Important Things to Keep in Mind When You're Looking to Get a New Wireless Router for Your Home

If your router is old and out of touch with technology, you should keep some things in mind to avoid overpaying and to get the right system

In the Market for a New Router? Here Are the Features You Should Keep in Mind
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January 25, 2019

Your router is probably the most important piece of equipment in your home network. The router you choose can make the difference between having a smooth connection or one that is constantly dropping your connection. So the next time you're in the market for a new router, consider the different options so you can choose the best router for your needs.

Modem and Router Combos

It's important to mention the modem/router combination devices that most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide you when you sign up for Internet service. These devices generally work pretty well unless there just happens to be some kind of technical issue or other glitch with them. After all, why would your ISP provide you a piece of junk if they want you to have reliable service that keeps you from running to another company? But these devices will not be the best on the market, and some you may have to rent for a monthly fee in addition to your regular monthly payment for service. Depending upon the ISP and the type of service, whether business or home, you may not be able to make many configuration changes.

A separate router altogether

If you are looking for the best possible router for your home network, you're probably not going to be using a modem/router combo from your ISP. So you'll be purchasing a separate router and connecting it to your modem. From there, you'll be connecting your devices to the router. In this situation, you'll want to ensure that you configure your modem to "pass-through," "default server," or similar so that all routing and firewall services on the modem are disabled. The modem firewall might block connections the router does not, and vice versa. Don't forget to disable the WiFi on the modem to make sure its signal doesn't interfere with or overlap the signal from your router. This is usually a pretty easy process and directions are easily available online for most models. Most ISPs will help you configure your modem for no charge. The router will still work if you don't do this, but you might run into a few unexpected issues with certain devices, such as Internet-connected doorbells, security cameras, etc.

Take advantage of the latest wireless standard

Technology is always making advances, and wireless standards are no different. Most computers, smartphones and tablets use the newer and faster 802.11ac standard, which is an improvement from the already-fast 802.11n standard introduced in 2007. This new standard means your devices, if they support the 802.11ac standard, can really benefit from a router that supports the 802.11ac standard. But no matter how fast your devices are, they can't reach the really fast speeds advertised by your ISP if your router can't support them. So a router that is using anything other than the newest WiFi standard can be a potential bottleneck, whether you're trying to download the latest cat videos or if you're trying to communicate with the other devices on your network. Unless you're a tech junkie, you're probably going to have your router for a long time. So invest in technology that will still be around down the road.

Hardware

No hardware lasts forever or can handle heavy loads that push it beyond the limit, even the most expensive and most-reliable routers and networking equipment. A router is always running and usually doesn't get restarted unless there's a power outage. And as you add more devices, the hardware will hit its limit and slow down. It might even overheat, leading to internal damage that can cause unexpected restarts and unpredictable slow downs. You want to make sure your issues aren't being caused by a router that isn't strong enough to handle all the demands you place on it.

Price

Router prices, just like with any device, vary greatly. Some might be as low as $40 and others might be more than $500. Paying extra doesn't always mean you'll get a better device, but the routers that offer more will cost more. So when deciding on a router, look at both your budget and your needs. Remember that a router that is inexpensive might be just as good as a more expensive one.

If you're an average user, you probably should avoid high-end routers and settle for something in the middle of the road. Because these devices typically have the latest and greatest technology, there might be unexpected bugs, not to mention a lack of compatible devices to fully take advantage of it. When you have the newest 'toy,' you often have to make a lot of other upgrades to the rest of your equipment to get the full benefit.

Internet Speeds

If you are replacing your router in order to increase your Internet speeds, you'll need to take note of your current speed. If you are paying for a 35 megabit connection, keep in mind that you'll only get about a 4 megabyte (MB) per second speed. This is because megabits and megabytes are on a different scale. The transfer speed you see in your browser is typically in megabyte whereas the Internet speeds a typically in megabits. So if you have one of these slower )Internet connections, you're not going to see any increase in Internet speeds and only might see an increase in wireless range. Newer routers are designed for fiber and Gigabit speeds, which are 1,000 megabits (125 megabytes) or higher. Keep in mind, also, that wireless is always slower than a wired connection, so you'll never see the maximum possible speed.

Radio Frequencies

Routers use two different radio frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 2.4GHz band is older and, because it has such widespread adoption, is susceptible to congestion. It also has, because of the frequency, slower speeds but a good range. The 5GHz band is newer and faster, but it's range is much less. Most, if not all, new routers today are dual band routers that switch you between frequencies for a seamless experience giving you the best speed and range.

Router Location

Your router's location can have a big impact on the speed and range of your devices. A router should always be in a central location. Think of your home as a bubble. You want your router to be as close to the very center of the bubble as possible, away from obstructions and sources of electrical and magnetic interference. Something as simple as a nearby refrigerator can cause your wireless to slow down or disconnect.

Smart Routers

Routers, like nearly every item on the market, are getting smarter. Smart routers allow users to prioritize bandwidth for tasks such as streaming movies and video games from a companion smartphone app. Updates are usually automatic. But remember that smart routers are often more vulnerable to hackers, so keep your system and devices updated and secure.

Mesh Routers

Mesh routers help you eliminate dead zones in your wireless coverage, but they certainly cost more than traditional routers. You'll have a central router connected to your modem and one or more satellites that plug into outlets around your home. Some work really well; others do not. These routers can help when you have a large home that needs a lot of coverage or if you have no choice in the placement of your modem and have to have a router on one end of the home.

Mesh routers come with their own catches, which can include wireless connection drops when moving between satellites or issues when the modem is not in pass-through mode. Some people make the mistake of getting a system that is too large for the particular home, resulting in devices bouncing repeatedly from one satellite to another. Some satellites can connect to each other in order to spread out; other satellites all need to be connected to the router in order to work, which can limit your deployment options.