Any home internet service is going to require a modem and a router, or a combination of the two in a single gateway device, for Wi-Fi. The exact equipment you need can vary by connection type — for example, you’d need a DOCSIS modem for cable connections or an Optical Network Terminal for fiber internet — but the fact still stands that you’ll need some added hardware to get online.
Knowing the right equipment to buy and forking over the initial costs for it isn’t practical for everyone, which is why many choose to simply rent their Wi-Fi equipment from the internet provider. Renting is convenient and comes with the comfort of knowing you’ll be getting a device that, while it may not be the absolute best Wi-Fi router on the market, will at least be serviceable for your connection type and plan. That convenience often comes at a price, as renting equipment can easily add $10 to $15 or more to your monthly internet bill.
Renting Wi-Fi equipment from your provider doesn’t always have to significantly add to the cost of your internet service, however. If you prefer to rent equipment but don’t want to pay $100 or more per year to do so, consider these ISPs that offer free or low-cost equipment.
At $65 per month for download and upload speeds up to 940 megabits per second and unlimited data, CenturyLink’s gig service is a good internet deal on its own, but the plan also comes with free Wi-Fi equipment as a bonus.
The free equipment offer is only available with gig service, though. If you opt for the slower CenturyLink fiber plan, 200Mbps starting at $50 per month, or if your home is only eligible for DSL service, the cost for renting your equipment will add $15 to your bill each month. CenturyLink does give you the option to use your own equipment, so the fee is still avoidable.
Read our CenturyLink review.
Cox’s Panoramic Wi-Fi device is available with the provider’s standard cable internet plans for an additional cost of $12 per month, but Cox’s prepaid internet plan, StraightUp Internet, comes with free Wi-Fi equipment. Granted, the free equipment won’t be a new Panoramic Wi-Fi device, but rather a refurbished dual-band Wi-Fi gateway device, which is more than suitable for the plan’s max speeds of 50Mbps.
At $50 per month for speeds up to 50Mbps, StraightUp Internet isn’t necessarily the best value you’ll find from Cox, but it does come with a three-year price guarantee, something you won’t get with other Cox plans. The lengthy price guarantee and free equipment make Cox StraightUp Internet our choice for the best cheap prepaid internet plan.
Read our Cox Communications review.
Google Fiber may come with more speed than you need — gig and two-gig speeds are the only plan options — but those speeds come at a decent value starting at $70 and $100, respectively. Adding to the value but not the cost is the equipment fee, which is exactly $0 for both plans.
Other fiber providers offer gig service at or around that $70 price point (AT&T is a bit cheaper at $60 per month), but in most cases, equipment costs are going to add to that price. Since Google Fiber includes equipment at no extra cost, customers can get gig service for an all-in monthly price of around $70, which is likely to be one of the best deals on gig service you’ll find.
Read our Google Fiber review.
Fixed wireless internet, like that from Starry Internet, doesn’t require expensive cable or fiber optic lines to deliver service, keeping initial and operational costs relatively low. Starry passes those savings onto its customers by offering low-cost, high-speed service and free Wi-Fi equipment.
All Starry plans, which could include a few options ranging from 50 to 1,000Mbps depending on your address, include your Wi-Fi equipment at no extra cost. Service also comes with unlimited data and no contract requirements, making Starry a solid choice for home internet if it’s available in your area.
Read our Starry Internet review.
When renting equipment from a provider, you’re likely going to get a modem and router all in one, also known as a gateway router. While one device is convenient, it can limit your options if you want to upgrade to a better router.
Spectrum is one of the few providers that keep the modem and router separate, and coincidentally also has the lowest rental fee of any provider that doesn’t include the equipment for free. A cable modem is included with all Spectrum plans and a router is available to rent for just $5 extra per month. If you are interested in upgrading to your own personal, high-performance router, you can continue to use the free modem and Spectrum will waive that $5-per-month fee.
Read our Spectrum review.
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Verizon Fios has some of the best internet promotions for new customers, especially those who sign up for gig service. In addition to rewards cards, free service subscriptions, free devices or other signup bonuses, gig service comes with free Wi-Fi equipment, a $15-per-month value.
While “Wi-Fi equipment” generally refers to just the modem and router, Verizon Fios is also offering a free Wi-Fi extender as well — an additional $5-per-month value. Wi-Fi extenders are essential to ensuring a quality signal in larger homes, so it’s nice to see a major provider like Verizon Fios including one at no extra cost to gig customers.
Read our Verizon Fios review.
Internet provider WI-Fi equipment FAQs
How can I get free Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi isn’t it’s own separate service. It’s just an extension of your home internet, as a way to connect devices wirelessly via a router. As such, all you need for free Wi-Fi is a router that is either free or already paid for. You’ll still have to pay for internet service, but Wi-Fi is technically free if you aren’t paying to rent a router.
Most providers charge a router rental fee, but some, such as Google Fiber and Starry Internet, do not. Others, like CenturyLink and Verizon Fios, may include your Wi-Fi equipment at no extra cost with select plans. Nearly all major providers, excluding AT&T and Frontier, also give you the option to use your own Wi-Fi equipment and skip the rental fee.
Is it better to buy my own router?
Using your own Wi-Fi equipment will almost always pay off in the long run, so from an economical standpoint, it makes sense to use your own modem and router. Another reason for using your own equipment is if you want to upgrade to a better device, like for extended range or better gaming quality.
Choosing to upgrade is one thing, but if you want to use your own equipment to save on rental costs, consider the short- and long-term costs. A new router can cost well over $100. In the case of Spectrum, which only charges $5 per month for a router rental, it could take 20 months or more before you recoup the initial costs of buying your own router. Also, keep in mind that using your own equipment often means that IT support from your internet provider may be limited.
Why isn’t Wi-Fi equipment free?
If we need a modem and router to actually use the internet we pay for, why aren’t those devices free? That’s a good question — and in some cases they are free. Most, however, will have to pay for equipment.
ISPs have to pay for the equipment they loan out and often pass those costs onto the customer in the form of equipment rental fees. The best way to cut that Wi-Fi fee is to use your own equipment or go with a provider/plan that includes equipment at no extra cost, like the ones listed above.