ADSL inlet, the other positioned in the centre of your home to spread the network so there’s a strong signal everywhere. It works well, too, and is easy to set up and use. The only downside is that at £400 it’s very, very expensive. It’s the future of wireless, though, so Expect to see more systems like this arrive in 2017. Read the full Netgear Orbi review here