On the hunt for reliable smart home routers you can use to support a local network with lots of connected devices — like smart home tech? In a smart home, or when you’re setting up a smart home network, you want a reliable router that can handle high-bandwidth actions, but also lots of connected devices at once. Therefore, it’s definitely helpful to know which are the best routers for a smart home network, specifically. That’s precisely what we’re going to discuss here. If you’re looking to upgrade your home network with a new router, or you want to support your newly-installed smart home devices with a better performing unit, keep reading!
What is a router or smart home router?
By now, pretty much everyone understands what a router is compared to a modem. In case you don’t, here’s a quick primer: A router — or wireless router — acts as a gateway for wireless and wired devices. You need a router to extend a wireless network to a nearby area.
If you have a router and modem combo, which many ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will issue to customers, then the two devices are combined in one, convenient unit. Traditional routers, on the other hand, are standalone, and plug into the modem — usually via an ethernet connection — to extend network access to other devices on a home network, including computers, mobile devices, smart TVs, and much more. That’s because typically you cannot plug devices directly into the modem, which is designed to interface with an ISP’s network. Even when you can plug devices into the modem, there are very few ports, which is often the case with Ethernet ports, or the modem is not equipped with wireless connectivity — what you know as WiFi.
The router, whether a combo unit or standalone, often determines the quality of your connection, especially via WiFi. Of course, the modem and internet connection is also important — it’s best to go with high-speed service through your internet provider — but even with excellent internet service, the bandwidth and connection can suffer greatly if you’re using an outdated or poorly designed router. That’s especially true as you connect or plug-in more devices to your router, and by proxy, your internet connection. Every device connected requires more bandwidth, or network traffic, until it becomes too congested and effectively slows the entire network down.
What is the difference between wireless routers and smart home routers?
There are two important distinctions to make here. First, wireless routers and smart home routers are the same. Second, smart home routers technically have a couple of definitions.
For our guide, we’re referring to routers, of any type, that are best used to support a smart home network or a local network that has lots of smart devices connected, such as smart TVs, smart plugs, and more.
The term “smart home router” can also refer to routers or wireless gateways that utilize common “smart home” features, like remote access through a mobile app. While it’s important to note that some of the routers on our list fit both definitions of a smart home router, we are not strictly limiting our choices to the latter definition. The routers on this list may or may not support remote access through a mobile app, automation, and advanced features. That’s not why we chose them, however.
All of the routers on this list would be an excellent option for anyone looking to support an online or connected smart home, with lots of internet-ready devices synced to the network.
Why should you trust Ideaing?
Since 2013, the members of the Ideaing team have had extensive experience in many technology-related fields, from electrical engineering to working as product managers at Fortune 500 companies. We pride ourselves on providing truly objective insight into our reviews and recommendations. We want to provide you with information on some of the best options on the market today and let you make your own educated decision. After many hours of research, these are, what we believe to be, the best routers for a smart home network.
The Best Smart Home Routers for a Network with Lots of Devices
Best Overall – Asus RT-AX86U
Excellent for smart homes that need reliable connectivity, online gaming, and big families with lots of tablets, phones, and other tech, this dual-band WiFi 6 router is an absolute powerhouse. You’ll see incredible performance with speeds up to the 5700Mbps range. Plus, it offers built-in security features called AiProtection Pro from Trend Micro to protect against network intrusions, malware, and other nasties. There’s no subscription fee to use those security features, either.
You can boost gaming, prioritize network traffic, and adjust settings from the ASUS router app on your phone, so remote access is available. What’s more, it’s designed to work specifically with NVIDIA’s GeForce Now cloud-based gaming service to allow for seamless streaming. On the rear, you’ll find USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, a 2.5G LAN port, a WAN port, and four Ethernet LAN ports. ASUS AiMesh support means you can create a mesh network using compatible routers if you have them.
Why You Might Want to Buy It
If you want a reliable home network with blazingly-fast speeds, whether for gaming or high-performance tasks, this is a great choice.
- Exceptional performance, bandwidth, and reliability
- Built-in security with no subscription requirements
- Multiple ports for accessibility
- Remote access through the ASUS Router app
- Tailored towards gaming, not smart home networks
Best for Home Kit – Linksys Velop AX4200 WiFi 6 Mesh Router
This mesh tri-band router from Linksys can accommodate up to 40 devices simultaneously on its local network, just what you need for a smart home setup. The intelligent mesh technology delivers gigabit wireless speeds to keep your connection strong and reliable. What’s more, you can leverage the free Linksys mobile app to configure parental controls, guest access, prioritize devices, and much more.
Smart security is also built-in to deliver automatic firmware updates, separate guest network access, and other tools to prevent malicious events. The wireless bands it provides include 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and an extra 5GHz channel. Wireless range can reach up to 2,700 square feet, plenty for most single-family homes. You’ll also get three Gigabit LAN, a single Gigabit WAN, and USB 3.0.
Why You Might Want to Buy It
Affordable price, mesh performance, and crafted specifically to work with Apple HomeKit smart home tech, if you need it you should grab it!
- Reliable performance, coverage, and features
- Mesh router system with built-in security
- Works with Apple HomeKit and smart home tech
- Easy to set up through Linksys mobile app with remote access
- Exclusive to select retailers
Best for Gaming – TP-Link Archer GX90
Built from the ground up for gaming and high-performance streaming, the GX90 (AX6600) is a tri-band WiFi 6 router packed to the antennas with unique features. TP-Link offers Game Band, Game Accelerator, Game Statistics, and Game Protector functionality to keep your network safe, performing well, and your connections strong and fast. There are 8 antennas with high-power FEM beamforming support to ensure strong wireless coverage for your entire home.
You’ll get two 5GHz band channels, as well as a 2.4GHz channel for devices that don’t support the newer wireless bands — which is surprisingly necessary for a lot of smart home devices. The router also offers USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, with media server functionality to boot. It’s a beast, that’s for sure, but it’s also quite affordable.
Why You Might Want to Buy It
If you want a high-performance router to support online gaming, your smart home network, and much more, but don’t want to pay a ridiculous price, this is where it’s at.
- Affordable high-performance router for gaming and more
- Several built-in software features: Security, Statistics, and more
- Easy to set up and use
- Remote access is supported through the TP-Link app
- Over-the-top appearance
Best Mesh – Netgear Orbi WiFi 6E (RBKE963)
If you’re looking for a mesh router system, Netgear’s Orbi line is one of the best. But it can be expensive, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the performance you’ll see thanks to gigabit broadband and impressive quad-band wireless performance. All in, the Orbi WiFi 6E (RBKE963) system can provide wireless coverage for up to 9,000 square feet, even more, if you add extra nodes. Each unit, including the satellites, offers up to 4 Ethernet LAN ports, with multiple embedded antennas for improved speeds and bandwidth.
You’ll get support for 2.5GHz, 5GH, and 6GHz bands, plus a fourth network channel on the 5GHz band if you need it. It’s ready to rock out of the box, and you’ll get remote access through the Netgear app. You will need to pony up for a subscription to access Netgear’s Armor security tools, and tech support, but other than that you’re good to go.
Why You Might Want to Buy It
If you want a plug-and-play system with impressive performance, and great support — albeit at a premium — you can’t go wrong with Netgear’s Orbi.
- Super easy to set up and use
- Amazing mesh performance and wireless coverage
- Accommodates many connected devices
- Remote access through Netgear’s Orbi mobile app
- Subscription needed for tech support and security tools
Best Multi-Device – NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX120 WiFi 6 Router
The first thing you’ll notice about any router in the Nighthawk line is its unique, spaceship-like appearance. But don’t be fooled, this thing is powerful, offering a 12-stream dual-band Gigabit network with extended wireless coverage up to 3,500 square feet. Even better, this router can support up to 30 devices simultaneously with no slowdown, which is essential for a smart home network. You’ll also experience wireless speeds up to 6Gbps.
It has two USB 3.0 ports, four 1G Ethernet ports, and a single 1G to 5G Ethernet port. Like Netgear’s other routers, Armor security software — powered by BitDefender — is optionally available, and you’ll get a 30-day free trial with your new router. Of course, the router is easy to set up and you can do so remotely using Netgear’s mobile app.
Why You Might Want to Buy It
Offering incredible multi-device performance, for up to 30 devices simultaneously, this high-bandwidth router is ideal for smart home networks of just about any size.
- Easy to set up, easy to use, intuitive to customize
- Incredible wireless performance for up to 30 devices simultaneously
- Delivers wireless coverage for up to 3,500 square feet
- Remote access through Netgear’s mobile app
- Subscription needed for security tools
— Best Smart Home Routers Buyers Guide & FAQ —
What to Look for When Buying a Router for a Smart Home Network?
Routers are fairly complex which means there’s a lot to consider when researching them. Here are some of the features to look for and why they’re important:
Type – Routers can be single-band, dual-band, tri-band, or mesh. Single-band routers stick to one frequency of 2.4GHz, while dual-band routers offer both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Tri-band routers deliver an extra 5GHz band network. Having three bands reduces congestion on the various networks and improves both performance and speed. Finally, mesh routers extend coverage through nodes or satellites, with a single, primary router communicating with two or more nodes. Mesh routers can be single, dual, or tri-band, it just depends on the connectivity they offer.
Wireless Band – There are two wireless bands used for WiFi networks, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, however, there are various standards used across them. The older 802.11, 802.11a, and 802.11b standards have been phased out for 802.11g and above, with 802.11n and 802.11ac being the most common today. Introduced in 2009, 802.11n supports bandwidths up to 300Mbps, or more depending on how many antennas are available. 802.11ac supports up to several gigabits per second in the 5GHz range. Newer standards support higher bandwidth and faster speeds.
Ethernet Ports – If you’re connecting all of your devices wirelessly, this factor isn’t as much of a concern. But consider how many devices you’ll want to have plugged in and using a wired connection. It includes game consoles, computers, and other smart home devices that need a stable Ethernet connection. Some routers come with more physical ports available than others.
Antennas – Outside of mesh routers, which are designed a little differently, most standalone routers come with two or more antennas. Some of the more advanced routers, built for high-speed and high-performance activities, come with four to six antennas. This does actually affect network reliability and performance, especially at higher bandwidths.
Remote Access – Many new routers, also designated as “smart home routers” allow you to remotely access and configure the router. You can always access the administrative settings remotely from any computer that’s connected to the local network — using the right IP address. However, smart routers often have a mobile companion app that you can use to configure or change settings.
Parental Controls – Modern routers also come with parental control and access-blocking features to give parents more granular control over what their family is doing both on the internet and the network. You can disable internet access for certain devices for a set period, like when you’re not around to supervise activities, for example.
MU-MIMO – The term stands for multi-user, multiple-input, and multiple output, and is a wireless technology that allows routers to connect to multiple devices simultaneously. It is also referred to as Next-Gen AC or AC Wave 2, as it’s using the 802.11ac Wave 2 WiFi 5 standard. It can vastly improve performance in a smart home network, because the router will be wirelessly interfacing with a huge quantity of devices at once, like smart locks, plugs, lights, and much more.
Smart Home Routers FAQ
Q: Is it better to have a standalone router?
A: As a general rule, it’s always better to use your own router, and to connect a standalone router — as opposed to a combo unit — to your network. Nearly any router you supply is going to be more powerful, and have more features, than one supplied by your ISP. Of course, that’s unless you’re using an out-of-date device.
Also, you’ll have a lot more control over your network, its configuration, and connectivity if you use your own router. ISPs disable features and administrative access for most devices they supply or rent out. Sometimes, you may even find that ISP-supplied units have a secondary firewall that restricts access to certain ports, websites, and various actions. Of course, this all depends on your ISP.
Finally, it’s a lot cheaper to buy your own router even though the upfront costs may be more. Renting a wireless router from your ISP for a monthly fee, no matter how small, adds up over time. If you’re renting, you’ll likely end up paying the full cost of a router in a year.
Q: Do I need a modem to connect to the internet?
A: Yes. The primary connection is determined and sustained by the modem(s) that your ISP assigns and uses. It’s possible to rent or buy a modem and router combo that has both technologies embedded. However, if you buy a standard router and have no modem, you will not be able to access the internet — you’ll have no outside access to internet services at all.
You can, however, create a LAN or Local Area Network, without a modem, which you can use for file sharing, LAN-based cooperative gaming, and so on. Think of it as a private, offline network that only you and your household have access to.
Q: What’s the difference between wired and wireless connections?
A: Most routers support both wired and wireless connections. The most common or standard form of wired connection is Ethernet. Wireless and WiFi are the same. So, when you connect to a WiFi network, at home or away, you’re connecting wirelessly to a nearby router.
A wireless connection can be slower and less reliable but it’s also more convenient because you don’t have physical wires tethering devices together, so you can move around a property or space fairly easily. Wired on the other hand can handle faster speeds, higher bandwidth, and is certainly more reliable because there’s minimal interference, but also you have to run a wire from the router or modem to the device(s) you are connecting. Wired is best for activities where you need low latency, high bandwidth, and fast speeds — like online gaming.
Any devices that need a reliable or faster connection should be plugged into Ethernet. Everything else can be connected to WiFi. Routers support both types of connections simultaneously. So, you might need to place the router strategically next to whatever needs a wired connection. Always choose modem and router placement wisely.