How Often Should You Upgrade Your Wi-Fi Router?

Jason Fitzpatrick / How-To Geek

You should upgrade your router every 3-5 years to ensure access to new Wi-Fi technology, improved hardware, and consistent security updates.

Nobody likes wasting money, and it’s easy to ignore your home’s Wi-Fi router right up until it dies of old age. But there are many good reasons you should upgrade your router before then. Let’s look at them and how often you should be upgrading.

Here’s Why You Should Upgrade Your Wi-Fi Router

Before discussing router replacement timetables, let’s first talk about why upgrading the humble Wi-Fi router is worthwhile. In the tech world, there are often clear and easy-to-understand pivotal moments where upgrading just seems like the obvious thing to do with clear, tangible benefits.

For example, the jump from basic cell phones to smartphones had a clear benefit. The same with the jump from standard-definition TVs to high-definition models. Those changes were easy to understand and see with your own eyes.

Even upgrading from an old smartphone to a newer one is easy to justify when looking at the bigger, brighter screen, improved battery life, and snappy app load times. It’s the under-the-hood stuff that is easy to overlook, like the upgraded Wi-Fi radio in the phone.

This is exactly why poor Wi-Fi routers often get left to gather dust for years and years while everything else in the house gets upgraded around them. But there are plenty of (often ignored) signs you should upgrade your Wi-Fi router. Here are some compelling reasons your old router is long overdue for an update.

New Wi-Fi Routers Get Years of Security Updates and Support

Old routers don’t get security updates. Whatever security flaws are still there when the last update is released will be there until the day the router is finally retired.

And it’s not just Wi-Fi security you should be concerned about, although an upgrade to WPA3, the best Wi-Fi security you can use at the moment, is always nice.

For most households, the Wi-Fi router is an all-in-one network device that handles both the Wi-Fi access point side of things and the security and routing of the entire network. So if your router is seriously out-of-date with unpatched vulnerabilities, it’s not just the neighbor kid stealing your Wi-Fi and torrenting movies you have to worry about. It’s the internet side of the router too, which is ultimately a bigger problem as the potential attacker doesn’t even need to be in range of your Wi-Fi router to cause problems.

People should be just as shocked and concerned about old Wi-Fi router vulnerabilities as they are about old Wi-Fi camera vulnerabilities.

New Wi-Fi Routers Can Handle All Your Devices

Your home most likely has more devices than it did when you bought the router. The days when the average home had a laptop and maybe an early smartphone connecting to the Wi-Fi have passed for most folks.

Now it’s not unusual for every person in a household to have multiple Wi-Fi devices and then the home itself to have multiple devices (Wi-Fi smart thermostats, smart speakers, smart plugs, smart home devices, and more) all online all the time.

Not every device in the modern home is bandwidth hungry (though many of them are), but they all need a consistent and stable connection. What good are smart Wi-Fi security cameras or smart locks if they are constantly dropping off the network?

New Wi-Fi Routers Offer Wall-to-Wall Coverage

The limited range of older Wi-Fi routers wasn’t much of a problem when you likely weren’t using devices outside their range. If your router only had enough reach to cover part of the first floor of your home, then most likely, you’d just deal with it and use your laptop in the kitchen or living room instead of upstairs in bed.

But now people have devices located all over their homes that need reliable internet access (like smart TVs and smart speakers). And people want to use their devices all over their home and even their yard. I can’t speak for everyone, but wall-to-wall (and even property-line-to-property-line) Wi-Fi coverage is a must for me. If I’m in my home or yard, I want to be connected to my Wi-Fi.

Updating to a newer Wi-Fi router, especially a mesh system with multiple access points, is the only way to make that happen if you have an older and underpowered Wi-Fi router.

You Should Upgrade Your Wi-Fi Router Every 3-5 Years

It’s one thing to highlight the benefits of upgrading your router, but how often should you do it? Upgrading every year would be overkill and a hassle. Upgrading when you’ve had a router so long that it doesn’t get security updates and keeps dropping your newest devices off the network is waiting too long.

We recommend that you upgrade your Wi-Fi router every 3-5 years. On the short end, three years is long enough for incremental improvements to existing Wi-Fi standards and hardware. If you have a home with demanding users and a lot of devices, and you want the most current router hardware and software, then updating every three years is a good plan.

On the longer end, five years is roughly the length of each Wi-Fi generation. At the minimum, you should update your router every five years to ensure you’re still getting both security and quality-of-life updates that patch performance bugs and improve features.

After about five years, it’s to be expected that your router won’t be receiving frequent updates (if it receives any at all). Both the hardware and capabilities of the router will be lacking compared to newer equipment.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at a theoretical Wi-Fi router update path over the last decades to highlight how even perfectly good routers get long in the tooth and need to be replaced eventually.

It’s 2005. You recently purchased a laptop with Wi-Fi, and you’d like to play around with some early Wi-Fi products. You purchase the venerable Linksys WRT54G router along with millions of other people around the world. It’s a great little 802.11b/g (Wi-Fi 3) router and can handle the modest demands of your household.

Five years later, it’s 2010. You have more Wi-Fi devices in your home, and the 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) was released in 2008. Wi-Fi 4 introduces a wide range of improvements, including speed increases, increased range, and increased Wi-Fi channel width. Wi-Fi 4 was also the first generation of Wi-Fi to support MIMO (Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output) for more efficient connections. So you upgrade to a Wi-Fi 4 router.

Five years later, it’s 2015. 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) has been out for a year and includes supports faster and more numerous connections, improved MIMO, including early support for Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO), and beamforming for improved coverage. Those are all pretty great updates, and you upgrade your Wi-Fi router.

Five years later, it’s 2020. At this point, Wi-Fi 5 is six years old, Wi-Fi 6 came out in 2019, and Wi-Fi 6E has been announced. Wi-Fi 6 is a significant leap forward over Wi-Fi 5 and includes improvements to how Wi-Fi 5 devices are handled on the Wi-Fi 6 network, along with improvements for native Wi-Fi 6 devices, and an emphasis on superior experience in high-density Wi-Fi environments. It can easily be argued that Wi-Fi 6 is the first Wi-Fi generation designed with the smart home and the “everyone has a tablet, phone, and laptop” high-density home environment in mind. It also includes the first major update to Wi-Fi encryption in 16 years: WPA3.

So at this point, in early 2023 when we’re writing this article, if you’re using an old 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) or 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) router, you’re leaving around a decade of Wi-Fi improvements on the table, and your home network and overall Wi-Fi experience is likely suffering for it. It’s the perfect time to upgrade your router to a Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E model and enjoy a modern 2020-era Wi-Fi experience.

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