How to choose the right wireless router for you
What is a Wireless Router?
A wireless router is a device that connects to your home or office modem, so that you may connect multiple devices, typically wired and wireless to your internet connection at the same time. Beyond the basic provision of wireless internet within your home or office, there are many additional features which should be considered when looking at buying a new wireless router. Please see below for the most common features of wireless routers, and read on for detailed explanations of what those features are, and how they may benefit you.
The range of a wireless router is a measurement of how far (typically in feet) the signal of the router will travel. This measurement is typically determined in a lab-type setting, so you can usually expect a little less range when setting one up in your home or office. Many different things will affect the range of your router, from the physical placement near a wall or window, to interference from other devices such as cordless phones or baby monitors. Most good wireless routers are capable of broadcasting your signal to a range of around 150 feet indoors, assuming typical household conditions.
Certain wireless routers like the D-Link DIR-655 are capable of signal range up to 300 feet in your house, again – assuming perfect conditions. Range will also be affected by the type of antenna the router uses to broadcast the wireless signal. For more information about how antenna design affects wireless signal, see the antenna section below.
Single Band or Dual Band
When looking for a wireless router, you are going to come across two different types – single band and dual band. The 'band' is the wireless frequency at which your wireless router outputs its' signal, and will either be 2.4 of 5GHz (Gigahertz). As you might have guessed, dual band routers will broadcast your wireless signal on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, thus giving you a more robust and quality signal.
Although a dual band router will allow you more options for delivering wireless signal in your home or office, the 5GHz signal frequency has some caveats. Firstly, the 5GHz frequency won't let your wireless internet signal travel as far as a 2.4GHz frequency signal will. Since most common household appliances don't operate within the 5GHz frequency range, you will run into less interference which is nice, but you won't be able to take advantage of that signal from too far away. The other downside to this, is that not all wireless devices are capable of accepting a 5GHz wireless signal, so not every device you own can take advantage of the added frequency.
If you have a lot of other wireless devices in your home, or live in a crowded area, you're going to want to pick a wireless router with dual band. The added level of signal quality will help to deliver your wireless internet signal to your laptop or phone without getting mixed up with the rest of the signals moving through the airwaves. Picking a router that offers dual band technology is recommended – Although not every device can take advantage of the 5GHz band, having both bands broadcast means you'll be able to serve up a wireless signal regardless of what's connecting to your router.
A, B, G, N
Wireless signals come in a few different standards, known commonly as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. As the letter gets higher, the signal quality increases, with n being the newest standard in wireless technology. Most new devices will be capable of connecting via 802.11n, but you'll want to make sure when setting up your wireless router that you can account for older devices you may have as well. Since some devices still use the older but more popular 802.11g standard, you'll want to make sure you can broadcast both the new 802.11n signal, as well as the older 802.11g, and beyond.
- 802.11a – 802.11a is an IEEE wireless networking standard that specifies a maximum data transfer rate of 54Mbps and an operating frequency of 5GHz.
- 802.11b – 802.11b is an IEEE wireless networking standard that specifies a maximum data transfer rate of 11Mbps and an operating frequency of 2.4GHz.
- 802.11g – 802.11g is an IEEE wireless networking standard that specifies a maximum data transfer rate of 54Mbps and an operating frequency of 2.4GHz.
- 802.11n – 802.11n is an IEEE wireless networking standard the specifies a maximum data transfer rate of up to 540Mbps and an utilizes MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology to increase signal quality.
When you are setting up a wireless network at your home or office, you want to make sure you take your wireless security seriously. Picking a wireless router that is capable of implementing the popular security protocols will ensure that you can setup a secure wireless network that won't leave you vulnerable.
The most common types of wireless security protocols are WEP, WPA, & WPA2. Each offers certain advantages, and requires a different type of passcode to allow access.
- WEP – WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is a security protocol for wireless networks that can protect data via encryption over radio waves using point-to-point transmission. A pre-shared key (PSK), or passcode, is used to allow communication between the wireless router and the endpoint (your laptop or computer).
- WPA – WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) is similar to WEP, however WPA further protects your wireless data transmission via encryption. WPA uses a key similar to WEP, but the benefit of using WPA over WEP is that the key is automatically encrypted, making that much more difficult for your passcode to be decoded.
- WPA2 – WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) is similar to WPA, but geared toward people requiring the highest level of wireless security. WPA2 offers a much stronger encryption service by using AES or Advanced Encryption Standard.
Most wireless routers on the market today will offer WEP, WPA, and WPA2, with some routers adding additional levels of security. When it comes to keeping your wireless network secure, it's going to come down to your implementation of security measures more so than which router you choose to buy.
Some wireless routers such as the Netgear WNDR4500 include a USB port that can be used for added functionality. You can choose to connect the Netgear WNDR4500's USB port to a USB thumb drive to easily share files on your network (also known as NAS – Network Attached Storage), or even hook up a printer directly to the router, and then access that printer wirelessly from any pc or laptop connected to your wireless network. Even if you don't have a direct need for this functionality right now, if you can, pick a router that has a USB port on it. Always future proof whenever you can!
In addition to providing a wireless connection, most wireless routers will also provide wired ports, so that you may physically connect a nearby computer directly to the router. Computers that are physically connected to your router will benefit from increased speed and reliability, so if you are able to, it's always a good idea to get a router like the Medialink Wireless N Router that also has LAN (or Local Area Network) ports so that you can physically connect your computer to your router.
If you find a wireless router without local network ports, make sure that it is actually a router, and not just an access point. An access point is very similar to a router, and may even look similar, however the access point will only provides wireless connection, and not the additional functionality needed to allow your computer to access the internet wirelessly. If you already have a wireless router in your home or office, you may use an access point to provide an additional source of wireless, so long as your main router provides the basic routing functions for your home network
When choosing a new wireless router, you want to take into consideration the type of antenna design the router uses, which will either be internal or external. Aesthetically, a lot of the popular manufacturers are now choosing an internal antenna that is housed within the body of the wireless router.
While an internal antenna may look a little 'cleaner' than having a small external mast type antenna sticking up from the top of your router, the external mast type antennas generally give a better performance and range than a router with an internal antenna.
MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) is a fairly new technology found in new routers which will enable you to get better speed and range from your wireless router, by allowing the wireless router to broadcast and receive multiple different signals at once. To give you a better idea of what MIMO is and how it affects your wireless router's performance, imagine how much better highway traffic flows when there are five lanes for traffic instead of just one. This is the same principle that allows MIMO to increase a wireless router's speed and performance.
Since the internet is expanding exponentially every day, the supply of unique addresses is rapidly running out, and that means at some point soon, we're going to have to start using IPv6 addresses. You needn't worry about the technical differences between IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, just play it safe and make sure that if you are going to purchase a new wireless router – make sure it supports IPv6.