How To Choose A Wireless Router
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Table of Contents
- What Is a Wireless Router?
- How To Choose a Wireless Router: A Guide
- A Few Words Before You Go…
So you’re scouring the market once again, looking for a new wireless router. And this time around, you want to get it right. You want to find the perfect model for your home or office. You want a router that you won’t have to reset every two days, a router that will provide a good connection in every room and corner of your home. Maybe you need a router that can support multiple users and intense internet activity. Or maybe you just want a budget-friendly router that only needs to handle you and your studio apartment.
No matter what the scenario is, there are a couple of things you should take into consideration when choosing a wireless router that’s best suited for your unique needs. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for! We’ll guide you through the main specifications you should look out for, explaining each factor in comprehensible detail along the way.
Whether you game, stream, or just browse, this guide will come in handy!
Before getting into the details, let’s recap.
What Is a Wireless Router?
Most homes and offices need two pieces of technical equipment to get wireless internet for multiple users and devices: a modem and a wireless router. A modem is your bridge to the internet – whether you use cable or fiber optic, your ISP (internet service provider) provides you with an internet connection through your modem. But modems can only do so much – generally, they have a couple of LAN ports that you can hook up your PC to, and are usually designed to work with only a single device online at a time.
This is where a router enters the picture. A wireless router creates and connects networks in your home. Firstly, it connects all your home’s – or office’s – devices, like your smartphone, PC, printer, smart TV, and so on, with each other. But once you connect your router to the modem, it also connects that network of smart devices to the internet.
Why Do You Need a Wireless Router?
A wireless router manages the transfer of data among the devices in your local area network, and also manages the internet traffic. It’s the best way to provide a wireless internet connection for multiple devices and multiple users.
Plus, a lot of the time, routers serve as an additional layer of security. Many routers include security features, which help prevent cyber attacks before they reach your device.
How To Choose a Wireless Router: A Guide
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you should choose the best wireless router for your home.
Make Sure it Matches Your Internet Speed
First things first – you’ve purchased a certain internet plan from your ISP. Different plans offer different internet speeds, and you should choose a wireless router that matches your plan.
When you look at a router model, the router’s brand name is generally followed by the type of Wi-Fi standard it supports (we’ll get into that in the next section) and the combined speed maximum speed of the bands (frequencies).
Let’s look at an example of a tri-band router model that has the AC5000 classification. This means that the combined internet speed of the two 5GHz bands and the single 2.4GHz band is 5,000 Mbps. Each device in your home is connected to a single band at a time. So, this means that the maximum speed you can get on each of the 5GHz bands is 2166Mbps, while the maximum speed you can get with the 2.4GHz band is 600 Mbps.
If you haven’t purchased an internet plan which can support the transfer of that much internet data, it wouldn’t make sense to buy an expensive router than can. Conversely, if you do have a powerful internet plan, make sure you get a router that can optimize your online experience.
Still, we don’t recommend any router model that has a numeric value less than 1200, or that offers less than a total of 1,200Mbps. If you get a model like AC750 or AC900, you’re likely to experience lag or get a decent connection on multiple devices at the same time.
Stay Away From Obsolete Technology
When you’re choosing your new wireless router, make sure it matches the latest Wi-Fi standard, which is 802.11ac (also known as Wi-Fi 5). This is what the AC in front of the combined maximum speed in router models comes from.
Models that support previous Wi-Fi standards, which follow 802.11 with a, b, g, and n are older versions which won’t provide you with the same speed and quality of connection. Actually, n-version models, or routers that support the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard are still commonly used today, but if you’re buying a new router, your best bet is going with the latest technology. After all, the ac-version models aren’t much more expensive than n-version models.
Keep in mind that Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is in the process of being certified and will be released soon. However, the current prices for devices that will need a firmware upgrade to be fully certified for WiFi 6 (AX) are quite high.
Consider the Size of Your Home
The size of your home is an important factor to consider when choosing a wireless router. This is because not all routers offer the same degree of area coverage. When choosing a wireless router, read the specifications and see what size of home they’re suitable for. If you live in a small apartment, most routers will offer sufficient area coverage for you to be able to stay connected from any corner of your home.
However, if you need the router for a larger home or a sizable office, you should make sure that the router you choose can reach the devices in every room. It’s really annoying trying to work or stream from your bedroom, only to find out that you have to move your desk three feet closer to the door to get a proper connection.
Consider the Number of Devices and Household Members
How many users and devices will be simultaneously connected to the wireless router? This question plays an important role in what kind of a router you should choose. If you share a home or office with others, you should choose a router that can handle all the data traffic, and provide each device with a decent and lag-free internet connection.
Some specs you should look out for when choosing a good multi-user router are beamforming and MU-MIMO technology. Beamforming, a feature that most modern routers provide, focuses the wireless signal only to the connected devices and areas they occupy. This is an advantage as the focused signal provides faster and lag-free internet connection. Older router models would broadcast in all directions, which can diffuse the internet usage by any one device.
MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple-input and multiple-output) technology enables smooth and fast internet data transfers for multiple devices simultaneously. So if you have several household members that are streaming, gaming, or downloading at the same time, you should opt for something that comes with MU-MIMO, so that no one’s internet is slow or laggy. With MU-MIMO, everyone gets a sufficient share of the internet bandwidth for a seamless internet experience.
Consider also how many – if any – of these devices you want to directly connect via cable to the router. If you’re a gamer, you may prefer to use a hard-wired connection for online gaming via your PC or gaming console to ensure a dependable connection. If, however, there are multiple persons in your household or office that want a hard-wired connection, you should make sure that your router has sufficient LAN ports. Plus, some gaming routers provide traffic prioritization based on LAN ports – but we’ll get into that later.
Decide Between Dual-Band Or Tri-Band
Most wireless routers today are either dual-band or tri-band. Dual-band routers support one 2.4GHz and one 5GHz frequencies. The 2.4GHz frequency is sufficient for browsing and light internet usage via smartphones. It’s also usually the most congested band, as it gets a lot of traffic. The 5GHz frequency is faster, and therefore preferred for gaming, streaming, and other large data transfers such as downloads.
Tri-band routers come with an additional 5GHz frequency. This second 5GHz frequency is useful for homes and offices with multiple users, as you can dedicate one 5GHz frequency to tasks such as downloading and streaming, and the other 5GHz to gaming, for instance. You should look for a router that comes with intelligent QoS (quality of service), so that you can easily divide the labor between the frequencies.
Whether you choose a dual-band or tri-band router again depends on the number of users and devices in your home, as well as what you do online. For smaller households or offices, a dual-band is quite sufficient. On the other hand, if you share your dwelling with others, and need a fast, dependable connection all to yourself, you may want to opt for a tri-band router. Dedicating a band to yourself will ensure you never experience lag at the expense of others!
What Do You Do Online: Additional Features
Depending on what you use the internet for, there are a couple of additional features you may want to look out for.
For instance, if you’re a gamer, you’ll certainly want a router that offers traffic prioritization to gaming consoles. That way, no matter how many members of your home are streaming, you’ll always get the lion’s share of the bandwidth. Some routers offer traffic prioritization via intelligent QoS. Others come with prioritized traffic LAN ports. Consider which one you’d prefer! Additionally, some models, like a number of gaming routers, give you access to special gaming servers, like the GPN’s (Gamers Private Network) WTFast gaming servers.
Another useful feature that some routers offer is security. A router that comes with its own firewall is likely to prevent malware attacks before they reach your devices.
If you have kids in your home, you may want to choose a router that has adjustable Parental Controls. These will allow you to blacklist and whitelist internet websites, so you can keep the young members of your home safe from harmful content.
Lastly, as we mentioned, different routers offer varying numbers of LAN ports. Some models offer up to eight Ethernet ports. Consider how many devices you’d want to physically hook up to the router, or to extend your WiFi network outdoors, you may also need to connect your Outdoor WiFi Extender via Ethernet cable too.
A Few Words Before You Go…
Hopefully, you found our guide on how to choose a wireless router useful! Now you have a better idea of what you need, and what the various router features and specifications can offer you and your household. And that’s all you need in order to get your money’s worth!
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Last updated on September 24, 2020. Pricing Information and Product Images obtained from Amazon Product Advertising API.
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