How to Choose a WiFi Router: Types & Key Features

If the last year has brought on stress-related migraines from connectivity issues, it’s probably time to upgrade your WiFi router. The rise of work from home means that routers are working harder than ever. And as businesses return to the office, choosing a router that can handle your bandwidth demands will be key to delivering a smooth experience for your employees. Finding the right balance between your budget and features that meet your expectations is key.

Buying vs. Renting a Router

Before you put much thought into choosing a router, you should first consider whether or not it will make more sense for you to buy or rent. Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide the option to rent a combined modem/router unit for a small monthly fee. For residential users, that fee typically ranges from $5-$15 per month. While that fee will eventually add up and be more expensive than outright buying your own router, it comes with its advantages:

Benefits of Renting a Router

  • Tech support usually included
  • No-hassle setup
  • Free replacement of outdated device

For many, these benefits are convincing enough to rent the device, even if it may be more expensive. That said, there are several key benefits to owning your router as well:

Benefits of Buying a Router

  • Be sure you’re using an updated model
  • Less expensive over long term
  • Manage your own equipment
  • Upgrade to latest devices whenever you want
  • Not reliant on your ISP and can easily switch to another ISP if needed

Types of Wireless Routers

Not all routers are created equal. There are different types of wireless routers to choose from, and it’s important to narrow down the best type for you as you start your search. Some options include single-band routers, dual-band routers, tri-band routers, and mesh routers.

Single-band routers operate on the 2.4 GHz frequency, which is the most common frequency used by wireless devices. However, it can become congested due to the number of devices using it, leading to slower speeds.

Dual-band routers operate on both the 2.4 GHz frequency and the 5 GHz frequency. The 5 GHz frequency is less congested, so it can offer faster speeds for devices that are close to the router.

Tri-band routers have an additional 5 GHz frequency, allowing for even more devices to connect without congestion.

Mesh routers are a newer type of router that use multiple units to create a single, seamless network. This can be helpful for larger homes or businesses with multiple floors or rooms, as it allows for better coverage without the need for range extenders.

WiFi Communication Standards

Wireless routers have different communication standards, or wireless protocols: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax (WiFi 6). These standards determine the speed of the router. The most widely used standard is 802.11ac, which is considered the fastest until the recent addition of 802.11ax (WiFi 6). If you have a lot of devices that require a fast internet connection, it may be worth considering a router with a newer, faster standard like WiFi 6.

WiFi Bands WiFi routers operate on different bands, or frequencies, to transmit data. The 2.4 GHz frequency is the most common and is used by most devices, including smartphones, laptops, and tablets. However, it can become congested due to the number of devices using it, leading to slower speeds. The 5 GHz frequency is less congested and can offer faster speeds

Sipper vs. Gulper Routers

The layout of your home or business can impact the quality of your WiFi signal, and choosing the right router is essential. Sipper routers provide optimal performance at close range and are best suited for small spaces like apartments or home offices. On the other hand, gulp routers offer optimal performance at medium and long range and are ideal for large buildings or spaces with walls that may obstruct the signal.

Key Features of Wireless Routers

When considering a wireless router, there are several key features to consider. The broadcast standard, band type, security, speed, WAN type, connectivity, switches, and wireless range are all important factors that can impact your choice.

Broadcast standard refers to the type of WiFi signal being used, with “b,” “g,” “n,” “ac,” and “ax” being the most common. Band type refers to the frequency at which the router communicates, with options for single-band, dual-band, and tri-band. Security measures like WEP, WPA, and WPA2 help protect your network, while access control features allow you to customize access for specific times and users. Speed is another important factor, with “b” routers offering slower speeds of around 11Mbps, “g” routers reaching 54Mbps, and “n” and “ac” routers offering speeds up to 1Gbps. The WAN type refers to the type of connection used to connect the router to the internet, with options like Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet. Connectivity refers to the number of WAN ports, with dual WAN providing a second link to the internet for added reliability. Switches and wireless range are also important considerations, with switches determining the number of devices that can be connected and wireless range determining the distance the signal can reach.

Consider a Wi-Fi Extender

If you have a large space or a lot of devices that need to be connected, a WiFi extender can be a useful addition to your network setup. These devices work by extending the range of your existing WiFi signal, allowing you to connect more devices or access the internet in areas that might otherwise have a weak signal.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, upgrading your WiFi router can be beneficial if you have experienced connectivity issues or if you have increased demands on your router due to the rise of remote work. There are various options to consider when choosing a router, such as whether to buy or rent, the type of router (e.g. single-band, dual-band, tri-band, or mesh), the communication standard (e.g. 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, or 802.11ax), the WiFi band, and the layout of your home or business (sipper or gulp router). It is important to consider your budget and the features that meet your expectations when making a decision. It may also be worth considering a router with a newer, faster standard like WiFi 6 if you have many devices that require a fast internet connection.

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