When the Home's Most Important Internet Device Fails

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It doesn't matter if you have the latest and greatest tablet, smartphone or laptop if your home's Internet hub is not up to speed.

If your wireless router dies, your iPad will feel its pain.

The unsung hero of a home's Internet has for years helped people get online, check email and "like" stuff on Facebook ( FB) by connecting everyone's computer to the Internet.

But when your Internet starts crawling, the wireless signal weakens or your connection drops (again), your router's lifespan may be nearing an end -- and it's not necessarily due to hardware failure.

"You set it up, you're happy with it. You only start worrying about it when it stops working," said Sandeep Harpalani, Netgear's ( NTGR) senior product line manager of wireless networking. "Typically that happens when people have more devices."

Home wireless router sales are strong and growing, coming in at $1.3 billion in revenue last year, nearly double from the $700 million in 2005, according to the Dell'Oro Group, a market research firm specializing in communications equipment.

There's also no sign that products are now built to have shorter lifespan, said Chris DePuy, a Dell'Oro wireless analyst. "We really don't see much evidence that the upgrade cycle is accelerating or decelerating particularly," he said.

Rather, router lifespan issues point to what people expect of a router these days. With reports, such as NPD's showing teenagers are the fastest-growing smartphone converts, yesterday's router may still be physically fit but it just can't handle the family load anymore. When it comes to routers, failure doesn't always mean hardware failure.

Routers R.I.P.

Routers do die, some within 30 days -- in which case, it's probably a lemon so return it. Others can last 10 years or longer. But signs that a router lifespan is near the end include:

  • The wireless signal keeps dropping.
  • Internet access is excruciatingly slow.
  • The router resets itself daily.
  • It's unusually hot.
  • The lights went out.
  • Of course, this doesn't mean all the above reasons point to death. Sluggish Internet can be caused by a variety of reasons -- too many users, viruses and spyware, or even squirrels chewing the lines outside.

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