Ask an Internet Expert: How to Set Up Internet In Your New Home
In the neverending lists that come with moving, one of the to-dos that tends to slip through the cracks is setting up the internet. But shopping for a new internet plan can feel like one of those stress dreams where you forgot about a big exam. Consider this your “How to Get Internet in Your New Home” cheat sheet. We asked CNET’s Senior Broadband Writer, David Anders, about everything you need to know when it comes to setting up internet after your move. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
MYMOVE: Is moving a good time to switch internet providers or is it better to just transfer your service?
David Anders: You definitely want to at least look and see what’s out there. Your new address is potentially going to open up some different providers. If I moved closer into Charlotte (where I live), I would have access to Google Fiber, and I would still be able to get Spectrum, which is what we’ve got here. But Google Fiber would be a much more valued service, right?
There’s nothing wrong with transferring, though, especially if you’re under contract, or if there’s any special pricing that you’ve locked in. If you cancel service, and then move and decide you want that special pricing back, you’re not going to get that if you don’t transfer. So there are pros and cons to each but I would definitely start with seeing what your options are.
MYMOVE: When you’re comparing those options, what kind of things should you keep an eye out for?
Anders: I am super supportive of a fiber connection. The first thing I’m going to look for is the connection type between the providers. If one is fiber and one is cable, I’m going to lock onto that fiber one every time.
Even if it’s a little more per month, even if they’re not giving away the same gift cards or incentives or whatever, it would be hard to sway me from a fiber connection. That said, 5G is emerging — it’s got speeds in the 300 to 940 Mbps range if you can get on Verizon’s Ultra Wideband network. But yeah, if I’m looking for a new provider, I’m starting with the technology that they have.
MYMOVE: Is there a good way to tell what kind of technology a provider has?
Anders: They’ll brag about it. They’ll definitely let you know. Optimum has been rolling out a big fiber network that they are super excited about. But you can also look at your speeds. If you see the same upload and download speeds, it’s going to be a fiber connection. If you see a big disparity between the download and the upload speed, then it’s probably cable or DSL.
MYMOVE: Is there a rule of thumb you use to tell people how much speed they should get?
Anders: I would not recommend under 100 Mbps for anybody. Really. Everybody uses Wi-Fi. No one’s plugging straight into the router. That’s gonna cut your speeds right off the bat. I would start with 100 Mbps. In fact, I believe the FCC is trying to boost the broadband definition to 100.
The last time a tech was out at my house, he said no home he’s ever visited has needed over 500 Mbps. Take that for what it’s worth. I would say 500 Mbps is probably sufficient for almost anyone — especially if you’ve got the right equipment to disperse those feeds around your home.
MYMOVE: You mentioned that most people are almost always using Wi-Fi. Does that mean they won’t necessarily get the speeds they’re advertised over Wi-Fi?
Anders: Yeah, everything that’s advertised online is speeds to the home. Your Wi-Fi is what’s handling the speeds in the home. So if your Wi-Fi can’t deliver those speeds that are being delivered to, you’re not going to receive them, regardless of what’s coming to your doorstep. So you want to have a capable router and, depending on the size of your home, at least extenders, or even better, a mesh system.
MYMOVE: Is there an advantage to a mesh system or extender if you just moved into a new home?
Anders: I’d recommend a mesh system for sure. An extender is going to create a separate network based on your home Wi-Fi network. So let’s say you’re downstairs on the regular router, and you go upstairs and connect to the extender — you would have to literally switch networks.
With a mesh system, it just creates that Wi-Fi signal throughout your home’s same network. I can take my phone from this room to the next one. And as it changes, the pods it’s connected to does it automatically.
They cost about the same. A lot of times when you buy a router with a mesh system, it’ll come with two or three pods. A mesh system is not that much more money than just buying extenders. I’d go ahead and upgrade to a mesh system.
MYMOVE: Would you recommend getting a system like that for any home or just bigger ones?
Anders: If you can put your router in the central part of your home and you get a good signal everywhere, great. A lot of times though, you’re limited as to where you can put your router, and the only way to compensate would be with a mesh system or with extenders to get to the other side of your house.
But it varies. If you’ve got a dedicated office that doesn’t have your router in it, I would recommend getting an extender or a mesh pod and putting it in your office so you always have a strong signal.
MYMOVE: For someone who’s moving to a new house, is it better to buy their own router or rent it from their provider?
Anders: I rent actually. It’s just one less thing to worry about. My rental fee is $10 a month and it’s a mesh system. So I’m okay with that. When it’s time to upgrade — and this is kind of the key — I just call them and say, “Hey, my equipment’s not really up to snuff. Can you replace it?” And they will come out and replace it. So it’s almost like free upgrades.
If anything’s wrong with it, it’s a lot easier to call them than it is Asus or Netgear whoever else. So I rent, just because it’s so easy. That said, I do not have the best system that’s out there. My Wi-Fi speeds are probably a fifth of what I’m getting to the house. But even still, that’s enough for me. The tech support is worth enough to pay $10 a month.
But I’m also not really a hardcore gamer. I don’t have a whole lot of devices in here. I definitely understand the pros to getting your own router. There used to be a lot of savings with using your own router, but a lot of these guys now are including the router rental fee in with the package. AT&T doesn’t have a router fee, Frontier doesn’t, CenturyLink doesn’t if you have the gig plan. So that kind of defeats the purpose, too.
MYMOVE: Do you have any advice about where to set up the router in a new home?
Anders: The rule of thumb is a central location. Those Wi-Fi signals go up, down, all around. The higher that you put it in a room the better. It’s dispersing the signal downwards. But still, I think any home is probably going to have some spotty locations. I can’t imagine putting the router in one spot in my home and having it cover my entire home — and I don’t live in a big home. But as central as you can get is best, or just as close to where you’re going to use the internet the most.
Also, if you live in an apartment, you might want to avoid putting it right up against the wall next to your neighbors and sharing your Wi-Fi signal with them, just because they can leech on it. also too if their Wi-Fi router is on the wall over here. Then you’ve got competing signals and bands and it’s gonna mess them both up.
David’s top five tips for buying internet:
- Shop around at your new address when you move.
- If you can get fiber internet, do it.
- You probably don’t need anything over 500 Mbps.
- Renting your router isn’t always a bad thing.
- A mesh system is the best kind of router for most homes.
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