When it comes to connecting to the internet, there’s almost nothing as important as the router. Your modem may provide the gateway to and from the network, but without a router, you’re facing severe limitations on both the number of devices you can connect and their location within the home. With the ability to connect multiple devices in multiple rooms, the router has enabled everyone in the home to be online simultaneously. Whether we’re gaming, working, streaming movies and music, or simply updating our social media status, we’ve all come to rely on the humble router.
Unfortunately, this also means that we tend to take the router for granted. Everything is fine while it’s working, but nothing lasts forever – including our router – and when it no longer works it can leave us feeling as though it’s the end of the virtual world. Therefore, it makes sense to have a good idea of the problems that might warn of a potential impending failure.
How Long Does a Router Last?
It may come as no surprise to learn that there’s no simple answer to this question. Electronics (and consumer products in general) are typically built to last about five years, and you should expect your router to perform without any issues during that time. However, if you have an excessive number of devices on your network, you may want to consider replacing your router sooner, especially if you intend to add more devices and/or upgrade your speed through your ISP.
Like all equipment, your router needs to be properly maintained and, at some point, it will become obsolete as new technology emerges.
Do You Need to Replace Your Router?
There are a number of factors that affect the performance, but not all of them are indicators that your router is failing. Before you rush out and buy yourself a new router, it’s worth checking to see if you can troubleshoot the issue and resolve the problem yourself.
For example, all of the following can have an impact:
- Devices in the home
- Network speeds
- Signal strength
- New technology
- Security issues
- Physical damage
How Many Devices Are On Your Network?
You may be using a wireless router, but that doesn’t mean you can connect an unlimited number of devices to your network. Having too many devices connected at the same time can cause your home network to slow down, in much the same way as too many cars on the highway will cause delays.
Even if you’re not streaming movies or playing Call of Duty in 4K, the chances are your devices are still transferring data back and forth. For example, your device might be downloading firmware and operating system updates, or you might have apps that are scheduled to download and install updates when your computer is idle or during off-peak hours.
(If you still feel you need a new router to handle all your devices, check out our guide to The Best Wifi Routers for Multiple Devices.)
How Fast is Your Network?
Of course, your internet speed isn’t solely determined by the service you’re paying for, and it can change throughout the day, based upon a number of different factors. For example, you may experience more buffering while binge-watching Netflix in the evening because a lot of other people are doing the same. Looking to get into the latest chapter or season of Fortnite? There can be millions of people playing Fortnite at any given time, with the Travis Scott event pulling in a record 12.3 million players in April 2020.3 Outages – even if they’re not in your area – can impact your speed as users are re-routed to bypass affected servers. Most ISPs have an outage page on their site, so if you suspect you’re being impacted, check online or give their tech support team a call.
How Strong is Your Signal?
The strength of your wi-fi signal plays a major part in the speeds you experience as you surf. It’s fairly well known that signal strength is affected by your distance from the router, and if you’re gaming you’ll want to minimize that distance or, ideally, plug your console or PC directly into the modem. Alternatively, consider buying a range extender or signal booster to ensure your network is available everywhere in your home.
The other major factor that can play into your network’s signal strength is interference. If you live in an apartment building, you know you’re surrounded by a multitude of wi-fi networks – and some of those could be using the same channels as yours. Even if you live in a house, if your router is close to an outside wall and your neighbor is close by, their network could be overlapping with yours. Using a wi-fi or network analyzer app can help to identify a clear channel for your network.
Lastly, consider the physical location of your router. If it’s near a load-bearing wall, major household appliances (especially microwaves), or even a fish tank, these can all weaken the signal and cause your speeds to drop. Check our guide to The Best Places to Put a Router for Faster Wi-Fi for more information.
Is Your Router Out of Date?
Technology changes rapidly and it’s important that your devices are compatible with both the router and each other. Equally importantly, it makes no sense to buy a new device that takes advantage of the latest tech if your router isn’t able to support it. For example, can your router operate on a 5.0 GHz frequency or only 2.4 GHz? It might not seem important, but a regular 2.4 GHz frequency can only support speeds of up to 150 Mbps and is prone to external interference.
Conversely, Wi-Fi 6 (aka 802.11ax) doubles the channel width and is able to provide faster speeds and less latency, while also providing greater protection against interference from neighboring networks.
Is Your Network Secure?
A wireless network can be the perfect solution when you need multiple devices in multiple locations in your home to be online, but it can potentially allow devices outside your home to have access. With that in mind, you’ll not only need a strong password but also strong network encryption too.
WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is the oldest protocol and should be avoided, as it can be insecure and easily hacked.4 The last thing you want is someone accessing your network without your knowledge; at the very best, it can slow down your connection, and at worst you could be legally liable for your trespasser’s actions.
It’s your responsibility to ensure your network is secure. If it’s not, and someone uses it for illegal purposes (e.g., to download pirated music or movies) it will be almost impossible to prove it wasn’t you. The WPA2-PSK (AES) encryption protocol is the most secure and should be used whenever possible.5
Is Your Router Damaged?
While you should obviously avoid physically damaging your router, there may be damage occurring internally that you’re not even aware of. More specifically, heat damage can cause your router to fail completely, and yet most people aren’t even aware that it could happen.
It’s caused by the vents of your router becoming clogged with dust and pet hair, and when the vents are obstructed, the router is unable to cool down properly. As a result, the internal wires and components can overheat and suffer damage, which can then cause slow speeds, connection loss, and ultimately, failure of the router completely.
As always, prevention is the best cure, which means you’ll need to add the router to the household cleaning roster.
Whatever happens, it’s a good idea to maintain your router to ensure it continues to function properly. Reviewing the information in this article can help keep your network up and running and prolong the life of your router. It can’t, however, ensure you’re the last person standing in Fortnite.
Tech Pro Daily uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Iqbal M. Fortnite Usage and Revenue Statistics (2021). Businessofapps.com. Published November 12, 2021. Accessed December 31, 2021.1
Major news events can also bring the internet to a screeching halt. When Michael Jackson died in 2009 he almost took the internet with him, with major sites like Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia being severely impacted as people rushed to confirm the news.2History of Information. The Death of Michael Jackson Impacts the Internet. Historyofinformation.com. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Loshin P. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Techtarget.com. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Goel S. Is WPA2-PSK vulnerable? Encryptionconsulting.com. Published April 28, 2021. Accessed December 31, 2021.