It’s just human nature to want to maximize our returns on investment.
However, until recently, we hadn’t begun to consider our Wi-Fi routers as a more important component of our daily lives. When Wi-Fi first rolled around, few of us knew what a router did, and it sat on the shelf collecting dust for years until it stopped blinking.
Now that we live in a 24/7 digital world, everyone is paying closer attention to routers and related Wi-Fi technology. In many cases, our livelihoods depend on this hardware, not to mention our social lives and nightly entertainment.
From a practical standpoint, you might be wondering when your router has reached the end of its life cycle and needs to be replaced with a newer, more capable machine.
That’s why we’re examining how often you should replace your router, complete with a checklist to guide you and a few next-gen features to consider for your next purchase. Let’s begin.
Router Lifespan Basics
Before we discuss the signs of a failing router and the right time to upgrade, let’s look at the basics of how long a router lasts and the typical cycle of technology for this type of hardware.
How Long Does the Average Router Last?
Short of complete failure, there’s no precise moment when you should replace your router. However, we can get an idea of the average lifespan of a router based on industry trends and how we’ve seen the technology develop over the years.
As a general rule, a router lasts about three to five years before it starts showing signs of slowing down. Many factors come into play, including how new the product was when you bought it, how you cared for the hardware, and other variables.
Thankfully, this three-to-five-year lifecycle is somewhat universal in the world of consumer tech, and you’ll see the same patterns for your phones, desktops, game consoles, and even extras like printers and speakers.
The most significant factor determining the lifespan of a router is usually not physical breakdown but rather the technological advancements that render it incompatible or obsolete.
For instance, a security protocol like WPA3 or a new standard like Wi-Fi 6 can make a router appear outdated, even if it was released only a few years ago.
Luckily, the Wi-Fi Alliance and other organizations work hard to ensure that older routers are not abandoned when these events occur. They also make sure transitional standards are made available to help us get the most value from our investments before an upgrade is needed.
Your Home Network Needs
Let’s not overlook that you may need to upgrade your router based on your network requirements rather than the technology cycle or hardware issues.
Suppose you upgrade your home from a studio apartment to a multistory home. In that case, a standard, single-unit router will no longer serve its role in terms of coverage and performance—even if it’s the latest, most expensive model.
Maybe you could upgrade to a faster gigabit internet service to suit your video conferencing, streaming, or gaming needs. Even if you have a brand new router that works perfectly fine, it may not be engineered to support those blazing-fast transmission speeds, leaving you at a loss for performance.
Keep these factors in mind as you analyze your network and consider how your router needs to evolve. Requirements can change quickly and necessitate faster upgrades, even if you didn’t plan for them originally.
Router Replacement Checklist
Setting aside environmental changes or service upgrades, there comes a time that your router’s performance begins to decline.
This can happen for any number of reasons or a combination of many at once.
Here are the factors that make the most significant impact on a router’s longevity and functionality. Use this as a checklist when your router is pushing the three- to five-year mark.
Physical Wear and Tear
A few scuffs and scrapes on the outer surface of your router may not be a big deal, but more severe physical damage can indicate that something is wrong.
Maybe you’ve moved several times and accidentally dropped your router off the shelf on a few too many occasions—it happens to everyone!
Broken antennas, loose ethernet or USB ports, or the sound of loose components when you shake the router itself—these are all signals that your router is ready for retirement.
Software Update Schedule
We tend to think of a router as strictly hardware, and that’s just not the case.
As our gateway to the internet, every router also houses a specific set of firmware that must be updated frequently from the manufacturer to ensure the latest protocols and standards are met, from security measures to compatibility needs and more.
In other words, your router is a living, breathing component of your network, and there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.
On the flip side, problems can occur when a router becomes out of date, and those firmware updates stop coming in regularly. Manufacturers often discontinue service for older hardware, choosing instead to focus on next-generation products.
This can leave your router prone to security vulnerabilities and other issues with performance, which means that you should upgrade ASAP when updates stop.
You’ll likely notice performance drops as the leading indicator that your router is reaching the end of the line.
Maybe you’ll find that download speeds just aren’t consistent anymore, or things slow down significantly as you add more devices to the network.
Coverage problems are another common complaint, so walk around your environment and see how connections to your mobile devices hold up throughout the area.
Since performance is your top priority as a Wi-Fi user, it’s important to keep an eye on these key metrics as you track the life cycle of your router and determine when it’s time for a replacement.
Behind the Times
Remember, even top-of-the-line routers eventually meet their demise, whether it’s the introduction of a new Wi-Fi protocol or a next-gen invention that appears on the market.
Eventually, we’ll all need to upgrade our routers to stay ahead of the curve. At the very least, we need to match the requirements of the current-gen apps.
It’s worth keeping an eye on tech news to see how Wi-Fi networks are developing, whether it’s the adoption of mesh router systems, Wi-Fi 6, streaming service demands, or smart home and IoT technology.
Plan Your Wi-Fi Router Upgrade
If you’ve been through the checklist and decided it’s time to make a router upgrade, you’ve got options. Here are the top features to prioritize as you begin your search for a new router.
Speed and Performance Priorities
Aside from surface-level factors like design, performance matters most when shopping for any type of technology, especially routers.
Make sure that your next router is ready to handle gigabit speeds and has more than enough coverage to transmit those strong signals throughout your entire home.
Security and Controls Features
Speed and coverage count for a lot, but they aren’t everything.
A next-gen router should include a full range of security and quality-of-life features to keep your network protected at all times. That means active defenses that go beyond the basics, including machine learning security for evolving threats.
Digital parenting is also a top priority for families in the internet era, so find a router that includes these features right out of the box and allows for total customization.
The best parental control software lets you monitor and control for access and content filtering, with the ability to suspend internet access and block apps at certain times of the day.
Future-Proofed for Wi-Fi 6 and IoT
Now that Wi-Fi 6 has debuted, the next generation of routers is about high-traffic device management and Internet-of-Things functionality.
As you continue to add more and more devices to your network, you need a router that can intelligently handle those increased traffic rates without compromising performance.
You don’t even need to be a smart home pioneer to see where things are headed in terms of the IoT and a growing number of devices. Get ahead of the curve now with a router that’s ready for these game-changing trends.
No Router Lasts Forever – Make the Smart Pick
We’re finally paying attention to our routers, and more than ever, our choices matter for performance and user experience.
If you’re happy with your current router and don’t see the need for an upgrade, that’s all well and good.
But when it’s time to consider a new router for any number of reasons, you’ve got our guide to help you navigate the market and make the best choice.
7 Signs to Upgrade Router | The Techie Guy
Wi-Fi 6 Explained | TechSpot
When It’s Time to Replace Router | Consumer Reports