This is a not uncommon question for home internet users who might have a spare router lying around, and want to know if it can be used without an ISP. Perhaps we want our own internet access in a specific room, or we have just moved into a new house without an internet line installed, and want to know if there’s any way we can use a router to get online. Is this possible without having an internet service (ISP) up and running in our home?
Here is a bottom line answer:
In order to access the internet using a Wi-Fi router, you must have an internet service activated and installed by a provider. Without this, the router cannot access the broader internet to allow devices to get online.
In other words, yes, you do need an ISP to use a router if you are wanting to access the broader internet. An obvious exception to this is using your router as a second router, hooking it up to a first one that is itself hooked up to an activated internet service to provide more access points in the home.
We cover this in a separate article. In this case the second router would not necessarily need an ISP line, as long as it is correctly connected to the first router which does have an ISP line connection.
In all other cases though, a Wi-Fi router on it’s own cannot get you online; you also need a fixed line internet installation.
Let’s go into more detail however on why routers also need an internet service to be of any use in most cases, but also some other ways you can get online if you are not able to get an ISP plan installed right away.
A Router By Itself Does Not Give Internet Access
As a general rule, a Wi-Fi router by itself cannot get you connected to the broader internet without also having an ISP line installed in the home to allow effective data transfer back and forward between the devices and the world wide web.
If internet access were free and unrestricted, ISPs wouldn’t make any money. Therefore, there are restrictions in place in internet infrastructure that ensure that internet access in the home via a router is only permitted once an ISP allows it, by installing and activating a fixed line service in the home.
If everyone could just plug a router into a wall socket and get internet, you wouldn’t even need internet providers. Maybe one day in the future, this will be the case!
However, for now, to access the broader internet via a Wi-Fi router, this router needs to be connected up to an access panel with a live, activated internet service from an ISP, in order to get users online. This is what the service guy sorts out when he comes to set up a new internet service. He basically removes the restrictions in place that stop just any device connecting up to the phone line and then to the broader internet.
They’ll open up your phone line to the internet, and permit certain levels of bandwidth and data usage as per whatever package you’ve paid for.
In most cases, you connection will look something like this…
…..where they’ll bring a cable in through the phone line, into a micro-filter, which then splits off the router from the phone line. Then once they activate the service, devices will be able to connect to your Wi-Fi router, which can then connect to the phone line via the micro-filter, and then out the street node/cabinet and the broader internet.
If you don’t have an ISP service installed, and you try plugging the router into a phone line/master socket, nothing will happen, because your router will not be able to connect to the broader internet without an ISP technician coming round and actually configuring everything correctly so data can be sent to and from the wider internet.
Using a Router as a Second Router
This is one specific scenario where someone may be searching this question – where you have a spare router lying around, and want to see if you can install it in your room to have a separate internet connection to yourself.
Again, the same general rules apply – to have your own unique and private internet connection, you would need to pay for a separate ISP installation in that room over and above what might already be installed elsewhere in the home.
However, one thing you can do is hook the second router up to the first one via cable, so you can effectively draw from the first internet connection as long as that one is an ISP installed one. As long as you configure it correctly, you can then use the second router as it’s own access point, with more ethernet ports to plug devices into, plus another Wi-Fi access point if you want.
Other Ways of Getting Online Without an ISP
If you are stuck with a Wi-Fi router you can’t use, plus no way of immediately getting an ISP to install and activate a fixed line internet connection for you, then here are some interim solutions you can consider to get devices online, whilst you are getting a service set up:
- Wi-Fi Hotspots – Can be really useful to get devices online without needing a router. However, in many cases, you need to be a subscriber to one or more of a provider’s services to use their hotspots. There are exceptions; see our guide on unlimited/limited Wi-Fi for a section on Hotspot usage rules in different places.
- Ask neighbors – Especially in apartment blocks, you might have a friendly neighbor who’ll let you use their Wi-Fi password for a while until you get your own internet set up.
- Use phone data – Can work for basic stuff like emails, but remember that phone data is usually capped, and so if you’re doing this too much, you may run out of data. However, buying a little bit of extra data per month temporarily can easily be cheaper than having an expensive internet line installed in many cases. You could check data plans for your provider. See our article on Wi-Fi and data usage for some useful info on what different types of web activity use in terms of data.
- Public Wi-Fi – Use the free Wi-Fi in bars, cafes, libraries and so on. For working, public libraries can be a great place to go, because they’ll always have Wi-Fi and be quiet. Public libraries also have their own computers you can use.
Finding Cheap Internet Packages
The setup and monthly costs of getting a fixed line internet service installed and activated so we can use a Wi-Fi router, can be expensive when we first look, and put us off getting it sorted.
However, there are some really useful online search tools in most English speaking countries, to try and help you find cheap internet packages, with low (and sometimes zero) setup costs, plus reasonable monthly fees as well. If you shop around you can find some good deals to get a fixed line internet service installed, depending on your location of course.
Here are some useful resources to check out:
For American readers, check out this excellent search tool for different internet packages in the USA (readers in other countries click the links for search tools for UK, Canada and Australia instead).
Click the blue Filter button and go to the Spend tab – you can filter for packages with low or zero up front costs, plus low monthly cost.
You can also use the Advanced tab search for internet deals that do not have a minimum contract, so you’re not locked in. Installation and monthly costs may be higher though for these more flexible packages, but you can still find good deals if you shop around.
There are deals that can get you an internet line installed for under $40 (sometimes free), with monthly cost also under $40, so up and running for between $40-80. Optimum, Frontier, Suddenlink and RCN are some American providers to check out for cheap packages.