Buying a wireless router to connect the computers in your home can be a confusing task. With all the numbers and technical jargon, it can be difficult to ensure you’re buying the one that best suits your needs. This is why we put together a handy guide that’ll hopefully help simplify the process so you can make a more informed decision.
Choosing a wireless router is a bit of a numbers game. The two primary Wi-Fi connection standards available are 802.11n and 802.11ac. If you’re looking for the newest and fastest, you’ll want to find a router with the 802.11ac standard. The 802.11ac is capable of transferring Wi-Fi data at 1300 megabits per second (MBps), three times faster than the 802.11n.
The new 802.11ac supports up to eight antennas, four more than any router has at the time we’re publishing this. This router is designed with the future in mind.
Both standards have the same coverage distance, but the 802.11ac allows your router to pinpoint the location of your computer, sending a stronger signal to your device. The 802.11n only allows a router to distribute a signal equally in every direction.
You’ll need to check your computer, or whatever device you want to connect to the Internet through your router, to see which standard it operates on. The 802.11ac standard is backwards compatible. Most devices developed in the past six months come equipped with 802.11ac compatibility. If you have older devices in your home, you might want to consider staying with the 802.11n standard to avoid compatibility issues.
Single vs. Dual-Band
You’ll come across the terms single-band and dual-band when purchasing a router. These refer to the strength of the frequency your router will use to connect your devices.
Single-band routers operate on a 2.4GHz frequency, as do most devices in your home, like smartphones, laptops, and tablets. The problem with single-band routers is they’re prone to interference. Because each device in your home is operating off the 2.4GHz frequency, things like answering a phone call can interfere with your wireless connection and kick you off the Internet.
Dual-band routers, on the other hand, operate on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. This means you’ll receive a stronger Wi-Fi connection and your devices can connect simultaneously, faster, and with less interference. The range on the 5GHz band is shorter, but your wireless router can switch to 2.4GHz when the device is out of reach, or you can move your devices closer to your router for a stronger connection.
It’s rare to find a situation where a single-band router is the better choice, but they’re often cheaper. If price is an issue, you might consider a single-band router for now until you can upgrade later.
It’s not uncommon to hear about neighbors using others wireless connections, or hackers breaking into someone’s computer through their wireless Internet. You need to consider a router’s security features before making a purchase.
Luckily, most routers today support Wi-Fi protected access II (WPA2). WPA2 is the most secure Wi-Fi protocol available, but comes in two different encryption types called TKIP and AES.
Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) is an older encryption standard and is steadily becoming obsolete. It’s not recommended to purchase a wireless router with TKIP protocols still in place. Instead, look for a router with the Advanced Encryption Standard. This shouldn’t be hard, as most wireless routers now come equipped with AES.
If you’re connecting your router to older devices, it might be necessary to find a WPA2 router with TKIP compatibility. In that case, you’ll want to buy a router labeled WPAWPA2-PSK (TKIP/AES). This type of router provides the most protection possible while also containing backwards compatibility.
If you’re operating on new devices, always be sure to use a router labeled WPA2-PSK (AES). This uses the latest encryption and protocol standards available.
Purchasing a router doesn’t have to be a confusing experience if you equip yourself with the information above. Remember to focus on compatibility and speed foremost when choosing your wireless router. Everything after that is simply a perk.
Ben Kerns is a fan of all things related to technology and the Internet, especially when it comes to discovering new ways to further merge the two together. When he's not plugged in, he enjoys the great outdoors, healthy living, and singing off-tune to cheesy country songs.
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