Once upon a time, a wifi router could be only spotted in places like internet hubs, business parks, airports wifi zone, etc. But not anymore. If you look around you, then you will notice that a wireless router is a ubiquitous device in every home, apartment and public place.
Today, we all use smartphones, laptops, notebooks and printers at home. It has become a requirement for all personal gadgets to network with each other wirelessly to save cost on clumsy wiring.
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Last time, when I was talking to my friend, I came to know that he is not able to browse the internet at high speed although he has Gbps (gigabits per second) internet connection.
I asked him a few questions and came to know that the wireless router, which he was using, was quite old. In a way, it was not able to squeeze out the best from the available internet speed.
Usually, if you are not a tech-savvy person, then all wifi routers look same. Most of the time, people think the only criteria of the best router is the number of antennae.
Unfortunately, wireless router selection does not work that way! You must understand the other dynamics involved in the higher performance of any network.
At the end of this article, you will know the best way of selecting the right router to match the speed of the internet provided by your ISP (Internet service provider).
Wireless Router is more than an internet access point
Till date, if you have only thought your wifi router as a mere wireless gateway to the web, then you have been missing the bigger picture. Every router, wire or wireless, provides you with an opportunity to create a home network between your personal computer, smartphones, printer, hard disk, notebooks, etc.
This is a private network and has nothing to do with the internet for internal networking. You can even build a NAS (Network attached storage) drive if your wifi router has a USB provision. NAS drive can act as a personal server for accessing files on the network.
We usually talk about networking regarding speed. But do you know that there are several factors which contribute to the speed of network or internet? A router is just one part of the whole chain.
Wifi standard, networking devices, internet speed provided by ISP, data transfer speed on a local network, distance from a wireless gateway, interferences, etc. are various factors which affect the speed of any network.
Standards to look for while selecting a wireless router
IEEE 802.11 wifi standard
Every wifi device follows and adheres to IEEE 802.11 standard. This is the global wifi standard for making sure the workability and compatibility of different manufacture’s wifi enabled devices. But there are several versions of IEEE 802.11 standard, which is denoted by added suffix as ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘g’, ‘n’ and ‘ac’.
802.11a wifi standard is the oldest version among all. As if now, 802.11ac is the latest wifi version available in the market. Interestingly, all these versions are cross-compatible. You can connect easily any version ‘a’ device with version ‘ac’ device. But wifi device belonging to the lower wifi version will determine the network speed.
Usually, I recommend people to go with the latest wifi router following 802.11ac wifi standard. Do not worry about pricing as they are quite economical for a domestic environment.
Thanks to technology advancements as it lowers the price of electronics with the passage of time. You may also consider upgrading your smartphone or laptop if they are following lower wifi standard.
Even in the market, only 802.11n and 802.11ac routers are available since other lower versions are mostly obsolete.
802.11n Wifi Router
802.11n standard was introduced in the year 2007. Any 802.11n wifi device can work at maximum 450 Mbps speed. This is the theoretical speed range. Practical network speed would be much lower than this.
Till date, the fastest recorded network speed of an 802.11n wifi device is around 240 Mbps. So, it is safe to say that you will not be able to achieve more than 200 Mbps speed with any 802.11n wifi device.
802.11n router emits signal is all direction. You can consider the signalling as ripples in certain radius all around the router. That’s why it is recommended to keep this type of wireless router in the centre.
802.11n router supports dual bands, which are 2.4GHz and 5GHz. We will deal with dual bands later in this article.
802.11ac Wifi Router
The 802.11ac standard was introduced in the year 2013 and also known as the 5G Wi-Fi router. Any 802.11ac wifi device can work at a maximum theoretical speed of 1300 Mbps. It is almost three times faster network speed than 802.11n speed. Even in this case, possible network speed is much lower than theoretical maximum speed range.
Till date, the fastest recorded network speed of an 802.11ac wifi device is around 720 Mbps.
The 802.11ac wireless router works on ‘Beamforming’ technology. Beamforming technology allows a router to detect any possible connection in a particular direction and beam the wireless signal mostly towards that wifi enabled device.
Now, you do not have to worry anymore about the placement of wireless router in the centre location.
802.11ac wifi router only supports 5GHz frequency band.
Dual band or single band wifi router
Every wireless communication happens at particular frequency band. You may consider any frequency band as the highway of communication between wireless devices. Cordless phones, microwaves, Bluetooth device, wireless cameras and many other domestic appliances work on 2.4 GHz band.
Older wifi standards like 802.11g supported 2.4Ghz but with the passage of time 2.4Hz band became very crowded. There was a dire need for another band, and thus 5 GHz band came into the picture.
802.11n wifi standard launched with support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Lower frequency, such as 2.4GHz, has a benefit of connectivity up to the longer distance. 5GHz is a broader frequency range and can communicate up to the relatively shorter distance.
In a nutshell, higher bands are faster than lower bands, but lower frequency band travel more than higher frequency band.
Wifi router class
Now you know the top two choices in the wireless router segment. But wait there is something more than you should be aware. It is called the class of a wifi router.
If you see the specification of any wifi router, then you will see some numbered prefix before 802.11n or 802.11ac. It will look like this ‘1900 Wi-Fi 802.11ac’ or 750 Wi-Fi 802.11n. 1900 and 750 denote the class of wifi router.
However, 1900 does not necessarily mean 1900 Mbps. The class of a router denotes the maximum possible speed it can provide. Below table will give you a clear picture of the various types of wireless routers available in the market.
|Wifi Router Class||2.4GHz Speed in Mbps||5GHz Speed in Mbps|
Networking device’s hardware hooked with the wireless router
Do you know that if you have a laptop/desktop/smartphone/tablet with a low-end wifi networking chip, something as 802.11n, then it does not matter if you have the latest 802.11ac wifi router with blazing internet speed?
I mean if your laptop or smartphone is capable of 430 Mbps (megabits per second) speed then it does not matter if you have a router capable of providing you 1Gbps speed.
Also, these days, most routers come with USB ports that can attach any USB powered hard drive. You can build a network-wide storage and media streaming system by hooking up USB drive with wifi router. So, if your hard disk is capable of 100 Mbps (megabits per second) data transfer speed, then you may not achieve 1Gbps data transfer rate with a higher configuration wifi router.
In short, you must consider the specification various devices on the network. Network speed is relative and mostly dependent on each hardware points.
So, if you are going for the best wireless router selection in the market, then do think about your plans for upgrading your networking devices at your home. If you do not have any plans to update your gadgets anytime soon, then it would be better to stick with the lower end wifi routers.
Other factors to consider before wireless router selection
Till now, we saw factors which are technically associated with any wireless router. But there are other factors also which you may have to consider before selecting the best wifi router.
Range, distance and obstacles can be biggest limiting factor when we talk about strength and speed of the wireless signal. Wireless signal strength/range deteriorate with distance and in between obstacles.
The number of simultaneous connections may also affect the speed of any network. 802.11n router supports maximum 30 connections. And if you have a requirement of more than 30 connections then go for 802.11ac router, which supports 100 connections.
Your internet service provider may or may not provide you with a modem. So, if you require a wireless router with modem then look for wireless routers having an inbuilt modem.
Do you require USB port on your wireless router for building network storage or NAS drive? Also, many wifi routers come with USB port, but they are only used to download or upload setup configuration.
Do not get tempted with any advertisement of most advanced wireless router available in the market. You may not have a suitable laptop, desktop, smartphone, etc. to get the maximum from the most advanced wifi router.
Usually, the latest routers with advanced configuration may land heavy on your pocket. And if you purchase the latest router then do not throw away the old one. You can still build a home network using old and new wifi routers to increase the distance, signal and speed of the network.