You REALLY should Replace Your ISP WiFi Router

Tod Caflisch
9 min readMar 15, 2023

March 14, 2023

OK, I’ve been guilty of it. Trusting my ISP and their WiFi router to provide all the robust coverage and speed I wanted (and was paying for), not to mention sometimes renting the devices. Until I realized that the WiFi routers supplied by ISPs are typically barebones models with lackluster performance and features at best. So I upgraded the router myself and haven’t looked back since. Upgrading your WiFi router can not only save you money but also provide a superior experience in every way.

It may seem a little intimidating to think about replacing it, especially if technology tends to challenge you. Sure it’s easier to just use the modem/router they provide when you sign up for service. But trust me, there are a lot of good reasons why you might want to return your ISP’s gear and use your own WiFi router and modem instead.

Of course, none of what I’m going to add below may be compelling enough to upgrade. Maybe your ISP includes the WiFi router in your internet package with no additional fees, and you might consider it good enough until you run into a situation where you need more features or WiFi coverage.

If you only use your WiFi for a small number of devices and are used relatively close to the router, like the smart TV in your living room, your phone and possibly an iPad on your couch nearby, it probably isn’t a pressing concern to upgrade to a premium WiFi router that can handle hundreds of connections and a multi-gigabit fiber internet connection. If this is you, all good, but I would suggest using the Ethernet ports on the router to connect to your smart TV.

There’s also some value in not owning and managing the equipment as you can always call your ISP if the modem, router, or both fail you’re not on the hook to repair or replace them. You can place a service call, have the company test your equipment remotely and if they determine they aren’t working it’s on them for replacement.

But I’ve used my own equipment for a long time and I think there are plenty of good reasons to skip the cheesy gear your ISP hands out and go with something more sophisticated.

When the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (TVPA) went into effect in the US at the end of 2020, it made it illegal for ISPs to charge you a fee for using your own equipment. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it illegal for them to charge you a rental fee for equipment they supplied, which means millions of people still pay anywhere from $5–20 a month on top of their regular internet fees to rent their modem, WiFi router, or, more typically, a combo all-in-one unit.

Over the course of two years, fees in that range add up to $120 to $480, which is more than enough to buy a pretty nice WiFi router on the low end and a premium WiFi router or mesh WiFi system on the high end. Be aware though, in some cases, you cannot buy your own modem and instead have to put the ISP-supplied modem/router combo in bridge mode to pass your internet connection through to your new WiFi hardware.

Some combination units from ISPs aren’t completely bad, especially if you only use them for a small apartment without many devices. But even in best case where the gear might be OK for a small apartment with a modest network load, you’ll quickly find the same router lacking in a larger home or a home with a multitude of WiFi devices.

Off-the-shelf WiFi routers generally have more powerful hardware and, in the case of mesh systems, are extensible, so you can position the individual WiFi mesh nodes around your home for optimal coverage. Usually you can purchase as many mesh nodes as you need and blanket your home. For more details on mesh WiFi see my previous post ‘Is Home Mesh Wifi the Answer?’ Some ISPs offer mesh solutions, but you get stuck paying a rental fee or overpaying for hardware that isn’t as good as the stuff you could buy on your own.

Saving money and getting better WiFi coverage are great arguments but there are equally — or more important — reasons to own and manage your gear. Admittedly, firmware and security updates aren’t quite as exciting but given how much we all do online now — work from home, online shopping, gaming, etc. — imagine how tempting residential gateway targets are for hackers.

And in the network security department, ISP-supplied hardware doesn’t have a fantastic track record. While all routers will eventually become obsolete and stop receiving firmware updates from their manufacturers, at least the manufacturers of off-the-shelf routers do a better job of staying on top of things than ISPs do.

At an internet security conference in 2017, security researchers revealed that they had found 26 different vulnerabilities with multiple attack vectors across Cisco, Arris, Technicolor, and Motorola hardware used by multiple major ISPs. Another example — In 2021, it was revealed that a vulnerability in the modems used by Virgin Media customers and the routers used by Sky customers both leaked customer data and had been doing so for over a year.

There is no guarantee that your off-the-shelf router will have every bug patched immediately, but the chances of a relatively new router getting routine security updates are much higher than that of hardware supplied to your by your ISP getting updates. Plus you’re in control and can set up regular update checks and either set them to auto-install or get notified when updates are available (or both). I’ve always made it a habit to regularly check the activity on my router for things like updates but also interesting to see things like outside attempts to access my network.

I also recently wrote about setting up a Guest Wifi network for Holiday visitors — ‘Get Your Guest Wifi Set Up Right For The Holidays.’ But it’s a good general practice anyway. Guest networks are great and convenient for visitors to your home. And they make your home network less vulnerable. If you have the Guest network capability on your router I’d suggest firing it up to segregate visitor traffic from your network supporting your smart home devices. And then set your private network in non-broadcast mode.

Many ISP-supplied WiFi routers and gateways now support guest networks, but the guest network settings are usually barebones. Additionally, most ISP-supplied routers often limit the guest network to only the 2.4Ghz band. If you want a more advanced guest network experience for your visitors with access to advanced features, like allowing multicasting from the guest network to your streaming devices, you’re out of luck.

On ISP-supplied gear, you’re usually forced to use 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz bands in a sub-optimal way. Ideally you’d want multiple networks that offer both bands — your primary network name, a secondary network just for your smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) gear and a guest network.

If they provided a dual-band router with a separate guest network, you should be able to configure things to approach best practices. But that will require taking the 5Ghz band for your primary network (most mobile devices should accommodate this), the 2.4Ghz band for your smart home network (most smart devices are 2.4Ghz that use WiFi), and then the guest network (most likely limited to the 2.4Ghz band). That’s not ideal, and it introduces a degree of inflexibility you won’t run into with off-the-shelf routers with more advanced settings.

The good news is that tri-band routers used to be expensive, it’s quite common to find tri-band models in even modestly priced off-the-shelf routers. So not only can you set up multiple networks but you’ll have the physical hardware to optimize the experience for every need.

Another way to optimize your internet experience is to change the DNS servers you use. It’s a common setting on routers that you can change for increased speed and privacy. This usually isn’t an option on the majority of ISP-supplied WiFi routers.

Another setting ISP-supplied routers generally don’t have is parental controls. At best you’ll find ultra-basic options like how to block individual domains or a link to buy a product or service to provide online monitoring for your children. For parents who want router-based parental controls with the ability to turn off internet access to devices on a schedule, limit access to content, etc., you’ll need better hardware than your ISP offers. When our kids were little and first started using the internet it was amazing how they’d innocently run into less than appropriate content. Trust us on this one, as today’s kids use the internet even more, are more tech savvy and the presence of online predators is a constant threat, if you have kids in the house this is reason alone to replace your ISP-supplied router.

Having worked in technology my whole career it’s probably a no-brainer that owning my router and network hardware has given us total control over it. This may seem really intimidating to some but it’s really not as complicated as you’d think. In a world with articles like mine and YouTube with videos to explain and walk you through every aspect of managing your own router you’ll be fine. And enjoy a better overall experience with better security.

And if you switch ISPs, as many people do for faster internet or to pay less for it, you can simply slap a new modem on to link your existing router and WiFi gear to the new provider — no threat of fees if you don’t turn your hardware in on time or wasting time reconfiguring your whole home network. And at the end of the day, you own the hardware and can resell it or give it to a friend or relative when you upgrade to a new WiFi router. I’ve not sold old hardware simply due to security concerns (and online values for old equipment rarely makes it worth the effort) but I have given away gear to family and friends.

Regarding upgrades, good luck getting an upgrade from your ISP. Short of upgrading to a top-tier internet packager where your ISP has to give you new hardware to even make it work, you’ll often find upgrades are pretty difficult to come by. Their biggest challenge is support so having a variety of hardware makes life tough for them — keeping everybody on the same gear, regardless of customer needs, keeps their support costs down. So while there’s a time and place for just using the gear your ISP gave you, I always encourage people to consider using their own hardware for a more secure and superior experience.

What do you think about taking control of your home internet experience? Have you already kicked the IPS router to the curb in favor of your own? If so, we’d love to hear your feedback on how that’s gone. If not, have you considered it? Hopefully this article has helped you finally make that jump. Have you tried other ways successfully to get better WiFi performance? I’d love to hear about that as I’m always looking for creative solutions to common problems.

Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’

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Tod Caflisch

Smart Home technology visionary with passion for out of the box solutions for home technology integrations, focusing on efficiency, safety and sustainability.