Tuesday

How To Buy the Best Wireless Router for Your Network


Ask anyone. A strong, clear and fast Wi-Fi signal is one of the most important things to us (that is after food – but before sex – according to a new study). First world problems, I know. The connection to the internet for your office and home is critical; and these days, with the multitude of devices we connect to our router, speed is of the essence.

If you’ve read my post on boosting your Wi-Fi and you still need more, this post should answer your questions. I’m not suggesting that you break the bank, but spending more on essentials is a good idea. Your internet connection probably needs to be fast and ready for you twenty four/seven and has become an essential utility. When you chose to upgrade, consider amortizing the cost over the number of devices you're asking for a clean signal, then it won’t seem as much.

A May 2015 study from IDC found that 95% of those surveyed said they had routers with older protocols or did not know which wireless protocol they used. After you finish reading here, and upgrading your router, you will be one of the top 5%.

MU-MIMO

Previous routers boasted MIMO (multiple input and multiple output) radios through past protocols. Today’s newest use MU-MIMO (multi user, multiple input and multiple output) which provides significant performance gains. By sending simultaneous transmissions to your individual devices on the same channel of your wireless network the signal goes through without lag or buffering.  This means that the movie streamed to your TV and the video chat with your friend can each get their own Wi-Fi connection. MU-MIMO is more efficient, each user gets their own slice of airtime.

Multiple USB, eSATA, Ethernet and Gigabit Ports

Your new router should have several ports where you can connect various devices. A USB 3.0 port is the fastest current USB connection with data transfer up to 10 Gbps, so be sure you have at least one of these. You can connect digital media and hard drives to them for fast access throughout your network. They are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices (up to 6 Gbps), but you won’t get the advantage of the faster connection. Additional USB ports are preferable if they are eSATA.  eSATA is a powered (either 5 V or 12V) USB 2.0 hybrid USB port where you can connect additional drives or USB connected printers to your network for sharing.

Ethernet ports are also important for connecting to bridged networks or wired devices on your network. Having a Gigabit ethernet port is a plus; enabling you to hardwire your computer to a blazing fast 1000Mbps connection. (For best performance, be sure to use CAT5E or higher rated cables in these ports).

Dual Band Connectivity

In my last article on wireless, "How to Boost Strong Wi-Fi in every Room,” I explain the difference between the 2.4 Ghz and the 5 Ghz bands. Connecting appropriate devices to the bands as mentioned in the post will speed up your wireless connections and prevent unnecessary buffering.

It's also a plus, security-wise, if you have dual-band guest networks with different login credentials.

Antennas? or no antennas

Personally I think antennas make any wireless device look like they’re ready to conquer the airwaves. Many internal antennas are omni-directional (they send and receive from any direction). But does it really make a difference if you have external antennas? Many top-line newer routers feature external antennas for good reason, they are adjustable (generally straight up for one-story homes). They also connect directly with your devices (see beamforming below) and can also be removed and swapped out for more powerful, high gain antennas.
TIP: If your current devices (tablets and laptops) do not support all these high tech solutions, look for an inexpensive USB wireless adapter for your legacy devices and you will get the benefits of your new router.

Beamforming technology

The latest AC routers feature “beamforming.”  Beamforming technology enables the router to identify and connect directly with devices. It actually tracks each device, versus broadcasting in a circle equally in all directions.

High speed 802.11

You may have seen letters after the numbers 802.11 on your devices. The letters signify the protocol of the wireless technology used in your device. In a future post, I will explain the progress of wireless standards and what each brings to the user. Popular versions from the recent past have included 802.11g and 802.11n.  To get the latest in technology, look for the most current standard “AC” or 802.11ac. The AC protocol supports the fastest transfer rates currently available.

These variations have been monitored by the non-profit WiFi Alliance since 2002 to certify that wireless devices will work with other devices across brands. When you’ve narrowed your search to a few routers, you can double check their status of interoperability at their site here.

Although it is highly unlikely that you will reach maximum cleanroom speeds (as advertised on most routers' packaging), they may say they are capable of s high as 1900Mbps. More than likely, you can get pretty much expect to get what your ISP says you can get, they set the speed.

Modem

This post wouldn’t be complete unless I remind you that the fastest cable modem currently available is DOCSIS 3.0 (backwards compatible with older standards).  DOCSIS 3.0 has more channels than previous versions and can bond multiple channels for higher speeds. The typical DOCSIS 3.0 modem generally has four or eight channels for downloading and can result in a speed cap of 172Mbps or 344Mbps. For uploading, they generally support four channels up to 124 Mbps. DOCSIS 2.0 (the previous iteration) is much slower and only supports one channel up and one channel down. If you rent your modem from your internet provider, request an upgrade.

Why not print out this post and take it with you when you shop for a modem, so you won’t get confused (like I do) by the many tech catchwords you will see on the boxes.

This post was sponsored by Linksys