How long do routers last? A router is the sort of device that we don’t think about until it stops working. You may have a standalone device or a router/modem combo. It might be owned by your internet service provider, or it might be a router you purchased.
A router’s operational lifespan is affected by many factors, including its build quality, thermal handling capabilities, usage patterns, installation location, and eventually technological obsolescence.
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How Long Do Routers Really Last?
The average lifespan for a router is probably five years at the current pace of change. By upgrading every five years, you will always have the latest features and performance. If it is well maintained and meets your needs, a router can last much longer than that.
How to Tell When It’s Time to Replace a Router
When a router is physically damaged, it is time to replace it. Routers don’t always fail all at once, however. Slower speed reduced range, and other malfunctions are signs that the router is on its way out.
Age is another strong indicator as to when it’s time to replace a router. Although age cannot determine when it’s time, it can influence factors such as general wear and tear, heat damage, and outdated technology. When your router reaches a tipping point in all of those categories, it’s time to upgrade.
It’s time to replace your router when it lacks a few of the most important features found in modern routers. If you have a large area to cover, features like longer ranges and mesh compatibility are important. Connecting network-attached storage (NAS) and USB ports are important across the board. Likewise, wireless standards have improved over the years, so if your router uses an outdated protocol, it’s time to upgrade.
If You Have Internet Connection Issues, You Need a New Router
Internet connectivity problems can be caused by a wide variety of factors, so don’t automatically assume that your router is the problem. Here are some steps you can take to fix your internet connection if it isn’t working right now. If you determine the router is the problem, it’s time to replace it.
Here are some of the most common signs that your router is on its way out:
- No internet connection: Switch to an Ethernet cable if you were using Wi-Fi, or use another Ethernet cable. If that works, the router is fine. If not, connect directly to the modem. If connecting directly to the modem fixes your problem, your router is broken.
- Connection drops randomly: Consider moving your router to a different location, removing sources of interference, and resetting it to factory defaults. Be sure to secure it, if it is not password-protected, so your neighbors don’t overload it. Switching to a different power outlet may also help.
- Lights indicate no connection: Power cycle your router and modem. If that doesn’t work, try different Ethernet cables. Also, make sure your modem has the latest firmware. If the lights still say no connection with devices connected, the router is probably failing.
How to Tell When to Replace Your Router Due to Age
The biggest thing that kills routers over time is heat, as these devices tend to run hot and usually rely on passive cooling. Plus, we often shove them in closets or other areas that don’t get a lot of air circulation. If the router’s in a confined space, it probably has dust-clogged vents.
Wear and tear, damage due to heat, and outdated technology are critical factors to consider. You can replace components like your router based on an arbitrary age, but doing so can be a waste of money if you end up replacing things too soon.
The other significant factor that plays into replacing a router due to time is outdated hardware. You have to look at specific features and standards to determine whether or not a router is outdated for sure. However, if your router is more than ten years old, you’re probably two or three significant revisions out of date.
When to Replace Your Router Due to Missing Features
The last way to tell that it’s time to replace your router is to miss features and standards.
This is a bit of a messy indicator because some people prefer to be on the cutting edge of new technology. Most people, however, want to get the most value out of their hardware. With that in mind, you’ll want to look at specific features and standards to see whether or not you need them.
The most important indicator of whether a router is ready to be replaced is its wireless standard. These are the three most commonly used standards:
- Wi-Fi 6: This is also referred to as 802.11ax, and it’s backward compatible with older versions. This standard provides the fastest speeds and allows you to connect the most devices. Whether or not you have a lot of Wi-Fi 6 devices depends on your purchasing habits.
- Wi-Fi 5: This is also referred to as 802.11ac, and it’s also backward compatible. It’s been the most common standard in routers since 2013, so you should really consider upgrading if your router is older than that.
- Wi-Fi 4: This is also referred to as 802.11n, and it was largely replaced starting in 2013. If you still have a Wi-Fi 4 router, you’ll probably notice improved performance if you upgrade.
The general rule of thumb is that if you’re still working with a Wi-Fi 4 router, it’s probably old enough that it could stop working at any time, and it likely doesn’t work as well as it did originally due to general wear and tear.
If you have a Wi-Fi 5 router, it’s more complicated. Older Wi-Fi 5 routers are outperformed by newer ones, and if you have one of the first Wi-Fi 5 routers, you could see significant improvements in performance by upgrading. For example, today’s best long-range routers are far beyond the capabilities of the best options just a few years ago.
Another vital router feature is how many bands are supported. If your router only supports a single 2.4GHz band, then it’s probably time to upgrade. Most modern routers support two bands, one 2.4GHz, and one 5GHz, for improved performance, and some even support additional bands.
Other important features to look for include USB ports, especially USB 3.0 and USB C ports. These ports are useful for connecting USB drives to access your files from all of your networked devices. You may also want to upgrade if your router doesn’t support MU-MIMO or if it only has one or two antennas.