Why you shouldn’t always rely on your broadband provider’s router

Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

The topic of broadband router quality rarely arises when investigating new internet service providers.

Cost and line speed tend to hog the headlines, followed by more nebulous issues like customer service.

Some companies don’t even provide model details or specifications for their broadband routers, which are generally bought in bulk from third-party manufacturers.

As a result, this could be a weak link in your internet connection.

Surely I’ll have the best hardware my provider can offer?

Although broadband companies periodically unveil new routers with more advanced features and better specifications, these are rarely offered to existing customers without up-front costs.

As a result, two people with the same broadband package from the same supplier might have very different hardware.

Even the latest hubs like TalkTalk’s Super Router are often mass-produced in China to strict budgets, with a stick-on badge the only evidence it’s a TalkTalk-specific product.

What issues do generic routers experience?

Some drawbacks are common to mass-produced broadband hubs:

  • No external aerials. Internal aerials will always be less effective at widespread signal distribution than routers featuring up to eight external antennae
  • Limited connectivity. The Sky Q hub only has two Ethernet ports, while Virgin Media’s latest Hub 3.0 has no USB ports. EE’s Bright Box 1 lacks dual-band frequencies
  • Limited security. Some broadband routers have admin passwords set as “admin”. That’s a security issue, since less than one in five people change their default admin password
  • Aesthetics. Generic routers are often bland, monochrome plastic boxes. Third-party hubs tend to look more stylish, which matters if they’re prominently positioned in the home
  • Lack of ownership. As routers become more advanced, some firms only lend them to customers. When a contract period ends, the equipment has to be returned immediately.

So do I need to look into a replacement device?

The answer to this depends whether your existing hub is meeting your needs and expectations.

If you regularly lose connectivity in the back garden, or if multiple connections tend to bog down average speeds, it might be worth investing in third-party hardware.

On the other hand, there’s no point spending time and money upgrading your broadband provider’s chosen hardware if it’s doing a satisfactory job of piping data around the home.

A survey last year suggested only one in seven people choose to upgrade to a third-party hub.

Before taking the plunge, check you’re allowed to install a new router. It’s rarely a breach of contract, but some providers might object, and it could affect future technical support.

Because of Virgin Media’s unique infrastructure, customers may need to keep their existing hardware, plugging a separate router into the Hub to realise the new device’s benefits.

Finally, do a quick internet search to ensure your preferred third-party equipment is compatible with the broadband connection into your home.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!