Wireless Router Buying Guide
There are presently tons of choices when one looks around to buy wireless routers, and the same can easily be confusing even for someone who knows a bit about them, let alone someone who is taking his first router, whether for home or office. So here is a guide for all those who are unaware regarding what all they need to look for in a good wireless router.
Never go by the advertised speeds the various manufacturers of wireless routers claim their products deliver! There can be nothing farther than the truth, since such speeds are measured under some specified conditions, which are, to say the least, too good to be true in actual usage. Instead, one should always look at features that can’t be tampered with in statements, but are actually written in very fine print in the brochure, far from your eyes.
802.11n (N) V/S 802.11g (G)
The 802.11g router, which is, by the way, using a technology older than 7 years now, is still popular among small businesses in particular, since it is a cheap one, and has reasonable performance. True, there are some decent features in them, like policy-based firewalls, and similar threat management features, but these are only relevant for businesses. In homes, the 802.11n scores far better than its G-counterpart, mainly in terms of speed. Some N routers can even deliver an actual speed of more than 200 Mbps! Another interesting fact is that N routers give around 5 times more throughput than G routers.
Dual-Band or Single-Band
N routers are available in two variants, dual-band and single-band. Single-band ones use the 2.4 Ghz band, alike the G routers, while the dual-band ones use 2.4 as well as 5.0 Ghz bands. Also, even when one compares at the 2.4 Ghz band, N routers are faster than G routers since they utilize the frequency in a better manner, and are better at bouncing signals from the surroundings like walls, objects, etc. Coming back to the point, the main benefit of having a dual-band N router is that you can easily switch between the two bands, which can sometimes affect the speed to the tune of 100 Mbps. However, due to these features, dual band routers are more expensive than single band ones.
Simultaneous dual-band routers
This kind of routers transmit signals simultaneously in both the frequencies, i.e., 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, thus resulting in longer range and improved signal. Another advantage is that they don’t need manual switching between the bands. Having a dual-band wireless router is like having two networks dedicated for your connectivity. However, this kind of routers is only fruitful if one has clients that use the 5 GHz band (which might also tell you by now that this kind of routers are STRICTLY for business users).
These kind of routers are also more efficient in the throughput, with some models managing bands without any input from users. Simultaneous routers also help stabilize the overall throughput in the network. These too, are more expensive than regular dual-band routers.
Particularly in N routers, where speed matters a lot depending on the capacity to bounce the signals off objects, it requires multiple receiver antennas as well as transmitters. The best configuration for a wireless router in this regard is thus, four-by-four, which means that there should be four antennas, each having its own transmitter and receiver, for optimum performance. However, a majority of the high-speed N routers come in a three-by-three configuration at best. And although there are many designs for antennas in the present day market, there is no significant performance difference if an antenna is visible or in-built. The basic principle is that the more transmitters and receivers a router has, the better speed it will deliver.
In case you want to travel and use the internet, portable routers are the perfect choice. They use a 3G signal from a cellular carrier, and give you internet connectivity, albeit not as fast as a regular router due to the movement factor. Further, most of the portable routers are of the G-type, unlike their faster N-counterparts, which also results in their being cheaper. Also, while the Wi-Fi part of the deal is free, one has to pay the 3G carrier on a monthly basis.
Another striking innovation has been the development of MiFi routers, that fit in your pocket and run on batteries!
One of the most useful but little-known-of features of wireless routers, guest access allows the user to split the network into two. This gives access to multiple users without the main user having to divulge his password, making everybody else a ‘guest’ user. And while a similar provision can be enabled in routers supporting virtual LANs, the steps in the same are very complicated.
The more wired ports a wireless router has, the better it is for the user. Many Wi-fi routers do come with a five-port block, which is an industry standard, but there are still many that have lesser number of ports. So, if one were to add a gaming console, a VoIP phone, a PC and an NAS device, there would be no space for anything else to be connected.
Routers and gaming
Wireless routers feature a Quality of Service (QoS) feature, that allows them to separate network packets and prioritize network traffic. This allows the most important applications (in this regard, games) to get the major chunk of the bandwidth. And although games don’t generally take too much of the bandwidth, they can slow things down when there are multiple users on the network.
Security : Firewalls and Wi-Fi protected setup
Talking a bit on the security front, most routers have a firewall, with the most common on being the Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) variant. There are also some routers that offer manual settings on the firewall, but that is not any better than a standard firewall, since it is only for the user to configure according to his/her needs. On the whole, an SPI firewall is apt security for a router.
Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is a standard procedure for the user to secure a laptop with the router. This technology simplifies the process of encryption that users would have to go through in order to secure their Wi-Fi network. However, its benefits depend a lot on the laptop and OS being used. In case a laptop does not support it, the procedure to implement it manually can be very hectic. It’s not necessary to have a WPS, since some part of it is frequently non-compatible. Many of the latest wireless routers offer the same, however, since in case it does work, it’s a good feature to have.
Home routers for business usage
On a broad scale, home routers can prove to be useful even in small offices, but the problem comes on the security front, since home routers don’t have much to boast about on that front, due to the simple fact that the emphasis is more on speed as compared to security.
So there you have it, an all out question and answer guide for you to select the right kind of router for your needs. Make sure that you cover all these points before going on the internet speedway in the wireless mode!