Daily, I receive questions about Wi-Fi router replacement — whether it’s time to replace a particular router.
Specifically, folks have been wondering if their Wi-Fi 5 router — such as the Asus RT-AC86U, Netgear XR500, or others — is “dated” or “no longer relevant” and if a replacement is a must.
And that’s understandable. After all, in a couple of months, you’ll find reviews of the first Wi-Fi 7 routers, like the Netgear RS700 or Asus BE98U, possibly on this website. And Wi-Fi 7 is two generations after Wi-Fi 5 — two and a half if you include Wi-Fi 6E.
But just because there’s a new standard on the horizon doesn’t mean older Wi-Fi devices are automatically obsolete.
For one, getting a new router never means you can replace all existing clients — many are still on Wi-Fi 5 (or even older). And generally, you shouldn’t replace a router just because of the Wi-Fi standard they support — no Wi-Fi standard is obsolete if you can still use it.
So the real question is when it makes sense to make an upgrade or replacement beyond the desire to stay on the cutting edge. And this relatively lengthy post is the long yet complete answer you’ll find.
When to replace a Wi-Fi router: It’s always case by case
I picked the Asus RT-AC86U and Netgear Nighthawk XR500 above as examples for a reason: I’ve been using both since I published their reviews years ago. And they have been problem-free.
So, despite having a garage half-full of reviewed hardware — most are practically new — I kept these old routers in place because they work, as simple as that.
But at the same time, I’ve also replaced many routers in the past few years — for my day job — all due to one or more of the following four reasons.
1. Broken hardware
This is the most obvious. If something is broken, then you need to replace it.
When it comes to a Wi-Fi router, stuff can be broken on the inside — the router itself might look fine physically. Its internal memory or circuitry can get damaged for one reason or another. A botched firmware update is often the culprit.
If your router doesn’t turn on, keeps rebooting incessantly, or won’t give you IP addresses even after a hard reset, chances are it’s “bricked,” as we often call it.
So, if your router is broken, you have no choice but to replace it. But this applies to everything and has nothing to do with Wi-Fi standards. It could happen to a brand-new router, too.
2. Security risk
Security risk is probably the most important factor determining whether a router is worth keeping. But not all risks are equal.
Specifically, there are two sides of a router where security applies differently: the local network (your home) and the Internet (the outside world.)
Security on the local network (LAN) side
Within your home, the router’s security keeps connected clients in check. In most cases, you want to keep unwanted devices from your network. Consequently, here are the considerations:
- If your situation doesn’t require restriction, such as an intentionally open SSID (a Wi-Fi network without a password), then security doesn’t apply. In this case, any Wi-Fi standard or security level is a go.
- If you need to keep your network private, WPA with AES encryption method is the minimum requirement, WPA2 or WPA3 is recommended. A replacement is necessary if a router only supports WPA with TKIP or less secure protocols.
So on the home front, security can be optional. It depends on if or how much you want to keep your devices safe against local threats, which are generally limited by physical proximity.
Security on the Internet (WAN) side
On the other hand, the security against online threats — those from the outside world via the Internet connection — is more severe since geophysical boundaries do not limit them.
This is the side you don’t want to overlook or compromise when applicable.
If a router has a known vulnerability on the WAN side and has no security patch, you must let it go. However, note that “known” is the keyword.
That’s because all devices are vulnerable to a certain degree when they connect to the Internet. It’s a matter of keeping that secrete, or unknown, to interested parties.
It’s only when a vulnerability becomes known that the device — hence the users — is in danger of being taken advantage of by a remote party.
So, when you hear about a vulnerability, and it’s not yet patched or will be patched soon enough, it’s time to get a different router model (better yet, from another vendor.)
Security is nuanced. By default, every device connected to the Internet is vulnerable, much like as long as you live, you’re at risk of dying, to a degree. Absolute security exists only when you’re unplugged or cease to exist.
Not all routers have vulnerabilities, and those that do often have fewer the longer they have been on the market.
In other words, newly released routers might have more vulnerabilities than older ones. That is partly why Wi-Fi broadcasters tend to have firmware updates less frequently the older their models become.
3. Speed grades
Faster performance is generally the first you consider when upgrading a home Wi-Fi router.
Remember, though, that a router can only improve your local network’s performance, and if you use Wi-Fi to deliver Internet, then you only need a network fast enough for the broadband connection.
Conversely, the currently fastest possible Wi-Fi connection (2×2 Wi-Fi 6/6E) sustains Gig+ at best. A wired Multi-Gig connection is required for anything faster than that — Wi-Fi 7 might change this, but that remains to be seen.
What is Gig+
Gig+, or Gig plus, conveys a speed grade faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. So, it’s 1.5Gbps, give or take, and it’s not fast enough to be qualified as Multi-Gig or multi-Gigabit.
Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E (via a 2×2 at 160MHz connection) or Internet speed and is not used to describe wired network connections.
I wrote about broadband in detail in this post on Gigabit Intenet, but the table below breaks down the Wi-Fi standard applicable to certain Internet speeds.
|Broadband Speed||Wi-Fi Standard Needed as a single broadcaster
(Router / Access Point)
|Wi-Fi Standard Needed as a Mesh System|
|50Mbps or slower||Any Wi-Fi Standard||Any Wi-Fi Standard|
|Up to 150Mbps||Wi-Fi 4||Wi-Fi 4
(via wired access points)
|Up to 250Mbps||Wi-Fi 4
|Up to 500Mbps||Wi-Fi 5||Wi-Fi 5
|Up to Gigabit||Wi-Fi 6 or 6E||Wi-Fi 6 or 6E
(top-tier, preferably via wired backhauling)
|Gig+||Wi-Fi 6 or 6E
|Wi-Fi 6 or 6E
(top-tier with Multi-Gig wired backhauling)
|2Gbps or Faster||Wi-Fi 7||Wi-Fi 7|
All Wi-Fi standards work with all Internet plans, but the higher standards can deliver faster broadband speeds in full.
So if your Internet is 500Mbps or slower, you only need a Wi-Fi 5 router. Getting a Wi-Fi 6 or newer router doesn’t hurt, but that’s unnecessary.
On the other hand, even if you have 10Gbps broadband, a Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 5 router works, too, since you won’t need more than 500Mbps at the device anyway. That’s not to mention there are no Wi-Fi clients that can handle faster than Gig+ sustained speeds — most existing Wi-Fi devices are much slower.
4. Features and privacy risks
Over the years, routers have gotten more and more sophisticated. Many routers can work as mini NAS servers or have built-in practical features such as online protection, QoS, or Parental Controls.
So if yours doesn’t have the feature you’d like, maybe it’s time to consider one that has.
Note that some routers have all these features for free, while others might sell them as premium add-ons.
Another thing to note is online privacy risks.
If the router requires a login account, it will collect your information to sell to advertisers. If you’re uncomfortable with that, avoid routers from known data miners such as eero or Google Nest Wifi. (Hint: It’s time to replace it!)
Other routers won’t collect anything by default, but once you’ve turned on a certain feature, your traffic will be passed to a third party. But that’s a given since, for example, you must be exposed to the party that protects you if you want to be protected.
And that’s it. If you find yourself in one of the situations above, it’s time to get a new Wi-Fi machine. You’re justified. And in this case, you can get the latest and greatest or the just-right one that delivers the best bang for your buck.
Extra: Three bad excuses for Wi-Fi router replacement
There are “bad” reasons to purchase things you don’t need. Here is a few examples when it comes to Wi-Fi routers:
- I want to stay on the cutting edge and “future-proof” my home: There’s no such thing as future-proofing. Even if you get into Wi-Fi 7 today, by the time you can truly enjoy it — when a supported client is available, which is not soon — there’ll likely be Wi-Fi 8 or something similar on the horizon.
- Because I find a great deal: It’s only great if you need a new router. If your current one works well, getting a new one, even as a deal, only means money down the drain. And it’s bad for the environment, too.
- I’ve used mine for a few years already: A Wi-Fi router has no expiration date.
Again, as long as your current router works for your needs, there’s no need to replace it. Not until your situation changes and requires more bandwidth, features, or both.
Router replacement: The takeaway
You can replace your Wi-Fi 5 router, or any router, at any time — it’s up to you to spend your money and time however you see fit. But it only makes sense to spend money on stuff that works for you — it’s supposed to serve you, after all.
Getting a new Wi-Fi router just because you feel compelled or pressured to do it, for no practical reason, means you’re the slave to the wishful thinking that happiness comes in a bottle. That doesn’t work, if at all, below the surface.
But you’ve made up your mind? This post on how to pick the perfect Wi-Fi routers will almost guarantee success. Or you can check out the following best lists: