It’s no secret that wireless internet is becoming THE standard for connectivity of our favorite devices. Chances are that more electronics in your home are wireless than are not. Though there are definite advantages of hard-wired network connections, such as faster speeds, less interference, and better security.
But the advantages of wireless networking are almost better. You can connect nearly 250 wireless devices to a single router, place them anywhere in your home (within range) and these devices can be slimmer, sleeker and more portable than their Ethernet burdened buddies.
The device that make wireless networking possible is the router.
It has a few important jobs; one – it takes your internet signal and blasts it off wirelessly. It also manages traffic over the network so that multiple devices can use the network without there being a traffic jam. Your router also acts as a firewall, for your safety, and always includes administrative settings for network management.
So, choosing the correct router for your setup is incredibly important.
First of all, it’s important to identify what kinds of devices you are going to connect to your network. Nearly everything is wireless these days; so be sure to think outside of the box for this. Will you be connecting cell phones? Tablets? Computers? How about smart TV’s, blu-ray players, or game consoles? Google Chromecast or Apple TV’s? Security systems? Printers?
Are you planning on adding any of those things to your network in the near future? That’s important too! You are likely to have this router for around 5 years, so if you are planning to add electronics to your home, it is better to buy a better router.
OK, got your list?
What kind of activity happens on these things?
Just because a device is connected to the router doesn’t mean that it’s a large user of your bandwidth. Printers, for example, send and receive very small amounts of information over the network. Video streaming and online gaming use lots of bandwidth. If you have many devices used for higher bandwidth activities, you need to consider a higher end router.
When you go to the store and look down the networking aisle, you’ll see a TON of boxes. Routers are classified in a few ways: by their standard, which nowadays is either N or AC, and their bandwidth, which can be anywhere from 150mbps to 2400mbps. A typical router box will say something like “N300” which tells you that it is wireless networking standard N, and can handle 300mbps.
What Standard Should I Choose?
There are two popular standards nowadays – N and AC, with AC being the newer of the two. Over time, wireless standards have evolved, going from a to b, to G (many people still have G routers in their home), and now to N or AC. As we jump wireless standards, we get better range, faster speeds, and upgrades in security.
When choosing a standard, keep in mind that you will only reap the benefits of that standard if your devices have a wireless card operating on that standard. For example, if you have an N router but your laptop’s wireless card only has a G-capable wireless card, you will only reach the capable speed of the G wireless card.
Devices 4 years or older will often have G-cards in them. Devices 1-4 years old will typically have N-capable wireless cards in them. Newer, higher-end devices will often have AC network cards in them.
If you have many new, high end electronics, it is worth it to get the AC router in order to take advantage of their higher end hardware.
All routers are backwards compatible, so even the best of the best AC routers will work with the oldest of old wireless devices.
How much bandwidth do I need?
As previously mentioned, routers are sold with bandwidth as low as 150mbps and as high as 2400mbps. The higher the number, the more data can be sent and received by the router at a time. So, typically, the more devices you have, and the more data intensive those devices are, the higher the bandwidth you want to select.
The bandwidth number is a good indicator of the performance of the router as well. Typically the higher the number, the better the processor inside the router and the higher the range of the router. For today’s buyers, I recommend getting at least an N600 – it packs enough of a punch to support your devices, both current and future, and often provides enough range to cover an entire household.
An N600 Router is what we call a Dual Band Router. It means that the router is broadcasting internet signal over two different frequencies, the 2.4Ghz frequency and the 5ghz frequency.
The 2.4Ghz frequency is the most commonly used frequency for wireless internet. All routers broadcast on this frequency, as do other devices like walkie-talkies, home phones, and even microwaves. This is great because all devices know to look for internet signal on that frequency and use it. It’s not so great because that frequency has a lot of traffic on it and is the most susceptible to interference and packet loss.
The second band broadcasted from a dual-band router is the 5ghz frequency. It is a lot less trafficked, and thus, a better frequency to connect your dual-band enabled devices to. Nearly all newer devices will be able to connect to the second band; especially smart-TVs and gaming systems. Having a dual-band router allows you to connect to this frequency and enjoy higher levels of performance on these devices.