It happens. You leave your router to do its work, somewhere up on a shelf or behind the TV, and dust settles upon it. Soon you notice that sometimes your Internet connection is intermittent or slow. What’s going on? Is your Internet connection to blame, or is slowness a sign your router is going bad?
Contributing factors and signs that your Internet problems may be due to a malfunctioning router:
- Router is more than five years old
- Router overheats
- Router wirelessly broadcasts over 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies
- Router hasn’t been restarted in a while
- How many devices connect concurrently and how much data they transfer
How often do routers go bad?
First, remember to differentiate between your modem and your router.
Your modem connects to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), and your router is what your devices connect to via an Ethernet cable or over WiFi at an integrated AP (Access Point). Both can be built into the same device, often called a gateway. A lot of people do not realize there is a difference.
If your Internet equipment was provided by your ISP, it is likely a modem-router combination, and it will probably have a life cycle of 2 or 3 years at most; the reality is that most ISPs have a vast pool of customers, and any investment in higher quality modems or modem-router combos comes with a big increase in cost.
Buy separate modem and separate router
Suggestion: buy a new modem every three to five years
The best strategy is to buy your own modem and your own router separately. Most modems you buy will be good for between 3 and 5 years — it is just the nature of a modem. Replacing them every 3 years is expected, considering the poor quality of our devices these days, so as a suggestion:
- Replace a modem every 3 years to get ahead of problems. Or,
- Start thinking about replacing your modem after 4 years, because most likely you will need a new one by the 5th year. Also, 5 years can mean many technological changes and having a newer modem can make things both more efficient (depending on your bandwidth needs) and support more options.
Suggestion: get a new router whenever your old one doesn’t serve your purpose
Routers tend to be more robust, especially if you don’t use the wireless Access Point (if your router is a WiFi router). Routers can last a decade or more, but typically around the 7- to 9-year mark significant enough technological changes have happened to warrant replacement, or to move it to another spot in your network.
A great way to future-proof a router is to buy one that can run open source firmware like DD-WRT or OpenWrt.
Why do wireless routers “go bad” so easily?
The difference in life cycles between modems and routers is one reason to go with two separate units rather than an all-in-one.
With two separate units it is easier and cheaper to replace the faulty or old piece of equipment. For an all-in-one, if one component breaks or wears out, the whole thing is sacrificed.
All-in-ones rarely have external antennas, so you will typically get better WiFi with separate units. Integrated or internal antennas can contribute to overheating and thus degrade components more quickly than components with better ventilation.
I currently use an Asus router that I bought 9 years ago. It still works great, no problem with the gigabit Ethernet ports and no problem with the WiFi, although I only turn that on for guests.
But the modem — the device that connects to the coax cable or telephone line — has been replaced twice in the same time period. The last time I had to have the modem replaced, the cable provider tech came in and said that they have updated their networks and management software and now the older modems are giving them problems so they have to swap them out when customers complain.
Modems ‘go bad’ more often than dedicated routers because cable operators make changes to their networks and sometimes those changes can mess with older modems that use outdated technology.
How long do routers last?
If you buy a cheaply made router, your router will probably not last as long as a router made with better components; this is common sense. In my experience, a router can last for at least 5 years before I think about maybe getting a replacement or a backup.
My Asus routers have worked well, running tomato or merlin or some other custom firmware for certain optimizations. I have had mixed results with TP Link but overall they seem like decent routers. (quality control question by brand)
If your router goes bad after a few years, you are buying cheap junk, so look for something with solid reviews and at a reasonable price point. Brand name routers in a moderate price range will usually last for at least five years. The wireless Access Points used to be somewhat unreliable, but these days they last as long as the router component.
Some people recommend leasing or renting a router from your internet service provider because if they are smart, they will give you something reliable and long-lasting that won’t need a lot of maintenance or trouble-shooting calls.
Also consider the number of devices that are constantly connected to your router and they data they require: smart home devices, TVs, etc. If utilizing WiFi with dozens of high-transfer devices, you might consider an upgrade to ensure all the devices are getting optimal bandwidth. But I would still opt for buying my own router and connecting it to a modem via Ethernet.
WiFi and router longevity
Why do routers go bad over time?
Heat stress is the number one cause of damage to a router, and heat is generated by overuse, insufficient ventilation, and insufficient heat sink, and by broadcasting a WiFi signal at too high a power level.
How often should you restart your router and what happens?
Restarting your router often resolves minor connection issues and is achieved by a simple unplugging of your router and plugging it back in.
You need to restart your router first before asking for help if you have connection issues, as a router restart will clear the temporary memory in your router and allow the router to cool down, if overheating is the problem.
A router restart is also achieved by selecting the reboot or restart option from within the admin panel of the router.
Resetting your router is a clean wipe of all settings
Resetting the router is usually synonymous with wiping the router and restoring all settings to the factory defaults. This means that all custom changes to your router — including your chosen network names, passwords, channel selections, schedule, signal strength, etc. — will all be deleted. Consider a reset router as good as new, except when the router is physically worn out from the stress of overheating.