Choosing a wireless router can be very confusing. You want to make sure you buy the right one for you, but there are so many options! This guide will make sure you select a wireless router that will meet your needs and ensure a great internet experience. So, let’s get started!
1) Which standard do I need?
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac: When you shop for wireless routers, every router will show some version of the 802.11 standard on the packaging. For instance, 802.11a was the first generation of Wi-Fi. Over the years, as technology has changed, better standards have been created.
Any new router today will either be 802.11n or 802.11ac. The 802.11ac is the newest generation, although 802.11n routers are still very popular and are sold in almost every electronics department.
If you have a wireless router, and you’re unsure which 802.11 standard it is, it should be listed somewhere on the router itself. HOWEVER, it might be listed without the 802.11 in front of it. For example, the router might have a sticker that says “Wireless-N Router” instead of 802.11n.
2) Should I buy a single-band or dual-band router?
ALL routers before the 802.11n standard and most 802.11n routers in service today are single-band routers. What this means is that they all use the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Since that is also the band that many other devices use (microwaves, Bluetooth, cordless phones, wireless security cameras, and other Wi-Fi networks you may be able to pick up), it can be compared to a single lane street with a lot of traffic. The more traffic there is, the slower things move and the more problems that can occur.
The newest 802.11ac routers, as well as some newer 802.11n routers, have dual-band technology which means that they can use the 2.4 GHz band AND the 5 GHz band. The 5 GHz band is more like a multi-lane freeway, which allows for more traffic without slowing down. So homes with many wireless devices will be better served by a dual-band router. That certainly doesn’t mean that a dual-band router is necessary, but it can help to optimize your internet performance.
The drawback to the 5 GHz band is that the signal does not reach as far as the 2.4 GHz band if there are obstacles (walls, furniture) between the router and the device(s). Some 802.11ac routers combat this issue by using a technology called “beamforming,” which sends the 5 GHz signal in one direction instead of in a spherical manner. This can help the signal reach further but also limits performance because any devices outside the direction of the signal will get weak or no signal.
Another feature to look for in a dual-band router is called simultaneous dual-band. This means the router is going to use both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands at the same time. So if you have some devices located near the router, those devices can use the 5 GHz band while devices that are further away can use the 2.4 GHz band. This is preferable to “selectable dual-band” routers which require you to choose one frequency band over the other.
3) Should I worry about the Wi-Fi channels on my router?
Just like we have multi-lane roads to help keep traffic flowing smoothly, there are Wi-Fi channels within both the 2.4 GHz band and the 5 GHz band that can help keep internet traffic running smoothly.
Because the 5 GHz band is much newer, at this point there is no need to change channels on the 5 GHz band. However, if you have a single-band router, as most people do, or you are using the 2.4 GHz band on a dual-band router, it can be beneficial to change the channel for better performance.
The 2.4 GHz band has eleven different channels that can be used, but because those channels overlap each other, only three channels need to be used. Those are channels 1, 6, and 11. Almost every router will allow you to change the Wi-Fi channel within the router’s user interface. The router’s user manual should tell you how to access the user interface. If not, you can usually search on the internet using your router’s make and model to find information on how to access the user interface and change the Wi-Fi channel.
Sometimes changing your Wi-Fi channel will make a significant improvement in your internet performance, while other times it may not make a difference at all. For example, if you live in a neighborhood where you pick up Wi-Fi signals from six neighbors, and all of those neighbors are using channel 1, there is going to be much more congestion on channel 1 versus channel 6 or 11. In that instance, changing to channel 6 or 11 would most likely improve your internet performance. How much improvement would be based on several other factors. However, if you live in the country and don’t pick up any other Wi-Fi networks, then changing channels won’t make any difference since there are no other people using channel 1 in that area.
4) What should I expect to pay?
A trip to Walmart, Best Buy, or an online search will quickly reveal that wireless routers have a wide range of prices. You can purchase a wireless router for anywhere from $25 to $200 or more.
When searching for a wireless router, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money in order to get a router that will work well for you. Many people will be very happy with a $40-$60 N-router, while others want the newest and best and will gladly pay more for the advantages an AC-router will give them. Whatever you decide to spend, always remember to unplug your router when storms are approaching to avoid having it damaged by lightning.
5) What if I want the fastest possible speed?
No matter what router you decide to purchase, you must always remember that there is an inherent loss of Internet speed when you use Wi-Fi. How much speed is lost varies greatly based on many factors, including how far you are away from the router. Directly connecting through an Ethernet cable is always going to be your best option if you are trying to retain as much speed as possible.