Should You Rent or Buy Your Modem and Router?

Find out if it’s cheaper to pay upfront now or continue to pay monthly fees.

You should rent a modem or router (or both) from your internet provider if you want upgrades, replacements, and technical support at no additional cost to you. If you want to save money over the long run and have more control over your internet connection, buy your own router. Just know that you’ll be responsible for any upgrade or replacement costs.

Overall, the pros and cons of renting or buying your router depend on your internet provider. We’ll explain how to know what’s best for you.

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Is it cheaper to buy or rent your router and modem?

You don’t need to purchase a standalone modem if your internet provider supplies you with one rent-free. After all, you don’t own your internet connection, so why own the modem? Let your internet provider deal with that aspect of your service. You probably (hopefully) have the best modem for your connection anyway.

However, there may be cases when your provider’s supplied modem is of low quality and you want one with better performance and stability. In this case, buying a standalone modem may save you money and lots of frustration.

Your home network is yours, however, so owning devices on your side of the modem makes perfect sense—including the router. The problem is that many internet providers now supply you with wireless gateways (modem/router combos), so if you have one, purchasing a router is an added expense and more in line with privately managing your home network than saving you money. Replacing the gateway entirely may be cheaper, depending on what you buy.

Wireless gateways are a hit or miss when it comes to saving money. We’ll show you exactly why by using Xfinity as an example. But first, let’s take a look at the annual rental fees from 14 internet providers.

Modem and router rental fees by provider

ProviderModem feeRouter feeAnnual fee (max)
AT&T$10.00/mo.Included$120.00/yr.
CenturyLinkUp to $15.00/mo.Included$180.00/yr.
Cox$10.99/mo.Included$131.88/yr.
Frontier$10.00/mo.None$120.00/yr.
Google FiberNo chargeNo chargeN/A
Mediacom$12.00/mo.$10.00/mo.$264.00/yr.
Optimum$10.00/mo.Included$120.00/yr.
RCN$12.95/mo.$10.95–$12.95/mo.$310.80/yr.
SpectrumNo charge$5.00/mo.$60.00/yr.
Suddenlink$10.00/mo.Included$120.00/yr.
Verizon FiosNo charge$15.00/mo.$180.00/yr.
Windstream$9.99–$11.99/mo.Included$143.88/yr.
WOW! Internet$14.00/mo.$10.00/mo.$288.00/yr.
Xfinity$14.00/mo.Included$168.00/yr.

In most cases, buying equipment isn’t cheaper than renting when you consider technical support, free replacements due to hardware failures, and free upgrades.

However, let’s see if purchasing a wireless gateway is cheaper than renting one from Xfinity, one of the nation’s largest cable internet providers.

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Should you buy or rent your wireless gateway with Xfinity?

Xfinity customers spend roughly $168 per year renting its third-generation xFi gateway. This device is based on Wi-Fi 6 and includes four gigabit Ethernet ports and a fifth port supporting 2.5 Gbps—in other words, kapow! Right now all that speed is overkill—you’re essentially riding the cutting edge of residential internet technology for $14 per month.

Now let’s compare two wireless gateways you can buy—one with similar specifications and one with a similar price—to see if you save any money:

Xfinity’s rental unitExample gateway with comparable specsExample gateway with a comparable price
xFi Gateway Gen 3ARRIS SURFboard G36Motorola MG7700
Wi-Fi standardWi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 5
Wi-Fi classAX3500AX3000AC1900
Wi-Fi streams4×44×43×3
5 GHz max speed2,402 Mbps2,402 Mbps1,300 Mbps
2.4 GHz max speed1,150 Mbps574 Mbps600 Mbps
Max cable speed1,200 Mbps1,200 Mbps800 Mbps
Modem channels32×8 (v3.0)
2×2 (v3.1)
32×8 (v3.0)
2×2 (v3.1)
24×8 (v3.0)
2.5 Gbps port?YesYesNo
Price$168.88/yr.$299.99*$169.99*
View PlansView on AmazonView on Amazon

If you don’t want to rent, the compatible Motorola MG7700 wireless gateway costs $169.99—just over a dollar more than what you’d pay to Xfinity in rental fees for an entire year. After that, the money stays in your pocket, right?

But look closer at the specs and you’ll see that Motorola’s gateway is slower than Xfinity’s. It doesn’t even include the 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port. Is it worth the downgrade? Absolutely not unless you have a low internet connection and never plan to upgrade your plan.

Now here’s where price comparisons really get interesting. The ARRIS SURFboard G36 is almost on par with Xfinity’s new gateway—only the maximum 2.4 GHz speed is slower than Xfinity’s.

However, the cost of the ARRIS unit is roughly $37 cheaper than renting the Xfinity gateway over two years. You won’t save money until the third year, and by then Xfinity will probably offer something even better than its 3rd Gen gateway at no additional cost to renters.

With both retail models, you’ll be responsible for upgrades and hardware replacements if the gateways fail. Plus, the only technical support will be through Motorola or ARRIS—maybe from Xfinity, too, if you’re lucky.

In summary, here are the reasons why you would buy or rent from Xfinity:

Reasons to rentReasons to buy
Free upgrades
Free replacements
Technical support
The best compatibility
Features you want
Private network management
Cheaper overall cost (depending on the model)
Reasons to rentFree upgrades
Free replacements
Technical support
The best compatibility
Reasons to buyFeatures you want
Private network management
Cheaper overall cost (depending on the model)

The best cheap routers you can buy

The saying that “you get what you pay for” is generally true when it comes to electronics: buy a cheap device and you get cheap performance. You’re not going to pay $60 for a router and see performance that zooms faster than the Flash.

Still, if you’re shopping for an inexpensive router, here are a few suggestions. Given that most internet connections are 1,000 Mbps or less in download speed anyway (unless you have one of the fastest internet plans from Xfinity or Google), these five routers should do the trick.

ModelSpecMax speedsPriceGet it
Best for a budgetLinksys MR6350Wi-Fi 5900 Mbps (5 GHz)
300 Mbps (2.4 GHz)
$59.99*View on Amazon
Best for speedTP-Link Archer AX21Wi-Fi 61,200 Mbps (5 GHz)
574 Mbps (2.4 GHz)
$74.99*View on Amazon
Best for rangeAsus RT-AC66UWi-Fi 51,300 Mbps (5 GHz)
450 Mbps (2.4 GHz)
$93.48*View on Amazon
Best for extended coverageD-LINK DIR-X1560Wi-Fi 61,200 Mbps (5 GHz)
300 Mbps (2.4 GHz)
$99.99*View on Amazon
Best for mesh networkingAmazon Eero 6Wi-Fi 61,200 Mbps (5 GHz)
574 Mbps (2.4 GHz)
$77.00*View on Amazon

Understanding the home networking equipment you have

Modem — Your internet connection plugs into this standalone device. You cannot access the internet without it, as it translates your provider’s signals into data your devices can use.

Router — This standalone device physically connects to your modem using a cable. It creates and manages your home or office network by broadcasting your Wi-Fi connection and providing ports for wired devices.

Wireless gateway — This device combines a modem and a router into one unit. Your internet connection plugs into this device, as do all wired devices via Ethernet cables. It broadcasts Wi-Fi so you can access the internet without the annoying cables or a standalone router.

Renting vs. buying your router or modem

Pros and cons of renting a modem and router

Pros

Free tech support

Free replacements

Free upgrades

Cons

Monthly lease

Possibly older hardware than what you could buy

Higher overall expense over time

Accessible by your provider (router)

The big takeaway with renting is getting free upgrades or a free replacement if the device fails. Plus, your internet provider can diagnose and possibly resolve issues remotely. Renting is also a good idea for roommates because the device isn’t one person’s property.

The drawback to renting is that you won’t see automatic upgrades. For example, you may rent a Wi-Fi 5 router from your provider but may never see a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade unless you request one (or when your Wi-Fi 5 router eventually fails).

Plus, your provider can log in to its supplied router remotely, see all your connected devices, and possibly see who uses them. While remote network management is seemingly in good faith, many customers may feel uncomfortable having a stranger observing devices used by children.

In a nutshell, renting is ideal for the following:

  • Free upgrades and replacements
  • Easy compatibility
  • Remote troubleshooting
  • Roommates
  • Small businesses
  • Employer-paid work-at-home internet

Pros and cons of buying a modem and router

Pros

Yours to keep

Managed by you

Chosen by you

Cons

Not upgradable for free

Not replaced for free

Not supported by your provider for free

The pros are straightforward: you can select and keep the device you want so long as it’s compatible with your internet provider’s connection. You can upgrade as needed and manage your devices—not your internet provider. You save a little money each month too.

If you choose to purchase a router, you may find one that has a better range or better parental controls than the unit supplied by your internet provider. You can get high-quality products from brands like NETGEAR, Linksys, TP-Link, and Zyxel. Better yet, you could install a mesh networking kit that spreads Wi-Fi across your home or small office like a web.

The drawback to buying your equipment is the overall expense. If your modem, router, or gateway fails, the replacement comes out of your wallet. The burden of cost is also yours when you want to upgrade. Free technical support from your internet provider may or may not be available.

In a nutshell, buying is ideal for the following:

  • Upgrading when you want
  • Using the devices you want
  • Managing your devices privately
  • Troubleshooting experts
  • Gamers who want the latest
  • Better features

How to buy a new modem

If you’re set on purchasing a modem, there are a few factors to consider.

First and foremost, you can’t purchase just any modem. A cable modem doesn’t work with a DSL connection, for example. Second, the modem should line up with your internet plan’s speed. Unless you switch to a faster plan, there’s no reason to purchase a VDSL2 modem if your maximum speed will be only 10 Mbps.

Cable modems

Cable modems are based on the data over cable service interface specifications (DOCSIS). It’s a standard that dictates how internet providers send and receive data using coaxial lines originally installed for cable TV.

Here are the six DOCSIS versions:

VersionYearMaximum downloadMaximum upload
1.0199640 Mbps10 Mbps
1.1199940 Mbps10 Mbps
2.0200140 Mbps30 Mbps
3.020061,000 Mbps200 Mbps
3.1201310,000 Mbps1,000–2.000 Mbps
4.0201910,000 Mbps6,000 Mbps

So, if you’re shopping for a new cable modem and your plan supports up to 1,000 Mbps, you need a DOCSIS 3.0 modem at the very least.

DSL modems

Buying a DSL modem isn’t quite like purchasing a cable modem. You just need to know the type of DSL service you already have before you invest. Here are the four types of DSL service:

VersionMax download speedMax upload speed
ADSL8 Mbps0.5 Mbps (500 Kbps)
ADSL2+24 Mbps1.4 Mbps
VDSL250 Mbps15 Mbps
GPON2,400 Mbps1,200 Mbps

Be sure that the DSL modem has a telephone jack (RJ11). Like the jack on a dial-up modem, it’s smaller than the Ethernet port (RJ45) used to connect the modem to your router (or other wired devices).

What about buying a modem for fiber internet?

Fiber internet to the home uses an optical network terminal (ONT) that connects to a termination point. Your best solution is to acquire an ONT from your fiber internet provider.

If you have a fiber-to-the-curb setup, you need a cable modem or a DSL modem, depending on the connection entering your home. You can ask your internet provider more about what type of fiber connection you have.

More resources for buying a modem

How to buy a new router

Buying a router can be complicated. You need to pay attention to the specification, the number of streams it supports, and how many streams your devices support.

First, here are the different specifications:

SpecificationWi-Fi nameMax speed (per stream)Maximum # of streamsFrequency bands
802.11aN/A54 Mbps15 GHz
802.11bN/A11 Mbps12.4 GHz
802.11gN/A54 Mbps12.4 GHz
802.11nWi-Fi 4150 Mbps42.4 GHz
802.11ac Wave 1Wi-Fi 5433 Mbps85 GHz
802.11ac Wave 2Wi-Fi 5866 Mbps85 GHz
802.11axWi-Fi 61,200 Mbps82.4 GHz
5 GHz
802.11axeWi-Fi 6E1,200 Mbps86 GHz

Most product listings for routers combine the speeds of all available bands to display one big, impressive number. These listings may also list a class, like AC1900, which combines the specification (Wireless AC) and the maximum combined throughput (1,900 Mbps).

For example, the ASUS RT-AX56U is a Wi-Fi 6 router with a total throughput of 1,800 Mbps. It’s an AX1800-class router, meaning it has a maximum speed of 1,200 Mbps on the 5 GHz band and a maximum speed of 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band.

Keep in mind that your wireless device must have radios using the same specification and the same number of streams to get the maximum speed from these routers. Anything less will result in slower speeds.

More resources for buying a router

Our verdict: Don’t buy a modem and router if you don’t have to

Don’t buy a standalone modem if you don’t pay a monthly fee. Chances are, you have the best modem for your connection, so there’s no need to make the investment. Even if you do pay a monthly fee, you’re investing in free replacements, free upgrades, and technical support.

Don’t buy a standalone router unless you’re unhappy with your provider’s unit. Generally, you won’t see automatic upgrades when a new Wi-Fi standard goes live, so while all your friends are speeding along on Wi-Fi 6, you may still suffer through Wi-Fi 4. You can probably request an upgrade, which is covered for free because you pay a monthly fee.

However, buy a router if you want features your internet provider doesn’t support—like mesh networking or gaming-specific controls—or you want to keep your provider out of your private network.

Wireless gateways are a different story. An upgrade request may not be ideal in this situation, but instead, a new gateway or router that includes the features and performance you want. You may or may not save money in the long run—it just depends on what you settle on.

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Author -

Kevin Parrish has more than a decade of experience working as a writer, editor, and product tester. He began writing about computer hardware and soon branched out to other devices and services such as networking equipment, phones and tablets, game consoles, and other internet-connected devices. His work has appeared in Tom’s Hardware, Tom's Guide, Maximum PC, Digital Trends, Android Authority, How-To Geek, Lifewire, and others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on internet security.

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.

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