Broadband routers have become an essential in homes these days. They are routinely used as a medium to access the internet. These routers come loaded with features that can improve your internet experience. However, a lot of people are unaware of complete router features, thus losing out on a lot of functionality.

With the advancing technology, manufacturers keep adding new features to the routers. However, not all routers have the same features. If you want to buy a new router, make sure you check the specifications of different models to ensure that it has all you need.

Functions of a router

Network Address Translation

All routers come endowed with a security feature called Network Address Translation (NAT). This technology is used for internet connection-sharing on the home computer.

On home networks, NAT maps the private IP address of all devices to one public IP address. We are using this method to conserve the fast-depleting IP address space.

All computers on a local network share one outbound connection. NAT keeps track of all the devices connected to a router and the messages they send to the external networks.

When a response comes, the router is then able to back-track the destination device and route the packet correctly. You can use NAT for security purpose. It can efficiently block traffic coming from malicious devices acting as a firewall.

Local data transfer

When you connect two devices on the same local area network, they can communicate with each other without having to go through the ISP. Routers are used to create these local area networks.

Data transfer between nodes on a local area network is much faster than from internet since there is no time lag to route to the ISP and back.

Another way to share data within the network is to use a wireless media hub. These small devices come with a USB port that lets you connect external storage. All devices on the network get access to this data in real time.

Secondly, this makes the data very portable. By keeping its external storage, you can transport the external storage much more easily than carrying your PC.

Resource Sharing

Other than connecting you to the Internet and allowing you to share your data, routers also allow you to share resources within the local network. Printer/Scanner is a widely used resource.

Many organisations use the concept of a network printer. As many modern printer support Wi-Fi, you can print anything from your wireless device with a single command, without any hassle of wires.

Features of Wi-Fi routers

Dual-band Wi-Fi

Traditionally, home Wi-Fi routers came with the ability to transmit radio waves in a single frequency band – 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. With the advent 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, routers can now utilise both the frequency bands simultaneously.

They use a technology called MIMO (multiple in multiple out) by embedding two or more radio transmitters instead of one.

By using both the frequency bands simultaneously, routers can take advantages of the broad range of 2.4 GHz and larger bandwidth of 5 GHz.

With this added functionality, you can effectively set up two wireless subnetworks at your home, without interference at different frequencies.

Ethernet Support

Ethernet-based routers are the precursor of present-day Wi-Fi-based home routers. Traditionally, these routers only offered “wired” support. Using an Ethernet port, you could have attached a computer or a printer to the network.

With wireless technology improving portability, Ethernet-based local area networks in homes have become redundant. However, the new Wi-Fi-based home routers still come with support for Ethernet support.

Ethernet support is useful to connect your router to the broadband mode. Additionally, when setting up a wireless router, you need an Ethernet connection for configuration.

In specific scenarios, we prefer Ethernet connections over Wi-Fi connections. This is because Ethernet connections allow for faster data rates than standard Wi-Fi connections.

For applications that affected by small ‘lags’, Ethernet connections are a preferred choice. For examples, LAN based gaming is preferable over Ethernet connections than Wi-Fi.

Gigabit Ethernet

Until recently, routers came with the support for 10/100 or Fast Ethernet technology. These routers could support data speed of up to 1000 Mbps. With the advancement in technology, Gigabit Ethernet has become more popular and is now getting incorporated into new routers.

You can use fast ethernet, like Gigabit network, for streaming high-quality videos seamlessly and other intensive uses.

IPV6 vs IPV4

Most networks use Internet Protocol (IP) for communication. IPV4 and IPV6 are two primary standards for Internet Protocol. IPV6 is a newer standard developed to counter the shortcomings of IPV4.

IPV6 uses a 128 bit IP address as compared to 32 bit IP address used by IPV4. Old broadband routers used to support only IPV4. However, all new models come with both the versions.

Although IPV6 is not an essential feature, having it is beneficial regarding improved security and performance.

Controlling Quality of Service

In many home routers, you can find options to control Quality of Service (QoS). This service allows you to prioritise specific devices over others when it comes to resource sharing.

You can keep this feature turned on or off on most of the broadband routers. The devices priorities are identified by their physical address known as MAC address. With QoS, you can:

  1. Prioritize traffic on individual TCP/UDP ports.
  2. Prioritize video streaming and voice traffic on Wi-Fi connections.  Some routers come pre-enabled with this option while others have it disabled by default.

Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)

Most of the models come with a feature to set up home networks using a push-button. WPS streamlines the process of setting up security features by saving time and avoiding errors.

With WPS, you can also authenticate your device using a push button located on the Wi-Fi router, through Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) or through passkeys that can be automatically transferred using Near Field Communication (NFC).

Upgradable Firmware

Firmware is a piece of software that acts a router’s operating system. All the routers come with a firmware. With time, manufacturers often fix bugs and add more features to the router’s firmware.

Several routers can support a new Wi-Fi standard by merely upgrading the firmware. These firmware upgrades are made available by manufacturers and you can them free of cost.

These upgrades can also let you customise your router’s firmware and enhance your network experience.

Guest Networks

Some wireless routers also support the concept of guest networking. In this, the router will allow you to create a subnetwork in your home for guests and visitors.

Guest networks prevent the visitors from snooping around your internal resources on the network. This feature is not very common in home routers but is an essential feature in any business router.

With this feature, you can change the security configurations of the guest network so that your private keys stay hidden.

Parental Controls

If you have kids in your home, you will be concerned about what websites they are visiting. Many routers, nowadays, come with parental controls, also known as access restrictions. With this feature, you can do the following:

  1. Restrict the time of the day/night when the web can be accessed.
  2. Restrict the total time for which one can go online
  3. Block specific websites by their domain names.

These configurations can be changed from the console menu and can be applied individually to a device (using the MAC address of the device). By doing so, you can ensure that others can access uninterrupted internet access.

VPN Server

VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a technology that lets you create an encrypted connection over a less secure network (Internet). This technology is primarily used in offices to allow employees to access company resources outside the local network while preventing any breach of information.

In home networks, VPN has limited use. However, some newer routers do offer VPN support with limited functionality. Typically, home routers allow you to create a VPN server.

This lets you access your home resources while travelling in a secure manner.

Port Forwarding

Port forwarding is a standard feature in routers. With port forwarding, the administrator can direct the incoming traffic to a specific device. The TCP/UDP port numbers are filtered from the packet headers.

You use this function when you want to host a web-based service or network gaming.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a set of networking protocols that allows the devices on a network (such as personal computers, Wi-Fi access points, printers, etc.) to discover each other’s presence on the network.

The devices can then establish network services such as data sharing, resource sharing, etc. In the absence of UPnP, an administrator would need to configure all port forwarding entries on the router, manually.

The routers come enabled with this feature by default but you can disable it manually.