More and more, remote work and home offices are becoming common fixtures in our careers, with either permanent work-from-home options available or hybrid flextime models. What was once a rapid response to a global pandemic may lead to permanent, long-term changes in how we work and what we will expect our employers to offer in the future.
According to a Salesforce survey on the future of work, 64% of employees still want to spend some time in a traditional workplace environment, and 74% of Generation Z — soon to become the majority of the labor pool — is interested in hybrid work practices, splitting time between home and the office. However, such a change in the foundation of our workday will create a tradeoff: some of the resource requirements will move from employer to employee.
If you want to take advantage of the quality of service that any potential future hybrid work offers, companies may require you to show you have the equipment at home to work. While a comfortable desk, chair, Alexa smart speaker or other smart home devices, a camera and microphone for remote meetings, and simply the space to concentrate and knuckle down are necessary, hybrid and fully remote roles demand one critical component: connectivity.
While you might already have internet connectivity and a wireless router good enough to support mobile devices, smart home products, and content streaming services such as Netflix, you may need to add work-related systems, Wi-Fi extenders, and software to the mix to make a high-end network with minimal dead spots. If this sounds like what you are looking for, then think about getting a new router or modem to keep up with the square footage of your home.
The more connections there are the greater the risk of bottlenecks and connectivity drops. Basic routers supplied by your ISP and older models may not be enough now we spend more time at home and connect to even more devices and services, and so without a quality Wi-Fi router, work productivity and performance can be impacted.
Some of you at home may only need a Wi-Fi router able to generate a strong signal in one or two areas of your home to prevent dead zones, or you may want additional ports, security controls, and child locks. Others may opt for mesh Wi-Fi, which while often a more expensive option, can improve coverage over larger areas and extend connectivity to home offices located away from your main house.
ZDNet has listed our top picks for Wi-Fi routers suitable for different budgets and needs. Here are a few of the best Wi-Fi routers and best wireless routers on the market today.
Google Nest Wifi
Best for Google ecosystem users
One of the most suitable devices on the market for Google ecosystem users is Google Nest Wifi. This router option aims to keep things easy to set up with “Network Assist,” a system that works in the background to automatically select the best channels for your connected devices.
The Wi-Fi router offers coverage of up to 2,200 sq ft. However, as a mesh Wi-Fi device, the more access points you add to the router system, the better the blanket coverage on your home network. You can select a single pack that comes with one router and one additional Wi-Fi access point, or Google also offers a two-pack option, with an estimated coverage area of up to 4,400 sq ft.
Google Nest Wifi is capable of managing roughly 200 connections per access point and also two Gigabit Ethernet ports are included with each router. Each point has an integrated smart speaker with Google Assistant.
- Blanket coverage for small and medium-sized homes
- Scalable with additional routers
- Bluetooth & voice compatibility
- The cost can add up in larger properties
- Some users report setup problems
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000
Best for gamers
If Google’s Nest WiFi router does not provide enough streaming power for you — whether for gaming or online work systems that require quick and stable connectivity — the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 is a tri-band router for heavy use and gamers who require high levels of bandwidth.
The Asus ROG Rapture AX11000 is a 10-gigabit, Wi-Fi 6 router. It comes with a 1.8Ghz quad-core processor, 2.5G gaming port, port forwarding, 256MB NAND flash, 1GB RAM, and a range of up to 2,500 sq ft. It is possible to select an option to prioritize gaming traffic, which may be a useful feature for those employed in the gaming or review sector.
Asus has also implemented dynamic frequency selection (DFS) to automatically select the least-congested 5GHz bands for streaming. A VPN and support for ASUS AiMesh are included for expanded home coverage.
- Automatic boosts for 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz connections
- Up to 11000 Mbps data transfer rates
- 802.11ax WiFi standard
- The design won’t appeal to everyone
Best for remote workers who want a VPN option
If your employer requires a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while you work remotely, the Synology RT2600 Wi-Fi router may be a suitable option. A VPN makes internet connections more secure by encrypting communication between browser sessions and servers — and can also be used to mask your original IP address — and so if workers are asked to connect to corporate resources, a VPN can keep access secure.
To take the guesswork out, the Synology RT2600 is a dual-band, MU-MIMO router already equipped with a VPN option, VPN Plus, to act as a VPN server or client, and support is also available for Synology SSL VPN, PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec. To facilitate the use of VPN servers and clients, the router is powered by a 1.7Ghz dual-core processor, as well as 4×4 802.11ac wave 2 radios.
The router is capable of speeds of up to 2.53Gbps. In addition, this product has a useful feature for streaming: The option to connect SD cards or USB 3.0 attached storage to stream content to TVs and other devices.
- VPN option — VPN Plus — acts as a VPN server or client
- Upgradable with mesh options
- Up to 3,000 sq ft coverage
- Mesh upgrades for larger homes are expensive
Best for those with larger homes and big families
Mesh home Wi-Fi networks are increasing in popularity as we adopt smart, connected devices and streaming services in our homes. Mesh topologies can increase the stability and interconnections between IoT devices by working with ‘nodes’ placed around the home, reducing blind spots and buffering issues.
While mesh Wi-Fi devices do not always offer the same advanced settings or features as some traditional routers, mesh devices can suit those who have a home office in an area with a weak Wi-Fi signal, for example, or who are competing for streaming capacity.
The Orbi’s strength is its coverage — up to 5,000 sq ft, with support for up to 25 devices. The tri-band, MU-MIMO router offers decent Wi-Fi speeds on the 2.4GHz (400Mbps) + 5GHz (866Mbps) bands — and is powered by a quad-core ARM processor and comes with 512MB RAM on Wi-Fi 6. The included Ethernet port provides 1GB connectivity.
The Netgear Orbi can be picked up with standard specifications or you can upgrade to the premium “Ultra Performance” range, which extends coverage and the number of devices connected via satellite bolt-ons; each of which expands coverage by up to 2,500 sq ft.
See the review: Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX4200 hands-on
Netgear Orbi should be considered when more than one person is fighting for broadband resources, such as when multiple occupants are all working from home and children need stable connections for learning.
Parental controls and the option to adopt Netgear Armor are included.
- An excellent option for home setups
- Modern, clean design
- Add-on satellites are costly
- Netgear Armor is a subscription service
TP-Link Archer AX6000
Best for those who want to future-proof their home
The TP-Link Archer AX6000 is a high-performance router that shines as a Wi-Fi 6 model. Picking up a Wi-Fi 6 device now is an investment for future-proofing your home connectivity, as this standard provides the capacity for devices to send more data during transmissions, increasing speed.
For those working from home for the foreseeable future, the TP-Link Archer AX6000 is a worthwhile option. The dual-band device supports 2.4GHz/5.0GHz frequency and is equipped with 128MB flash memory, 1GB RAM, and a 1.8GHz CPU. In speed tests conducted by CNET, it was top of the class, coming in at an average wireless network download speed of 1,523 Mbps at 5ft, with a strong performance recorded even at distances of up to 75ft.
WPA2 encryption, Ethernet connectivity, and parental controls are also included.
- 8 Ethernet ports, 1 WAN port
- Works with Amazon Alexa
- Simple user interface
How did we choose these Wi-Fi routers?
ZDNet examined popular and new options on the market and selected our products with budgets and intended use in mind. With hybrid and remote working practices now becoming a permanent feature of day-to-day activities for many of us, dedicated and solid routers are now a necessity for both business use and home life.
We also chose to include both traditional and mesh products, despite the recent changes in work environments, we can’t forget that family and friends also need stable connections for entertainment, education, and gaming.
What is the difference between a traditional router and mesh Wi-Fi?
Traditional Wi-Fi routers provide a single access point for your broadband/fiber connections. However, if there are too many connections made at the same time, this can cause bottlenecks and may impact the reliability of a connection.
It is often the case that standard routers offer improved power and speed when the number of connections is manageable in comparison to mesh, but mesh offers extended, blanket coverage and more access points. As a result, wired and traditional routers are often better for gaming and streaming, whereas mesh is a solid option when you have multiple people and connections in a home.
Is it worth upgrading from Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)?
In short, yes, if you can and you are willing to front the expense for a better connection. With our world now dominated by smartphones, IoT devices, and streaming services, an upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 gives you access to more streams and potentially faster services.
Which is the right Wi-Fi router for you?
When you decide to either upgrade your existing router setup or replace the bog-standard device your ISP gave you — which are often poor and don’t allow consumers to enjoy the full potential of the speed they are paying for — you first need to decide what your connection priorities are.
If you’re at home with multiple occupants and many devices, a mesh network is probably the best way to go, especially if you are on a large property. However, if it is more important to you to have speed and reliability over coverage potential, then a traditional router might be the best option.