Our expert testers put the latest wireless and mesh routers through rigorous testing to assess performance, ease of use and power consumption, so you'll know exactly what to expect when trying to boost your Wi-Fi signal at home.
We look for dual-band and tri-band wireless routers and mesh router systems that:
- are readily available
- are NBN-ready and support the latest NBN gateways
- support Wi-Fi 5 and 6 standards with testing carried out with the router and an additional 'node' unit to create a wireless mesh system.
The following tests make up the performance score, which contributes 60% to the overall score.
Short-distance test (40%)
In this test, we transfer our data from the network attached storage (NAS) to the client over a line-of-sight distance of four metres. This is considered a best-case scenario. The router resides in the lounge room where the NBN connection is fed, and the client sits four metres away.
Long-distance test (30%)
In this test, we transfer data from the NAS to the client over a line-of-sight distance of 40m. The router and NAS are placed in the CHOICE lab area and the client laptop is placed approximately 40m away.
Wall penetration test (30%)
In this test, we transfer our data from the NAS to the client over a non-line-of-sight distance of approximately 4–5m, with two brick walls and one drywall as impediments to the signal. The router is placed in the lounge room where the NBN outlet resides, while the client is placed in the north-east corner of the main bedroom with the door closed.
Ease of use
In addition to performance, a key part of a wireless router is how easy it is to set up and use. The following tests make up the ease of use score, contributing 40% to the overall score.
Set-up wizard (60%)
The tester assesses how easy it is to set up the router by following the instructions that are printed or shown on the screen. This can include wizards and step-by-step guides. We note what settings can be changed during this set-up, such as Wi-Fi SSIDs and passwords, as well as admin account name and password.
Wi-Fi encryption (30%)
The tester notes if the wireless networks of the router are secured by default. We then assess how easy it is to change SSIDs and passwords.
Parental controls and scheduling (10%)
We look for whether these features are present and in what form. For example, if a router features predefined filters according to age group, if it's very easy to implement, and whether the router supports keyword/URL filtering and time-based scheduling. We also check keyword/URL filters and how many entries are supported (some have limited slots, for example).
We measure idle consumption (20 hours) and active consumption (four hours).
For wireless mesh routers, the following tests make up the total performance score (which counts for 60% of the overall score).
Speed at close range test (30%)
In this test, we transfer our data from the NAS to the client over a line-of-sight distance of four metres (considered a best-case scenario). The main node of the mesh kit resides in the lounge room where the NBN connection is fed, and the client sits four metres away.
Speed at long range test (20%)
In this test, we transfer our data from the NAS to the client over a non-line-of-sight distance of 10m. The main node resides in one room where the NBN connection is fed, and the client sits 10m away in another room with brick walls and windows as obstacles to the signal.
A baseline test is conducted from the client to the main mesh kit's node, and then we switch on the extending node to note the difference in performance. The tester ensures the laptop is restarted and reconnected to the network after the mesh unit has been enabled to make sure a connection is made to the extending node.
Speed at extended range test (50%)
In this test, we transfer data from a NAS device to the client over a line-of-sight distance of 40m.
For products that only support smart switching or band steering, we must force the client adapter to use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands manually when connecting to these products. If there's an improvement in performance with this setting, we use this figure for the 5GHz test, as we want to make sure we're assessing the router's best capable performance.
We also conduct a test with a mesh node placed halfway between the main node and the client, in order to see if there's a boost in performance when the mesh kit is working as intended. This is the figure that's used for assessment in the long-distance test.
Ease of use
Ease of use contributes 40% to the overall score and includes:
- initial set-up (40%) – how easy it is to set up each mesh kit using the supplied instructions
- extender node set-up (20%) – the process for setting up each node (and how easy it is)
- firmware update (15%) – whether this needs to be done manually or is automatic once you've set up the kit
- changing settings (15%) – how easy it is to access and change settings, such as wireless network names
- smart device installation (10%) – how easy it is to add and set up smart devices on the network.
We measure idle consumption only (24 hours). We repeat the process for the extending nodes, making sure that the main node is powered on to establish the mesh network, and add the figures.
Below is a technical breakdown of each testing environment, the equipment we use and how they affect our results.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.