Should you rent, or buy? It's the eternal question for savvy shoppers, whether they're looking for a place to live, to upgrade their appliances, or even to splurge on a new dress. When it comes to routers, many consumers choose to rent a unit from their cable company. However, there may be some big benefits to buying a router outright, particularly if it's a higher-end model.
I recently upgraded our home router to the NETGEAR Nighthawk DST AC1900, a gigabit router that definitely set me back a pretty penny. This high-end router includes free Geek Squad support at Best Buy, and came with a ton of added perks. But was it worth the high purchase price? Here's a rundown of how this powerful router stacks up against the router you might be renting from your local telecom provider.
You Probably Already Spend $120 a Year to Rent Your Router
If you rent your router, or a router-modem combination unit, your cable company is probably charging you around $10 a month. The exact price you pay will depend on which company you purchase your Internet service from. The company generally fronts the cost of repair or replacement. When the company upgrades its services, you may get a newer model router brought to your house or office. If your router breaks, a tech will probably bring you a replacement unit in a few days. Ten bucks a month doesn't sound like a lot, but that works out to $120 per year.
SEE ALSO: How to Speed Up Your Internet Connection
In the case of buying a Nighthawk DST AC1900 from Best Buy, you're covered by a Geek Squad service plan. I paid $299.99 for the router. That purchase price included home network support for one year through Geek Squad, to help with any troubleshooting needs that might arise. Additionally, I got a free download of Webroot SecureAnywhere, which covers me for six months and protects up to three devices. I paid a little extra ($29.99) for two-year Geek Squad product replacement coverage.
Upfront Costs Might Mean Long-Term Savings
This is definitely a bigger upfront cost than renting an average router from Comcast, but it has some nice perks that your average ISP rental might lack. True, the upfront Netgear costs are more than you'd pay over two years of renting a router from the cable company, but there's a lot to be said for the quality of a high-end router, and for the autonomy that comes with owning your own gear — and getting service from a non-cable company.
Additionally, this router will eventually pay for itself; if you buy it at full price, you'll break even after two and a half years, but if you snag it on sale, it'll pay for itself after about two years. We recently saw Best Buy offer a $50 discount, and although it's now over, it's very likely to come back again at some point.
Rented Routers Are Usually Terrible Quality
The routers (or router-modem combo units) on offer as rentals from your local cable company are bound to vary by location, so comparing the AC1900 against other options is tricky.
A Lifehacker article claims that it's almost always bad to rent the router or router-modem combo your ISP offers up. While you'll get tech support through your ISP, Lifehacker argues, "it's not usually worth the extra cost because the routers don't have a lot of features."
One of the premium features your average rental router might lack is DST, which you'll get with the AC1900. DST, or Dead Spot Terminator, is a feature that creates a new WiFi access point, essentially eliminating any "dead" areas in your home or office where your WiFi signal cuts out. The included DST adapter has a single gigabit Ethernet port.
For my money, the AC1900 has been worth the amount I paid up front. The DST adapter has eliminated a few troublesome dead zones in our house that plagued us when we were running an older NETGEAR router (an N300 WNR2000v3, to be precise). In addition, we can now run our Roku player and Apple TV over WiFi. With our old router, we still needed to have an Ethernet cable running a hard line into those set-top boxes to get the best possible experience.
Depending on what your cable company offers in your city, you may find that purchasing your own router gives you better performance when it comes to streaming video, gaming with friends, or just being able to get a decent WiFi signal in your bedroom.
ISPs Have Poor History of Customer Service
But the quality of the device isn't the only factor to consider when you're weighing the relative value of a rental router versus a high-end purchase. Don't overlook the quality of your customer service, either. Big providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable are routinely panned for their customer service, and Comcast has been fined for being too slow to answer customer calls on multiple occasions.
According to CustomerServiceScoreboard.com, a website that ranks customer service and customer support quality, Comcast has a "Disappointing" score of 32.42, with Time Warner and Charter Communications are not doing much better. The site's scoring system also assigns a "Disappointing" score to Geek Squad, though it's worth noting that Geek Squad's numerical score is still a little higher.
However, some of those low scores may just be down to general hatred of the customer service experience: Nobody's ever at their best when their Internet is down. For what it's worth, PCMag recently gave Geek Squad a rating of "excellent," so perhaps it's all down to individual experience.
Make Sure the Router Is Supported (and Consider Cheaper Options Too)
Before purchasing a new router or router with an integrated modem, always check with your cable provider to confirm that the device will be supported. Some companies have a nasty track record of only supporting older tech, which can be frustrating if you fork over a couple hundred bucks and find out your new gear isn't approved by your ISP.
And before you spring for a $300 router like the AC1900, it's probably worth looking at cheaper options as well. The Wirecutter recommends the much cheaper TP-LINK Archer C7 (v2) router, which is about one-third the price of the AC1900. While not the fastest option out there, it's affordable and reliable. Do your research, and make sure you're not paying for more router than you really need.
In the end, you're likely to have a better experience with a higher-end router than you would with whatever your ISP rents to you. And while the upfront cost may be high, you will eventually break even with the cost of renting.
Readers, what's your take? Would you rather pay a lot of money up front for a router, or stick with paying a monthly fee to your ISP? Share your thoughts in the comments below!