With faster residential internet services becoming more widely available our thirst for the consumption of data has increased exponentially. It's safe to say that the days where only one or two devices would be connected to a home connection at any one time are long gone what with services such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ etc consuming vast swathes of internet traffic. We also have to consider that teenagers (and adults of course) might also be into the world of online gaming which is another significant consumer of internet traffic.
In the year 2020 the average number of internet-connected devices in your typical home exceeds five which more often than not includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, games consoles, smart TVs and more. It's likely a fair number of these devices will be connected via your home internet connection at any one time and while a lot of expectation is held on the internet provider to provide an adequate service, this somewhat falls into two categories.
My network definitions
For the purpose of this blog post we'll touch on two network types which I call external and internal. Note, these are by no means official definitions and are simply used to provide context.
- External Network
This includes all the equipment and cabling from your internet providers systems right up to your front door. In the United Kingdom this more often than not is a combination of glass fibre optics and copper cabling.
- Internal Network
The internal network is anything from the BT/Openreach master socket in your property right up to your individual devices. This section can include wiring to any extension sockets (if applicable), the router inclusive of any wireless functionality and finally your individual devices themselves.
What exactly are you paying your broadband provider for?
While many of the larger internet providers these days will provide their customers with a wireless router of some description as part of their package, it's important to understand exactly what you're paying your internet provider for. Your payment of however much per month, which includes line rental, is ultimately for the provision on the external network. This is much the same as your payment to the waterboard in so much they will only look after the mains up to your property boundary. The internet provider is saying to you that they can provide the quoted speeds to your property, but what happens on the internal network is very often outside of their control.
There are so many variables included once the internet gets to your home that it is quite often impossible to hold the provider to account so long as everything to the property is working correctly. The internal variables include the quality of any wiring used for the install of any phone sockets around the home, your properties build general quality be it brick or plasterboard, any other wireless devices you might have be they wireless DECT phones or baby monitors etc and perhaps most importantly, the actual wireless wireless router you use.
Equipment provided by your internet provider
When you sign up for broadband services in the UK the vast majority of internet providers will send you out a wireless router as part of the overall package. Sending out a generic router to their new customer base means they are able to ensure an automatic connection once you hook it all up and a simple and streamlined customer support operation. It's significantly easier for a tech support team to help customers out with one particular device than support every single router on the market.
While it might seem great to you that your internet provider is offering you a free router it's more often than not done to help out the internet provider than it is to offer you a better service. This comes down to one thing and one thing only: cost. There are some incredible routers out there on the market which would probably solve 99% of all common internet queries but they cost quite a bit and offering them for free would eat into a domestic internet providers already small profit margins per customer.
I have been both a direct customer of, or made use of connections from several broadband providers over the last twenty years including BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Tiscali, Sky and each of them have had their own preferred router with their affiliations often changing over the years. Each provider refreshes their router offering every few years with advances in consumer tech but one thing that's become more and more apparent over the years is a degradation in feature sets and locking down of router configurations to once again streamline each providers support offering. This significantly hinders certain configurations around the home environment.
I would consider myself to be quite well versed in the tech environment and so you may be thinking it's understandable I'd be after a well-equipped router to serve my needs but that's not actually true. What I'd actually value more for both my sake and the sake of millions more internet users around the UK is a decent setup out of the box. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that you'll get a much better at home internet experience with the vast majority of internet providers by going out and purchasing your own router from your local Curry's PCWorld! The advancements in wireless technology over the couple of years alone is crazy often going a long way towards eradicating so called wireless "not-spots" but consumers tied to their providers own tech are often left behind.
Preventing you from using your own tech...
I have absolutely nothing against an internet provider providing customers their preferred choice of router on sign up, however in the world of consumer choice that same internet provider shouldn't actively prevent a customer from then going on to replace that router with their own choice. This is exactly what rather large internet provider Sky is doing. They don't outright ban it in their terms and conditions (any more!!) but do not actively hand out the required credentials to login to their system via your own router.
My parents were struggling to receive any sort of wireless signal in their home beyond the master bedroom where the router resides and the living room one floor below. If you sat in the kitchen or dining room you'd get one bar from the WiFi. Sky's choice of router offered to them at the time - the SR102 as it's technically known - had very outdated tech within it and Sky wanted a costly fee to upgrade them to the new router well above what that newer router could be purchased for in the retail stores.
With that in mind I sought to switch them to another provider. A provider in which I had used for over a year in my own property. A provider which actually cares about the customer experience and offers a comparatively high-end router inclusive within your contract. That provider is Zen.
Introducing Zen & the FRITZ!Box 7530
Enter Zen. Zen is an independent broadband provider based in Yorkshire and not only is their broadband service pretty damn stable (backed by BT Wholesale services outside of their own exchange areas) the router they provide to all new customers is pretty damn impressive. Manufactured by AVM in Germany and known as the FRITZ!Box by brand, the FRITZ!Box 7530 packs a pretty decent feature set and some good hardware to match. In fact, Zen are the exclusive UK reseller for AVM.
Far from a low-end router
The FRITZ!Box 7530 offered by Zen retails across Europe for well in excess of £100 so it's certainly not a budget router. The router and integrated modem supports internet connection speeds of up to 300Mbps which will become more the norm in the UK as Openreach rolls out its' G.fast kit. It's not exclusively for Fibre customers and will also function for former ADSL-based services where Fibre is not available.
Configured for Zen out of the box
Just like BT, Sky, TalkTalk etc provide fully configured routers out of the box, the FRITZ!Box comes setup for Zen's own internet service meaning on your day of activation you can simply hook it up to your phone line, switch it on and start streaming on Netflix, YouTube or playing your mates on your favourite Playstation game.
While most end-users have no real requirement to access the router admin interface, I have to say the FRITZ!Box has one of the most user-friendly user interfaces both in terms of it's well thought out navigation, feature-rich configurable options and most importantly incredibly clean design.
Powerful Wireless Signal & Very Secure
The router packs a mighty punch with it's wireless antennae supporting two separate wireless frequencies (2Ghz and 5Ghz) as most routers do and while I have no in-depth technical stats for this, I have personally found the wireless more far-reaching than the TP-Link and Netgear routers I have replaced with FRITZ!Box devices. All FRITZ!Box routers coming from Zen are pre-configured with a twenty digit WPA2 security key and while it's possible to change this, it's of enterprise level security from the get go.
Extending your home network further
Most major internet providers are offering some sort of "wifi in every home" promise at the moment. Be it BT with their "BT Complete" offering or Sky with their "Wifi Guarantee" setup, this works by providing additional equipment to extend your network into harder to reach areas. Zen offer this too with their "Every Room" offering and I've recently set this up in my parents home to fix the coverage issue I mentioned above. Zen's additional equipment comes in the form of the FRITZ!Repeater 3000. I will publish a separate blog for this in the near future.
When you sign up to a broadband provider you're right to expect it to work from day one. Everything about Zen's FRITZ!Box router makes this as effortless as it can. Not only are the devices sleek to look at, they pack a punch under the hood and offer far-reaching & speedy wireless connectivity throughout the home. On top of all of that and while it's unlikely you'll need them, Zen's in-house customer support are generally more than happy to help should you need them.
Should you pay for the FRITZ!Box separately? Well that depends on your needs really, however if you're looking for a new broadband provider then Zen can provide all the pros of the AVM FRITZ! products for little more than the prices you'd expect to pay with the major providers.