Choosing the Right Wi-Fi Router
Choosing the right Wi-Fi router for your household can be a hassle. There are so many features and dynamic components available in wireless routers that differentiate their performance. If you aren’t familiar with how a router works, then shopping for one feels like you’re skimming through a bunch of random technical jargon.
However, it’s imperative to understand how a router works and what features you need when choosing the right Wi-Fi router for your network speed and household device capacity. Especially now that so many of us are working from home. It’s time to invest in a proper router that connects to our ‘smart’ lives.
In this article, you’ll learn all the essential details about how to buy a router that meets your household demands.
How Does a Router Work?
Routers are a lot like your local post office in terms of internet connectivity. They’re responsible for sorting through sent and received data on your network. Whenever you pull up a webpage on your mobile phone or click a video to play, you request data from the router. Your router then transfers data packets between the source and device.
If your router is not working correctly or doesn’t support all your devices at once, data can become traffic-jammed inside your network, resulting in slower load times. By choosing to upgrade or replace your router, you’ll:
- Stream videos or media faster
- Connect more devices
- Get more from your data
Take a look at the speeds you’re getting at home and compare them to what speed your internet service provider (ISP) guarantees. Does the router hold you back? Upgrading or replacing your router with specifications that meet your household demands helps reduce the difference.
Recommended Features of a Wireless Router
Choosing the right Wi-Fi router isn’t only about getting the best Wi-Fi or the fastest router. High-end routers are for individuals who have vast networks to transfer data over or by those who require the least amount of input lag. We recommend you instead get an affordable router that works well for your needs.
Here are some of the essential specifications to look for when choosing the right Wi-Fi router.
1. Latest Wi-Fi Compatibility
As technology develops and demands networks with quicker speeds, Wi-Fi standards must be changed to meet these expectations. Using an older Wi-Fi router that doesn’t support the current standards can cause connectivity issues in newer devices.
Note: Currently, the Wi-Fi standard is 802.11ac, which is what almost all devices and networks are compatible with today.
2. Dual Band
Wi-Fi signals are transmitted over different frequencies and bandwidths. Many routers offer varying bandwidth frequencies to avoid interference or channel lag when different types of devices are connected.
Note: Most household devices connect to 2.4GHz and 5GHz dual-band frequencies.
3. Connection Speed
When several devices are loading webpages, downloading, or streaming videos at once, they use a great deal of bandwidth. When you reach the bandwidth limit, videos stop loading at full quality, and each activity slows down to compensate for the router’s connection speed.
If you live alone or don’t use much bandwidth at one time, consider getting a router with a speed of 300Mbps to stream videos at full quality. Otherwise, you might want to consider getting a router with a speed of 600Mbps.
Top tip: Read reviews and find the real-life speed of the router you want to buy.
4. Antenna Strength
A router antenna with a 2-4 dBi rating should carry a strong signal through fewer than four walls or within small apartments. If the range and signal are not sufficient for your household, consider getting a router with a higher dBi rating.
5. Smartphone app
It’s much easier to access your router’s features with a smartphone app than via firmware through a web browser. This is how we did it in the past. Now you can conveniently check the working state of the router and manage the main features easily via the app. Not all of these apps offer advanced features for configuring the Wi-Fi, but instead, simple things like setting up Wi-Fi passwords and access for third-party users are easy to manage through the app.
Top tip: Low-end router apps will only work when the smartphone is connected to the Wi-Fi that is broadcast by the router. Make sure the one you choose is one with remote management anywhere on the internet.
6. USB Ports
There are many, many USB devices that our modern homes need to connect to the wireless router from printers to modems. Ensure your new router has at least one USB port; more is preferable.
7. Mesh Wi-Fi Support
First off, a mesh Wi-Fi network is made of router-like devices that work together to provide a wireless network within a home. All these devices communicate with each other and find the best way to transfer data between everyone connected to the network.
As these systems are getting more and more popular, router vendors are selling mesh Wi-Fi systems too. Mesh Wi-Fi is supported differently by the different router brands, but if this interests you, find out if the router you want has the capabilities for mesh.
8. Smart-home Integration
It’s happening. We are living The Jetsons lives. All we have to do is ask Alexa to enable the guest Wi-Fi or turn up the music, and it’s done. With the number of smart devices and sensors in our homes, it’s a good idea to buy a router that can integrate with Amazon’s Alexa or a task automation service like If This, Then That. All this does is allow all your devices and apps to work together.
The Right Wi-Fi Router for Your Home
Just having a brief explanation of a router’s features isn’t enough to know how it will operate in your household under pressure. There are a few circumstances that can make or break router performance, which you need to consider when choosing the right Wi-Fi router.
Living in a Large Home
All activities that require data from your network are within the mercy of your router’s capability to handle them.
A few examples of problems in households with many devices:
- Not being able to stream videos at high quality while downloading
- Experiencing lag while streaming on multiple devices
- Signal interference
To avoid these problems, you may want to choose a router with faster data speeds, 2-4 dBi antenna ratings, and media-prioritization features.
Third-Party Network Access
Network security is crucial if you live close to your neighbors, so you’ll want to get a router with WPA2 or WPA3 password encryption. Anyone can connect to your network without a password and use it for illegal activities or hog up bandwidth.
The WPA2 or WPA3 password encryption for your router is meant to secure your network from unauthorized use but can pose a problem if you have houseguests over. If you don’t want to give guests the primary password, consider buying a router that supports the setup of a guest network with a private password.