With so many individuals still working from home due to COVID-19, your Wi-Fi network is doing a lot more than just helping you stream movies and play games. Millions of people rely on home Wi-Fi routers to stay connected while also connecting an ever-increasing number of smart home devices. That means deciding which one is best for you and your budget is more difficult than ever, especially now that more Wi-Fi 6 devices are becoming accessible.
A new router with current management features can make a world of difference and help keep the peace if you have numerous family members fighting for the bandwidth for activities like streaming Netflix videos and playing PC games online. We’ll explain the process of selecting a router that will meet your current and future wireless networking demands, as well as our top recommendations to get you started.
What are Wi-Fi routers?
Computers used to have to be connected directly to each other in order to communicate. Wi-Fi was introduced in 1999 as a mechanism for computers to communicate wirelessly to one another and the internet.
A cable or DSL line enters your home through your internet service provider (often referred to as your ISP) and connects to a modem through which your computer and other gadgets are able to read the incoming internet signal.
This signal is then sent to a router, which is wired to your modem and ensures that data is displayed on the correct device in your home, whether it’s your smartphone, laptop, or another device. There are also modem/router combo packages available that combine both of these capabilities into one device.
What is a smart home router?
Smart home routers are far more advanced than the traditional smart routers offered by internet service companies. These are not only easy to use, but they are also easier to manage. It may connect to a variety of devices at the same time to complete the smart home setup.
Wi-Fi bands: What do you need to know?
Nowadays, any quality router will have at least two radio bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Because it is more adept at penetrating walls and other obstructions, the 2.4GHz band operates at a lower frequency than the 5GHz band and gives a superior range. However, it lacks the fat pipe and high-speed access that the 5GHz frequency provides.
Furthermore, other devices in the home that use the same frequency, such as microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, and wireless phones, compete with the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. However, it is fully suitable for tasks like browsing the Internet and connecting to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. If one or more of your devices will be streaming Netflix videos or connecting to an online gaming service such as Xbox Live, the less busy 5GHz band will deliver significantly higher throughput with less signal interference. Most dual-band routers let you designate a band to specific apps and clients, which helps to reduce the strain on both bands.
A tri-band router is a way to go if you have a busy network with multiple clients clamoring for bandwidth. For load balancing, they use three radios: one that works at 2.4GHz and two that operate at 5GHz. For example, you could use one of the 5GHz bands for movie streaming and torrent downloading and the other 5GHz band for online gaming, leaving the 2.4GHz band free for low-bandwidth activities.
What are the Wi-Fi connection protocols?
In wireless Ethernet networks, the 802.11 protocols are used to send and receive data. The most widely used Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, allows maximum data rates of up to 5,400Mbps and is compatible with both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It makes use of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology, which employs multiple antennas to broadcast and receive up to eight spatial streams, resulting in improved performance. It also has beamforming, which directs Wi-Fi signals directly to a client rather than broadcasting them in all directions, and automatic band-steering, which allows the router to choose the most efficient radio band based on network traffic, band availability, and range.
802.11ac routers include designations such as AC1200, AC1750, AC3200, and so on. This specifies the router’s maximum speed. For example, an AC1750 router may provide a maximum link rate of 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band. An AC5400 router can deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps on the 2.4GHz band and 2.1Gbps on each of the two 5GHz bands, while a tri-band AC3200 router can deliver 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on each of the two 5GHz bands. It’s important to remember that routers seldom, if ever, achieve these “maximum speeds” in real-world applications, but if you want performance, one of the high-speed routers is a good choice.
802.11ax routers, also known as Wi-Fi 6 routers, are becoming more common. Several new and enhanced wireless technologies, such as Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Target Wake Time, offer increased throughput speeds (up to 9.6Gbps), less network congestion, greater client capacity, and better range performance in Wi-Fi 6. (TWT). OFDMA boosts total throughput by dividing Wi-Fi channels into sub-channels, allowing up to 30 users to share a single channel.
What Wi-Fi Router features are important?
Wireless smart routers come with a variety of features. To connect to wired devices such as desktop PCs, network-attached storage (NAS) drives, and home-automation hubs, look for a router with at least four 10/100/1000 (gigabit) Ethernet connections. Look for a router that offers link aggregation if you need more speed for massive file transfers. Link aggregation, to put it simply, employs two gigabit Ethernet LAN ports to boost throughput (up to 2Gbps).
It also acts as a fail-safe in the event that one of your LAN connections fails, and it can be used to load balance your network traffic. With at least one USB port, sharing a printer or USB drive across the network is simple, but with two ports, you can do both. Additionally, look for a router that has antennae that can be removed. Some router manufacturers sell replacement high-gain antennas and a variety of third-party antennas. Just make sure your network can handle whichever antennas you choose, otherwise, connection performance will decrease.
Make sure your new router offers parental controls, Quality of Service (QoS) choices, and a guest-network feature if you want to govern how your Wi-Fi network is utilized. Parental controls allow you to restrict network access for individual users to specific times and days, which is helpful for parents who wish to monitor their children’s online gaming and social networking activity.
Some routers have basic parental controls like access scheduling and page filtering, while others have more advanced controls like the ability to suspend the internet and establish age-appropriate settings that automatically block access to inappropriate social media platforms and websites.
Almost all routers come with a variety of security features. A smart router that supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) allows you to add compatible devices with a single button press. To add a client device to your network, simply click the WPS button on the router and then the WPS button on the client device. Use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2) for a more secure connection, which requires each device to input a network password. WPA-Enterprise routers provide a better level of security than WPA/WPA2, but they need each client to be authenticated via a Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) server.
Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), which is now used to assign IP addresses, will soon be superseded by IPv6, its successor. IPv4 is a 32-bit addressing method that, due to the increasing number of devices connected to the internet, will soon run out of addresses. IPv6 is a 128-bit protocol that will provide a nearly unlimited number of IP addresses. Most recent wifi smart routers have IPv6 addressing built-in, but it’s a good idea to double-check if you want to be prepared for the transition when IPv4 ultimately dies.
What’s the point of having a separate Wi-Fi network?
If internet hackers can gain access to your router, they can gain access to everything. There’s no need to panic and discard all of your smart devices just yet. Set up a separate network for all of your linked devices and another for all of your other gadgets to secure yourself.
How to increase the range of your wifi router signal?
You may experience Wi-Fi “dead zones” if you reside in a large or multi-story home. These are sections of your home where your primary router’s wireless signal isn’t strong enough to reach. A wireless range extender takes up your router’s Wi-Fi signal, amplifies it, and rebroadcasts it, in an easy method to remedy this without the inconvenience of running long cords around your home. They are available in both desktop and plug-in versions and are relatively simple to set up.
They do, however, have limitations: The rebroadcast signal is often half the intensity of your main wifi smart router’s signal, and most of these create a separate network, making smooth traveling within your home difficult. Some router manufacturers, however, are now producing extenders that use the same SSID and password as your existing router. However, there is a catch: the router must normally be built by the same company as the extension and must allow seamless roaming.
Wi-Fi mesh network systems
Consider replacing your network with a Wi-Fi mesh system if a range extender doesn’t work. This technology eliminates the need for additional wiring, range extenders, or access points to fill wireless dead zones in your house. They use extension nodes, sometimes known as satellites, to spread your Wi-Fi signal over a broader region than most routers can. You may distribute a steady internet connection across as much as 4,000 to 6,000 square feet of space depending on the number of nodes in the system you pick.
A Wi-Fi mesh system’s satellites are all connected to the same network and give seamless connectivity throughout the home. They don’t require any configuration or management beyond a few clicks on a free mobile app. Although some of the solutions in this category support high-end features like guest networking, device prioritization, parental controls, and MU-MIMO, because Wi-Fi mesh systems are designed to be simple, you won’t be able to access the same level of in-depth settings that you can on routers in most cases. As a result, while power users and obsessive tinkerers may dislike Wi-Fi mesh systems, they are among the nicest and most inventive alternatives available today for anyone who finds network configuration overwhelming.
How to choose the best wi-fi smart routers?
It’s not easy to choose a wifi smart router that provides fast and stable Wi-Fi as well as outstanding coverage, especially if you’re a newbie. Manufacturers describe their routers with a slew of acronyms and marketing buzzwords that have nothing to do with the real-world experience you’ll have. Also, neither the product name nor the price you pay tells you anything about how good a router is. Read this guide to understand what to look for in a router to help you choose the best router for your needs and budget:
- Your router should have at least 128MB of RAM and a multi-core processor. Your router’s hardware, particularly the processor and RAM, is extremely important. Wi-Fi is used for video streaming, file downloads, data backups, online gaming, and other activities that require a large amount of data to be sent and received over the internet. As a result, wireless routers now require far more processing power than they did previously. You must know whether your next router has a single-core, dual-core, or quad-core processor, as well as its operating frequency, before purchasing it. We recommend that you avoid buying routers with single-core processors if you want a fast network that can handle multiple network clients at the same time. A dual-core processor, which can handle more data and clients than a single-core processor, should be included in your future router.
- Your router should be dual-band or multi-band. Single-band routers are no longer available. At the very least, your new router should be dual-band. What exactly does this imply? It signifies that the router broadcasts the wireless signal on two (if dual-band) or more frequencies (if it is tri-band or more). The 2.4 GHz band is always one of these frequencies, and it works with previous wireless protocols like Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) and newer ones like Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) if you have a router that supports Wi-Fi 6. The 2.4 GHz band has the advantage of being backward compatible with older networking devices and having a large coverage area. It is, however, slow, and congestion is always an issue, particularly in apartment buildings and business buildings where everyone has Wi-Fi on this GHz band. Dual-band or tri-band routers also use the 5GHz frequency to transmit their wireless signal. It is much quicker than 2.4 GHz and takes advantage of modern standards such as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (2.4 GHz) (802.11ax). Because the 5 GHz frequency is used less than the 2.4 GHz band and the coverage area is a little smaller, congestion is less of an issue. Get a dual-band or tri-band wireless router if you want a modern smart home with a fast wireless network for Full HD or 4K streaming.
- A smartphone app for your router should be available, particularly one that you can use from anywhere on the internet. Users could only operate their wireless routers a decade ago by accessing their firmware via a web browser on a computer linked to the router. Many people are put off by such user interfaces and would prefer something simpler. As a result, router makers have created smartphone apps that allow users to configure their wireless routers. If you desire convenience, be sure the router you’re buying comes with a smartphone app. You should be able to use it to check the router’s status and operate the primary features when necessary.
- A USB port, preferably USB 3.0, should be available on the router. In today’s houses, having at least one USB port is essential. External hard drives, printers, USB modems, and other USB devices need to be connected to our wireless network. At the very least, your new router should feature a USB port, preferably a USB 3.0 port.
- Check the real-world speed of the router you’re considering buying online. When you read a wireless router’s specifications, you won’t find the actual speed you’ll get when you use it. Theoretical numbers are displayed, which have been verified in specialist labs using the best networking equipment. That is why you should study reviews, both user reviews, and expert reviews. Look for reports in which people conduct measurements with real-world computers and gadgets rather than lab-style equipment. Some publications, for example, utilize other routers to test the speed of the routers they are testing. Manufacturers do this to make themselves look good in product reviews. You’d like to read publications that make use of common computers, such as the ones on your network. This is the only way to know exactly what you’ll get when you buy a wireless router before you buy one.
- Integration of smart home technology. Many people’s homes are equipped with smart devices and sensors. It’s a good idea to buy a router that’s compatible with Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant or task automation services like IFTT to make them easier to handle. This allows your apps and devices to interact in new and smart ways. For example, if your router has Alexa integration, you may use voice commands to operate it, such as enabling or disabling Guest Wi-Fi, turning out the router’s LEDs at night, or prioritizing gaming traffic.
- Support whole-home Wi-Fi network. A connected system of one or more access points that extends and shares wireless signals throughout your entire home is known as whole-home Wi-Fi. As a result, as compared to standard Wi-Fi settings, a mesh network is developed, enabling higher internet connectivity and stability. Two or more access points, also known as nodes, make up a whole-home Wi-Fi system. One access point can either replace or connect directly to your router via Ethernet wire. It then distributes your internet signal to other access points within its range, who subsequently distribute it to other access points within their range, resulting in a long-range wireless network. Since you’ll be scattering these Mesh Wi-Fi nodes across your home, it’s a good idea for them to be visually pleasing or, at the absolute least, unobtrusive. While there was a tendency toward minimalism in 2020, the addition of Wi-Fi 6 in 2021 implies that some unit sizes have expanded marginally. As a result, rather than focusing on the tiniest feasible design, try to choose a product that blends well with your existing home decor.
- Advanced features include VPN, antivirus, firewall, and other security measures. Many routers include advanced security capabilities such as VPN servers, antivirus, and other security measures that can secure your Wi-Fi network from viruses and outside threats. The issue is that such functions are also found on routers with insufficient hardware to support them. Don’t buy an inexpensive AC1200 wireless router with low-end hardware if you want sophisticated functionality like the VPN server to perform properly. Look for a more expensive router that has robust hardware and plenty of RAM and can handle advanced services in addition to conventional Wi-Fi broadcasting. If you want advanced functionality, you should look for a router with at least a dual-core processor and 256 MB of RAM, ideally 512 MB or more.
When it comes to purchasing a wireless router, what factors are most important to you? Please share your questions and opinions with us now that you know the basics of how to buy a router: What factors do you consider while buying a router? What kind of router are you looking for? How can you get data before purchasing a router? Do you usually read product reviews before making a purchase? Our experts will be happy to answer all of your questions.