When asked about what configuration people should strive for in a home Wi-Fi network, most experts gathered at the Canadian ISP Summit agreed that tacking on an external router to the ISP-provided unit is the way to go.

This configuration is a win-win for both end-users and providers. As the work-from-home crowd grew, so did people’s expectations for internet connectivity. Once a luxury, a fast and stable service has become a necessity to not only sustain a productive home office but also to keep students on top of school work and everyone informed on current news.

While it’s easy to point the fingers at ISPs when the connection goes awry, some users should check their hardware.

Emily Ferreira, vice-president of operations at Start.ca, said the best set up is to split rather than merge the two systems.

Related:

What is WiFi sensing and what can it do?

“The preferred approach is for the customer to have a separate modem and router…having two separate units allows us to isolate the problem much faster.”

When customers sign up for an internet subscription, they’re often provided with a modem and router combo unit. While a single unit is easy to set up, it isn’t the best option for a large household with a complex floor plan. Installing separate routers or a mesh Wi-Fi system can ensure that everyone in the house gets strong signal coverage.

“I like to use the analogy of painting a room,” said Ferreira. “They have invented a paint now that claims that you only need one coat on the wall, and you’re done. Is that easier? Yes. Will it work? Yes, but we all know, if you’ve painted before, that two coats over is so much better and looks so much better.”

One deficit to this setup is that it increases the cost of the network. But while using a router-modem is the cheaper option, investing in separate devices can improve service quality for both components.

“By separating the modem from the router, you’re already removing this noise, which is caused by the modem and impacting the Wi-Fi. Just having it on one device is already lowering the Wi-Fi performance by a lot,” she explained.

A dashboard for Bell’s Home Hub 3000 router-modem. Image credit: ITWC

Moreover, splitting the two units improves flexibility as the components can be upgraded independently when new technology arrives.

“If you look at the speed of innovation in the space, we were looking at upgrades every two to three years,” said Erik Ackner, president of Mercku Europe. “We’re moving now to Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E is coming. We’re adding a lot of more advanced and smart features into Wi-Fi, for example, Wi-Fi motion sensing, which makes those upgrades happen much faster compared to the bottom. So we see a clear advantage for separating both.”

Lastly, separating the modem and router can reduce troubleshooting time by isolating the problem to specific devices. Many routers include robust software that provides insights for when the network stalls.

Some things to keep in mind when setting up a new home network with a new provider:

  • Change the default password to the router-modem’s control panel. This is a separate password from the default password for Wi-Fi. You can access the control panel by typing in “Http://home” in your browser’s URL bar or the router’s internal IP Address. Different manufacturers use different internal IPs, so it may require a bit of searching.
  • Set up a guest network for when strangers visit. A guest network only provides internet access and blocks connections to devices on your home network.
  • When bypassing the internal router completely, make sure to disable the router in the ISP’s modem.
  • Check what quality of service (QoS) features are in the device. While bundled ISP router modems often have limited customization options, some do offer features like per-port bandwidth controls, scheduled shutdown, and MAC address filtering.
  • A physical wired connection to the device is still the most stable option.

Find all the talks at the Canadian ISP Summit here.

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