Wi-Fi customers who buy their own router are happier, study finds

More Internet service providers offer their own hardware modem and router when you sign up for an Internet plan, but it’s very common technical advice that you’d better buy your own equipment. For starters, this could allow you skip obnoxious equipment rental fees. In addition, purchasing your own router will give you the opportunity to switch to something faster and easier to use, or to bring a significant upgrade like mesh or Wi-Fi 6 under your roof.

Now this argument is receiving new support from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which polls around 180,000 consumers each year about the products and services they use in dozens of industries and hundreds of businesses. And the latest ISP figures released earlier this week … well, they’re not great.

Wi-Fi customers
Wi-Fi customers
Chris Monroe / CNET

Specifically, ACSI surveyed home Wi-Fi satisfaction for the first time this year, with a particular focus on how your experience differs when using your own hardware as opposed to the default ISP hardware. The survey examined a number of different parameters, with consumers ranking them each on a scale of 1 to 100. Score for score, customers using their own equipment imposed themselves.

The biggest chasm of happiness was with the cost. Consumers using their own networking equipment rated their satisfaction with the value of their purchases as 72 out of 100. Those using ISP equipment rated it 66.

Other measures were closer, but ISP equipment lagged behind in each category. Customers who purchased their own modem or router were more satisfied with the speed with which equipment was restarted (74 versus 69 for ISPs), more satisfied with the reliability of service (75 versus 71 for ISPs), and more satisfied with the range (75 against 72 for ISPs). Both types of customers reported roughly the same level of satisfaction with the security of their networks (75 for third-party hardware versus 74 for ISP hardware).

This is not all bad news for ISPs. The overall customer satisfaction score of 65 this year for the category is up 4.8% from last year, with eight of the 11 ISPs showing improvement. Comcast Xfinity saw the biggest jump, leaping 8% to third place at 66, while Verizon Fios improved 4% to the best-in-class score of 73.

“ISP customers were more satisfied with the variety of Internet plans available this year, and they found the Internet service more reliable,” says David Vanamburg of ASCI. “If ISPs can progress in these areas, there is no reason why they cannot make similar gains in the hardware department by offering more reasonable equipment rental prices and improving reliability. Wi-Fi at home.”

However, the improvement was only enough to raise ISPs to the second last place among industries that obtain ASCI scores. With the exception of the quality of mobile applications (79) and reliability (77), most of the benchmarks for the category remain relatively low, according to ASCI.

That said, when ACSI surveyed satisfaction with the overall quality of Wi-Fi, it was actually Verizon Fios hardware that led the way with a score of 77 out of 100. It was the only ISP to beat the best third-party manufacturers. Next, Netgear and TP-Link, which each scored a 75, and Linksys, which obtained a 73. Comcast Xfinity, another ISP, was just behind with 72, followed by Asus (71).

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