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How to buy the best router for your network

Need for Speed

A wireless router is an essential part of the modern household. It is very likely that your service provider has bundled a router with the connection. Considering the increasing number of devices using the connection, a count that is only going to go up in the future, it is worth investing in a better router. These will typically support more devices at once, have more options for fine-tuning the experience, and allow you to share common storage among the connected devices. Before setting out to buy a router, it makes good sense to audit your usage. Count the number of devices that are using, estimate the number of new devices you will add to the mix over the next few years, and find out the wireless standards implemented in the devices that you already have. It is also a good idea to figure out what kind of content everyone in the household consumes… who needs OS or game updates, who needs to stream. Doing all of this will put you in a better position to make a good, long-term investment.

A router that supports a, b, g or n are of an older standard, and it is better to avoid these even though they are available for cheaper

What to consider

  • Standards: This is an important consideration when it comes to buying wireless routers. The specification may be listed as a type, standard, interface or not listed at all. They are the standards as specified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). All the standards for wireless routers are variants of 802.11. The letters following this number is the important bit. The standard you are looking for is 802.11ac, which essentially supports more devices, and is faster. A router that supports a, b, g or n are of an older standard, and it is better to avoid these even though they are available for cheaper. A new standard, ax  is expected to land by the end of the year. Just make sure you are not using ancient devices that do not support the latest standard.
  • LAN ports: The older routers offered up to 4 LAN output ports. The newer ones may offer two or fewer. This depends on the number of devices you connect. If you have multiple devices, such as a laptop and a desktop, and you are working on them on the same table, it makes sense to use a cable to connect the laptop to the router, instead of using it wirelessly. You get better speeds. In the future, smart devices and IoT hubs might require you to put to use the extra LAN ports.
Security is one of the most important aspects of the router
  • Security: Security is one of the most important aspects of the router. Make sure multiple security protocols are supported, and the device has an onboard firewall. The well-known brands usually push out regular security updates as well.
  • Software: The software options is really important because it allows granular control over how the router works. It should be a simple to use interface that you can access with a machine. The newer routers allow interfacing through an app as well. Options to look for include a guest network functionality, to provide an access point to visitors that is isolated from your own network, which is an additional security measure you can take from your side. QoS settings are really important, as they allow you to prioritise certain kinds of content. This means you can make the router go easy on the game updating on the PS4, and allow more bandwidth for audio or video streaming.
  • USB Ports: Many of the newer routers have USB slots where you can just plug in a USB drive or a hard disk, and share the data stored in it between all the devices. The functionality is available in some models if you require it.
For homes that are larger than 1,500 square feet, you will need to use mesh Wi-Fi systems
  • Connection Type: You will require only one connection type in the router, so it is important to exclude the other connection types. This is the connection that your internet service provider gives you. The most common connection type is an ethernet cable, also known as the RJ-11. If your internet connection is provided by your landline company, then it is likely to be an ADSL line instead of an ethernet line. There are also routers available for sim cards and portable dongles.
  • Mesh Systems: For homes that are larger than 1,500 square feet, you will need to use mesh Wi-Fi systems. When considering these, make sure to look up the coverage area. Sets of 3 units can cover anywhere between 4,500 square feet to 6,000 square feet. A mesh Wi-Fi system seamlessly acts as a single hotspot and does not reduce the speed like a range repeater does.

What not to consider

  • Speeds: Just ignore any mention of speeds, and instead look for the IEEE standard, which will give you a more accurate idea. Individual streams are capped anyway and throughput between two devices comes down to the number of streams both devices an support. So a 2×2 device can communicate with an 802.11ac router with ease and offer 2x the bandwidth of a 1×1 device. Wi-Fi router speeds depend on a number of variables, including the plan of your house, the materials used for construction, the other Wi-Fi routers in the area, as well as the number of devices simultaneously connected to it. It is highly unlikely that you will get anywhere near the top speeds on the box of the router. It is very likely that your internet speed itself is less than the max speed offered by the router.
  • Antenna range: Again, this is represented by the IEEE standard itself. Ac routers offer a range of 35 meters. The older n standard does offer a range of 35 meters, but with a reduced bandwidth. It is safe to ignore any information on the range of the antennas provided, as long as the IEEE standard is referenced.
A triband router is significantly more expensive than a dual-band router
  • Triband: A triband router is significantly more expensive than a dual-band router. On the box, it will typically say that the speeds offered are a lot more. Actually, the triband routers are worth investing in if you have multiple devices that all use a lot of bandwidth, and at the same time, you have a blazing fast internet connection, to support the heavy usage on multiple devices.
  • Junk Info: The descriptions for routers often are fluffed up with junk information that is absolutely useless. These include the various types of files you can transfer (which is typically all of them), or the various ISPs that are supported (again, typically all of them).

The best place to get it

This one really does not matter so much, get it from a local electronics store if you do not find a great deal online.

Aditya Madanapalle

Aditya Madanapalle

An avid reader of the magazine, who ended up working at Digit after studying journalism, game design and ancient runes. When not egging on arguments in the Digit forum, can be found playing with LEGO sets meant for 9 to 14-year-olds.