Phil Wilkinson-Jones | December 19th, 2022
Ok, so you're thinking about whether to replace the free router provided by your broadband provider. There's a lot to think about, right? Will the one you buy be compatible with your broadband connection? What should you be looking for in a router anyway? And is it all worth it? Woah! Slow down! Let us help.
We're here to take you through all those questions and more, with the aim of helping you work out whether you should stick with the router you've already got or twist and go for a bit of third-party tech.
Most broadband providers will allow you to use a third party router instead of the free one provided to you as part of your broadband deal. But they don't tend to recommend it and some warn that it will make it more difficult for them to help if you encounter a fault.
If you do decide to get your own router, you'll have to configure it to work with your broadband and in some cases you'll still need to use your provider's supplied router as a modem. Here’s what we know about setting up your own router with each of the UK's major broadband providers. If you're serious about switching and need more details, contact your provider directly or head over to their community pages for help.
BT recommends its own router for maximum performance, but you can use a third party router if you prefer. You need to use the login email@example.com with the password 'bt' when setting up the PPPoE networking protocol. BT can’t support you to set up your alternative router, but business broadband customers can opt in to Enhanced IT Support. This is a premium service which can offer technical support, including third party routers.
Since Virgin Media manages its own network, connecting your own route isn’t as simple as tweaking a few settings. In order to use your own router with Virgin Media broadband, you'll need to plug your new router into your Hub, using Virgin’s kit as a modem. Enter 192.168.0.1 into your browser and enter the password printed on the bottom of your Hub when prompted. Then select Modem Mode > Enable Modem Mode > Apply Changes. Your device IP address will change when using Modem Mode.
You can use a third party router as long as it's compatible with Sky's MER/DHCP Option 61 connection protocol. Sky won't tell you your VDSL username and password (a security feature built into the supplied Netgear router) but there are ways of finding it out, including using software such as Wireshark to inspect your network traffic.
TalkTalk is happy for you to use a third party router for your broadband, and its website lists all the connection settings you'll need to enter to get connected. These settings are different for fibre and non-fibre broadband connections so make sure you're using the right set.
Routers supporting Ethernet WAN can be used with EE's fibre broadband. The provider says to get in touch if you need your EE router password or log in details, and lists other connection settings you’ll need for its broadband connection.
Plusnet has a whole help page on its website dedicated to helping you set up a third party router to use with its broadband.
You can use your own router with SSE broadband, but applicable settings are not posted publicly. SSE advises customers to get in touch and it will help you set up your own router, but warns that it will then be difficult to help you at a later date if there's a fault.
Some Hyperoptic customers on gigabit broadband deals have said a third party router is needed to access the very top speeds. Hyperoptic itself says ADSL routers are not compatible with its broadband, and your router must have an ethernet connection to work. You also won't be able to use your Hyperoptic phone line with a third party router, unless you use it in addition to Hyperoptic’s router. Like Virgin Media, you can use the supplied router as a modem and connect your new router to it, which allows use of the phone line.
Shell recommends you use the supplied router, but will give you the router credentials you need to start using another if you call up and ask for them. The rest of the settings which are the same for all customers are published on Shell’s website.
Vodafone says any non-Vodafone router you use with its broadband has to be one approved by Openreach. The password for the interface is 'Vodafone' and to get your DSL username and password, chat to Vodafone online.
NOW explicitly condemns using third party hardware to access its broadband in its terms and conditions. It is technically possible to use your own router with NOW Broadband, but the process is probably the most complicated out of the bunch, as NOW will not give you any usernames or passwords associated with your router. Users on the NOW Broadband community pages are usually happy to help, but we’d advise weighing up the pros and cons.
There's nothing on Direct Save's website about using your own router with its broadband. In our experience, that suggests they may not be in favour of it, but you'd have to call up and speak to them to find out.
Something that all providers agree on is that you can't use a free router from one provider with broadband from another. The routers they provide are locked to that particular provider.
It’s clear that there's a bit of technical set-up required if you're going to use your own router rather than the one sent to you by your broadband provider. So is it worth it? These are reasons why you might want to do it.
The most obvious downside to buying your own router is the cost. Paying for something you can otherwise get for free might seem like an unnecessary expense to some. Well, the cost argument really depends on how much you value the extra features. If having more control over your network really means a lot to you, then the initial outlay on a quality router is going to seem more than worth it over the years.
The other thing that puts people off is the technical complexity. If you don't like the idea of getting into the nitty gritty of network configurations, we totally understand. It's not for everyone. That said, a number of store-bought routers are relatively easy to install and will give you noticeable results without much tinkering.
There is a lot of choice out there, but these are some of the things to look for when choosing which router is right for you.
There are a lot of routers out there, each with different features and sitting at various price brackets. Here are a few that might be worth considering, but this is by no means an exhaustive list so it's vital you do your own research.
Free routers from broadband providers do have their merits. After all, the vast majority of broadband users wouldn't be able to get online as easily as they do if these routers were all that bad, would they? Here are the ones we think are the best.
Some routers do require the use of a separate modem while others have one built-in. This is something you'll need to check when buying. It's worth remembering that some ISP routers can be used as a modem and some even insist on you doing this.
There are a lot of technical considerations, but there is also plenty of help available online and none of the routers on the market are quite what you're looking for, it is certainly an option if you're technically-minded.
There are a number of things to consider, including cost, how much control you want over your wireless network and how fast you want your wifi to be. Having your own router rather than the one you got free from a provider will almost always give you a better network, but you need to balance this with the cost and effort you'll need to put in. And remember: you'll only get limited help from your provider if you encounter problems with a router they didn't give you.