Can a Router Go Bad Over Time?

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Once a router has been set up, it will sit there quite happily working away without any sign of failing anytime soon, but can a router go bad over time, and is there any way you can help extend its lifespan?

Routers can go bad over time and fail completely with a build-up of heat and dust, and lack of airflow being the most common causes. These issues can manifest over time which can lead to intermittent connectivity or performance problems before the router can fail completely.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the common causes for a router to fail, how they can be avoided, how to check whether the router is causing your connectivity issues, and when you probably want to consider an upgrade.

What Can Cause a Router to Fail?

Just like with any other piece of physical hardware, routers aren’t designed to last forever and are likely to fail at some point.

Some people may experience issues here and there over an extended period of time, whereas others can find a router to fail at a moment’s notice.

Regardless, there are few common causes that can cause a router’s life span to be cut short.

The primary reason for routers going bad and eventually failing is a build-up of heat combined with lack of ventilation for the heat to escape through.

If you think about it, routers are typically left powered on and working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days a year, during which time they are generating heat.

Depending on the environment they are in, they can get far too hot and simply don’t have sufficient ventilation to cope with excess heat.

This is where you decide to physically position your router can have a surprising effect on its life span.

Place it in the back of a cupboard that is already jam-packed with other electrical equipment that is also generating heat and you can almost guarantee it won’t last as long compared with it being placed on top of a cupboard instead where there is plenty of room around it for the hot air to escape to.

Positioning your router somewhere like this will not only likely extend its lifespan but also improve your connectivity to it as well.

In addition to failure due to excessive heat, routers can also be damaged when they are left exposed to direct sunlight. For this reason, you shouldn’t place your router near a window where the sun can potentially have a direct line of sight to it and cause it to get hotter than it is designed to be.

Although hot air does rise and you ideally don’t want it around your router, it’s also not a good idea to place it on the floor where it is more likely to gather dust.

Should dust find its way into the internal components of the router, along with the heat generated could lead to it failing completely without any prior warning.

Commercial grade routers, on the other hand, can quite easily last for 10 years or even more without even the slightest sign of going bad.

These are typically used by organizations that need them as the backbone of their entire network infrastructure and can not only afford the routers themselves, but also the dedicated rooms where they can be kept at the right temperature and have considerably less risk of any build-up of dust or debris.

Unfortunately for us at home, these types of routers are very much out of reach and really not suitable for the vast majority of us, so we will be left giving our consumer grade routers the TLC they need to have as long a lifespan as possible.

Is an Old Router Causing Connectivity Issues?

It could be that an old router is causing performance issues or complete dropouts in connectivity to the Internet, so in order to prove it, you will need to remove the router from the equation.

To do this, you will need to bypass the router by disconnecting from it and connecting your PC or laptop that will be used to perform the test directly to your cable modem.

It is then just a case of trying it and seeing if you experience any of the same problems you were facing when connected to your router instead.

If you do, it is fair to assume that the router itself is not at fault and the underlying issue is elsewhere.

Should you not have any issues and connecting directly to the modem improves your performance and connectivity, it is likely that the router is to blame and so it is time to get shopping for a new one.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that connecting directly to your modem should be kept very temporary and is absolutely not a long term fix.

Modems themselves offer zero security or protection unlike your router.

They don’t have a built-in firewall nor do they provide any NAT (Network Address Translation) abilities, and so present a huge security risk for your entire home network.

Only connect directly to the modem for a brief period of time that is long enough for you to test removing the router from the equation.

Also, as you will likely be using the Internet as part of your testing, try and stick to using websites that you know are safe and secure. Don’t risk testing on websites you suspect may be unsafe or compromised as it simply isn’t worth the risk.

Even if you do find the router to be the cause of the issues, make sure to get it re-connected as soon as you can until you are able to get hold of a replacement.

Having a router that does cause connectivity issues is better than not having one at all as we heavily rely on them for our home network security.

What Are the Symptoms of a Router That Is Failing?

There are several different signs and symptoms that your router could be failing, so keep these in mind if you do begin to face some problems.

1. Sudden failure

Although it isn’t guaranteed, a pretty sure sign that a router has reached the end of its life is when you experience a very sudden and unexpected failure.

All hope may not yet be lost, though, as it could be a case of something like the power cable coming loose and simply needing reconnecting.

If your router and modem are separate devices, it could also be a case of the connection between the two has failed rather than the router itself. Check the cables that go between the two and perhaps replace them first if there are no obvious issues with either the router or modem themselves.

Should you find the connections to be fine, it is likely to be the router that has failed, and so it is time to either get it repaired or replace it completely.

For reasons we’ll discuss shortly, you are probably better off purchasing a new router rather than getting the existing one repaired as there are benefits to this in addition to it generally being more cost-effective.

2. Indicator lights

One of the easiest ways to tell if your router is failing is by looking at the indicator LED lights that you’ll see on the front.

When the router is functioning as it should, you would expect these lights to blink intermittently or remain solid as a sign that data is being transferred.

If the lights are out completely, yet you are still able to connect to the router and use it as you would expect, this is an unfortunate sign that it could soon break down.

Should the lights be out and you are also unable to connect, it could be that the router has, unfortunately, already failed.

That being said, it could be that the power cable has just come loose or you have an issue with the particular power outlet it is plugged in to, so it is worth giving it a quick check before assuming it has failed completely.

3. Slow down over time

Another common sign that your router is failing is when you experience a decrease in download and upload speeds without any obvious reason why.

The majority of the time, a change in the speeds you receive are associated with a particularly large amount of network traffic, like when someone is trying to download large files or stream high-quality video, or when there is less bandwidth available.

Therefore, it is unlikely that the router is the root cause of a particularly slow period of time, but it is still a possibility nonetheless.

To rule the router out as being the cause, you will again want to connect a device directly to your modem and check the speeds that you are receiving.

If they are similar to what you were receiving when connected to the router instead, the network traffic and bandwidth is most likely to be the root cause, but if the speeds are faster, you can assume that the router is at fault.

Just remember to connect back to the router even if the speeds that you receive are slower as connecting your device directly to the modem does present a security risk.

4. Weak signal

Similarly to how a decrease in download and upload speeds can be a sign that your router is failing, so can the wireless coverage and signal strength that you receive.

If your router provided a strong and sustained wireless signal in the room you are in before and now has suddenly dropped to where it is weak and can even intermittently drop out completely, you may need to start shopping for a replacement.

Something to try is to move the device you are using to test closer to the router. You would expect the signal strength to increase the closer you get, so if it remains poor even when you are right next to it, this certainly indicates a problem.

If the signal strength does increase, it may be that something else is causing the issues with the signal in the particular room before and it may not be the router at fault at all.

Perhaps there is something that is obstructing the signal that wasn’t there before, or there is some interference on the Wi-Fi network as a whole.

In my opinion, a weak signal in one particular room shouldn’t be a sign for you to go out and get a new router, unless you particularly want to, of course. But if you are experiencing problems with the signal alongside one of the other symptoms I’ve described, it could be time to start looking for a replacement.

5. Devices are unable to connect

Even if the router is powered on and the indicator lights are flashing away as you would expect, if your devices are still having trouble connecting, it could be a sign that the issue is with the router itself.

If you have only tested the one device and found it doesn’t connect, don’t despair and simply try another.

It is more likely to be the device itself at fault rather than the router, but you won’t know this until you try a few other devices. If nothing can connect, this is a pretty sure sign that there is something wrong with the router.

If you are able to, it is also worth trying to connect a device with a physical ethernet cable to one of the LAN ports found on the back. You may find that the router itself is perfectly fine and that the issue is actually with the wireless network.

You could also simply power down the router and power it back on, but this really shouldn’t be needed. Although it may temporarily fix the issue, it is likely that you will face it again in the near future and so shouldn’t be seen as a permanent fix.

How Long Does a Router Last For?

On average, a consumer-grade router will last for around 5 years depending on how well maintained it is and the environment it is kept in. The lifespan of a commercial-grade router is expected to be considerably longer at 10 years or more.

For example, you wouldn’t expect a router that is kept in a cupboard where dust can easily gather and there is little airflow to last as long as one that is kept away from other items and has plenty of room for the air to circulate.

When Should You Replace Your Router?

There are several reasons that you may feel it is time to replace your router with a new one, even if your existing one appears to be working absolutely fine.

1. Your current router is faulty or has already failed

Of course, if you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms that a router is failing which I described above, it is probably a good time to start looking for a replacement.

If the router has, unfortunately, already bitten the dust, you aren’t left with much choice other than to purchase a replacement straight away.

2. Your router doesn’t support up to date Wi-Fi technology

At the time of writing, 802.11n is the most commonly used form of Wi-Fi technology which is perfectly suitable for the vast majority of people despite it being over 10 years since it was released back in 2009.

It can make use of both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands, supports speeds of up to 600 Mbps, and has an indoor and outdoor range that is adequate for most homes.

If your current router can only support the 802.11g standard, I would recommend an upgrade to at least one that supports 802.11n, or better yet, the latest 802.11ac standard.

Just keep in mind that even some of the 802.11n models of routers are now considered to be obsolete and you will likely find the latest 802.11ac routers not only offer better performance but are also similarly priced.

3. You are still using a single band router

If your current router only operates on the 2.4 GHz frequency band, you probably want to consider an upgrade to one that is dual-band, or even tri-band, and also allows devices to connect on the 5 GHz frequency band.

It’s well known that other devices you have around your home that have absolutely nothing to do with your home network can affect the wireless signal for those devices that are connected to the 2.4 GHz frequency band which can easily become bloated.

A couple of common examples are cordless telephones, microwaves and garage door openers.

Having a router that allows you to connect your devices to the 5 GHz band will free up capacity on the 2.4 GHz band and make for an overall better experience.

4. You no longer receive firmware updates

As manufacturers release new models of their routers, there will eventually come a time where they are unable to support the older ones.

At this time, they will no longer offer support should you be facing any issues and they still stop providing firmware updates.

When firmware becomes out of date, the security risk does increase as you will no longer receive the fixes to known exploits that cybercriminals like to take full advantage of.

If you know your existing router is out of support and doesn’t receive firmware updates, I would highly recommend a newer model that is still receiving support. 

Recommended Routers

If you feel it is time for an upgrade and are looking for a new router for your home network, here are some recommendations.

ASUS RT-AC88U​ – Although this router has been branded towards gamers, it provides excellent speeds and coverage whilst coming jam-packed with lots of useful features.

NETGEAR Nighthawk AX12 AC6000 – This is the ultimate router that delivers the fastest speeds I have seen in a router and even has Alexa voice control built-in.

TP-Link AC1900 – This is your budget-friendly option but still supports speeds fast enough for most people and uses MU-MIMO technology.