A wireless network is now an essential part of every digital home. Without one, spouses will be left sobbing on their disconnected iPads, children will curse their lack of multiplayer mayhem, and you'll be left refreshing TechRadar wondering where all the stories have gone. And indeed it's a similar story at work…
While you are free to choose your broadband provider, you cannot usually select what wireless router you will receive. That said, virtually all internet service providers, including Virgin Media and TalkTalk, allow you to switch off the wireless functionality on the bundled router essentially converting it into a modem.
This is great if you want to buy your own wireless device but choosing a new router isn't easy. Modern routers offer a lot of high-end features including DLNA, NAS capabilities, IPv6, and more besides. That's on top of the more straightforward 802.11n wireless connectivity, Ethernet ports and broadband capabilities.
So what exactly should you be looking for if you're after an affordable model that delivers the goods? Currently, 802.11n is the base wireless standard offering 300Mbps with a 2.4GHz 2x2 antenna, but more advanced routers provide a 3x3 antenna array and a faster 450Mbps throughput.
If you're hoping to replace an existing ISP supplied router either because it's broken and out of warranty, or it only offers poor wireless support, then ensure that you replace it with a model that supports your current broadband connection. Perhaps one of these clever routers, all of which cost £20 or less, will catch your eye.
On Networks Wireless-N300
The N300R-199UKS is probably the cheapest new router in the UK, one that manages to hit 300Mbps, offer four Ethernet ports (albeit 10/100Mbps ones) and yet cost under £10 delivered. It has an unobtrusive, clean design with plenty of lights (eight in all) to indicate anything from performance to line status.
The N300 also offers DoS attack prevention, DHCP and dynamic DNS server, Wi-Fi Multimedia support, and QoS (Quality of Service) as well. Note that this device, which was launched back in 2012, has already been discontinued and the On Networks brand is now part of networking giant Netgear.
BT Broadband Dual-Band Wi-Fi Kit 600
If you have an old computer and/or you want to improve wireless connectivity on a shoestring budget, then consider BT's Dual-Band Wi-Fi Kit 600. You actually get two devices, the broadband router itself and a USB dongle. Both of them are capable of reaching up to 300Mbps but only the dongle supports 2.4Ghz and 5GHz.
The kit comes with its disadvantages though – it only has two Ethernet ports (one of which needs to be allocated to the modem). These are Gigabit ports which means that pairing them with a 5 or 8-port switch would work wonders. Note that even though this is a BT device, it is not tied to BT's service.
Belkin N300 wireless router
Belkin causes some confusion by offering two routers (four if you count cable and ADSL versions) that share the same N300 moniker. The one of interest to us, though, is the 'Surf' model (F9K1002uk) that is supposed to stand elegantly on a stand and looks like a flat pebble with two protruding antennae.
This MIMO-enabled model can reach speeds of up to 300Mbps and like most of the competition offers four 10/100Mbps Ethernet connectors but no USB ports and no self-healing app. The N300 is backed by a two-year warranty as well as free tech support.
Coming in at just a smidge over £20, D-Link's DIR-605L, otherwise known as the N300 Cloud Router, might be affordable but it offers a pretty compelling feature – the ability to remotely access the device using the free Mydlink Lite application (which is available on Android and iOS). You can check your router's current upload/download bandwidth as well as access your parental control settings, wireless network security settings, and find out the general status of your network.
The rest of its configuration is pretty much standard in this price range: There are four Ethernet ports, a built-in firewall, up to 300Mbps wireless connectivity, but still no USB ports.
This model has a USB port for sharing printers and mass storage devices wirelessly, four Gigabit LAN ports and a pair of external antennae that makes it look like an alien from afar. Meet the Tenda N60, one of the better affordable routers on the market, coming from a Chinese manufacturer that's starting to make inroads in the UK market.
Other than the fact that this particular router reaches 600Mbps by using the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously (note that Maplin's description only mentions a 300Mbps bandwidth) and supports PoE (Power over Ethernet), the N60 comes at a bargain price that includes free delivery.