How Long Do Routers Last?

How to tell when it's time for a new wireless router

Your router might be built into your modem, or it might be a standalone device. It might belong to your internet service provider, or maybe you decided to buy your own router. Regardless of the specifics, a router is the sort of background technology that we don't really think about until it stops working.

There are a bunch of different factors that impact the operational lifespan of a router, including things like build quality, thermal handling capabilities, use patterns, installation locations, and eventually technological obsolescence.

A man works on his router.
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How Long Do Routers Really Last?

At the current pace of change, the average lifespan for a router is probably about five years. Upgrading every five years ensures that you'll always have the best features and performance without unnecessary side-grades. However, a router can last a whole lot longer than that if it's well maintained and meets your needs.

How to Tell When It’s Time to Replace a Router

The easiest way to tell that it's time to replace a router is when the router is physically broken, but routers don't always break down all the way all at once. Slowing performance, reduced range, and other malfunctions are all tips that a router might be on the way out.

Age is another strong indicator as to when it's time to replace a router. You can't determine when it's time just based on a number, but age has a bearing on factors like general wear and tear, heat damage, and outdated technology. If your router has reached a tipping point in all of those categories, it's time to upgrade.

The final way to tell it's time to replace a router is when it lacks a number of the most important features found in modern routers. Features like longer ranges and mesh compatibility are important if you have a lot of space to cover, while USB ports and the ability to connect network attached storage (NAS) is important across the board. Wireless standards also improve over the years, so if your router is using an outdated protocol, it's time for an update.

When Internet Connectivity Issues Mean It’s Time for a New Router

There are a lot of different things that can cause internet connectivity issues, so you shouldn't automatically assume that you have a bad router just because your internet stopped working. If your connection isn't working right now, then there are some important steps you can take to fix your internet connection. If you determine that the router is at fault, then it's time for a replacement.

Here are some of the most common issues that indicate a bad router:

  • No internet connection: Try using an ethernet cable if you were using Wi-Fi, or swap to a different ethernet cable if your connection was already wired. If that fixes it, then the router is fine. If not, try connecting directly to the modem. Your router is bad if connecting directly to the modem fixes your problem.
  • Connection drops randomly: Try moving your router to a different location, removing sources of interference, and resetting it to factory defaults. If it isn't password protected, make sure to secure it 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. You may also want to make sure your modem has the latest firmware. If the lights still say no connection with devices connected, the router is probably bad.

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, they're often shoved in closets or others area that don't get a lot of air circulation. If your router is clogged with dust or placed in a confined area, get the dust out of its vents.

General wear and tear, damage due to heat, and outdated technology are all important 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 biggest 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, but if your router is more than 10 years old you're probably two or three major revisions out of date.

When to Replace Your Router Due to Missing Features

The last ways to tell that it's time to replace your router is due to missing important features and standards. This is a bit of a messy indicator, because some people prefer to be on the cutting edge of new technology, while others want to get the most use possible 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 the wireless standard that it uses. These are the three most commonly used standards:

  • Wi-Fi 6: This is also referred to as 802.11ax, and it's backwards 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 backwards 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, the best long range routers today 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 too look for include USB ports, especially USB 3.0 and USB C ports, which 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.

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