What’s a UPS?
Although informally called a battery backup, formally the type of product we’re looking at today is called an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). A UPS unit is similar to but different from a surge protector.
It’s one part surge protector and one part beefy battery that supplies power to the devices plugged into it—much like the battery in a laptop runs the laptop even when it’s unplugged from the wall.
When the power goes out, the UPS springs into action and even though the lights might be out, your computer and connected equipment will still be humming along.
Why Should I Get a UPS for My Network Gear?
You’ll find plenty of recommendations to put a UPS on your computer, especially if you’re doing mission-critical work or have expensive hardware to protect, but there’s not as much talk about slapping a UPS on other equipment.
Here are some reasons you might want to consider adding a UPS to your home network closet—be that closet a proper rack or just a few bits of hardware on a shelf in the basement.
Expensive Equipment Is Worth Protecting
When it comes to the kid-glove treatment, the PC gets all the love. Even though you might not have given it much thought before now, though, your home network gear and related components are likely worth quite a chunk of change.
Between the modem, the router, any extras you may have added into your setup like a network switch, and then various smart home gear add-ons like a Phillips Hue Hub for your smart bulbs, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars or more worth of gear. Even if you’re rocking a good budget Wi-Fi router it’s still not cheap to replace.
The Internet Stays On During Blackouts and Brownouts
If you’re just interested in protecting your network equipment from getting fried, sure, you could put a really high-quality surge protector on your network gear and call it a day. But by doing so you’d be missing out on the biggest benefit of going with a UPS unit over a surge protector. It doesn’t just offer better protection, it’ll help keep your internet on in the face of brownouts and blackouts.
Don’t think brownouts and power supply issues are a problem where you live? You might be surprised. If you had asked me before I hooked up UPS units to all my computers and network gear if my neighborhood had power problems, I’d have said no. But after working at a PC hooked up to a UPS unit for years now, I can tell you the number of times there is a power disturbance (which you’ll notice by hearing the UPS battery circuit click on) is surprisingly high.
Those little fluctuations can be enough to drop your internet connection. Yet the computer you’re using or the TV you’re watching Netflix will stay on—just with no internet connectivity. That’s not really ideal if you’re gaming or engrossed in a show.
Because I have both a UPS on my PC and on my modem and router, whether there’s a power sag in the form of a mild brownout or the entire neighborhood goes dark, I can stay online right through it.
That’s because in most cases, unless a blackout extends well beyond your neighborhood and is sustained in length, the internet will stay on thanks to the safeguards your ISP puts in place to deal with such events.
How to Pick a UPS for Your Network Gear
In our guide to selecting a UPS for your computer, we take a deep dive into the ins and outs of calculating power loads and UPS sizing requirements. If you’re curious about the more advanced features of UPS units or how to crunch the numbers involved in selecting one, it’s worth a read.
Here, however, let’s focus on the things that are immediately relevant to selecting a UPS for your modem, router, and adjacent gear. First, a warning about a particular kind of UPS you should avoid.
Skip the “Mini UPS”
Before we dig into talking about the right size UPS and offering some recommendations though, let us steer you away from any products with names like “Mini UPS” or similar. They look like a portable battery pack you might use for your phone but with a plethora of 12v and USB ports on them.
The idea is you plug adapter cables for your modem, router, and other low-voltage gear into the mini UPS. In turn, the mini UPS, via its own 12v power cord, supplies the power along with a small internal battery as a backup.
But they’re very low quality, a potential fire hazard, and we simply can’t recommend them when there are very high-quality products on the market at similar or slightly higher price points. Don’t spend $50-80 on a no-name device that might destroy your modem or catch on fire when you can spend the same amount to get a UPS from a company with a 20+ year track record in the industry.
Stick with UPS designs from trusted companies, like APC or CyberPower, with AC outlets you plug your devices’ manufacturer-supplied chargers into for the safest experience.
Size Your UPS Based on Your Needs
What UPS selection ultimately comes down to is how much power your gear uses and how long you want it to stay on when the power is out. UPS unit power capacity is listed in Volt-Amperes (VA) with a higher number indicating longer run time (a 425VA model will be exhausted long before a 1500VA model, for instance).
In the case of a modest home network setup composed of a modem, a router/Wi-Fi combo unit, and perhaps a small addon or two like a smart home hub, power usage is minimal.
So minimal, in fact, that leaving them on 24/7 barely costs you anything. All the devices added up together likely use less than a single incandescent bulb.
With that in mind, you can easily get by with a smaller UPS unit, especially if your primary goal is simply smoothing out the brownout dips. Something like this 425A APC UPS will suffice. Or, if you want a little more runtime and a built-in USB charging port to top off your phone during power outages, this 600VA APC UPS is a nice upgrade.
APC UPS Battery Backup (600VA)
Keep your modem, router, and hubs juiced, with a port to charge your phone.
If you have a more complex setup with multiple pieces of network gear such as a Power over Ethernet (PoE) switch, and/or you have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device like a Synology NAS tucked in with your network gear, you’ll want to increase the size of the UPS unit accordingly. To reach an hour of uptime with my setup, which I based the above example on, I had to size up to a 1500VA UPS.
CyberPower Intelligent UPS System (1500VA)
A bigger UPS offers longer run time and more features for NAS owners.
Even if you’re not worried about a long uptime, if you have a NAS in your network closet you’ll benefit from going with a bigger UPS unit. The upgrade will allow you to take advantage of USB-based communication between the NAS and the UPS unit, so the UPS unit can gracefully shutdown the NAS when the battery runs low. A graceful shutdown is critical for data integrity. Check the documentation for your particular NAS to learn more about the feature.
For folks that have their equipment in their home office or otherwise next to their PC, it’s a no-brainer to go big with the UPS unit. Plugging your modem and router into a UPS you’re already using for your PC adds very little overhead. And you’ll get the benefits of the UPS for the network gear even when you’re not using your PC.
Likewise, if your modem and router are near your TV in the living room, a fairly common setup, you can do something similar to enjoy the benefits of the UPS for your network gear and protect your TV and game console in the process.
Any of our recommended models, however, will be more than sufficient to smooth over brownouts as well as sustain access to the internet and uptime in the face of brief blackouts.