We live in a connected world, where Wi-Fi connections, hotspots, and wireless technology is everywhere. That means that in those same locations, in some fashion or another, a wireless router is being put into play to broadcast that delicious internet signal to your devices. Welcome back to #TechTuesday, where we want to tell you how to make sense of what all these different types of routers are, and how to choose the right one for your home or small business.
Have Some Standards
As technology advances so steadily as it has been, so too does our communication standards for routing. When you first go to purchase a router, you're going to see a lot of things that say stuff like "802.11G/N/AC" or "Dual Band Router". With the different levels of necessity for the end user, so too come various different solutions for the projects at hand. But why are we seeing all these letters with numbers outside of algebra, and what do they mean?
First, we want to look at that amalgamation of numbers and letters. That refers to the wireless standard utilized by your router. This comes in currently four different variations; 802.11B, which is a first generation technology of routing that is no longer offered outside of vendors such as EBay (you should definitely keep reading if you are using a router of this type). Then there is 802.11G and 802.11N which are second and third generation technologies, and currently the most common seen in use by the modern user. These bands offer a more standardized and faster speed to your devices, and a more wide range of device support. These devices tend to limit around the 600Mbps (Megabits per second) speeds due to the limitations of their capabilities.
Then there is the most modern standard, considered to be the current top of the line: 802.11AC. This offers the fastest possible speeds for a network, Gigabit speeds, which are almost twice as fast as the previous versions. While these high speeds are pretty amazing, the -ac standard has two current major drawbacks. It is the most expensive standard in routing right now, due to its top of the line quality, though it is dropping rather quickly. It is also not entirely supported by most mobile devices currently, since the technology is still rather new. Though, as with the g and n standards, the ac standard is backwards compatible, meaning any device can still connect to it even if they cannot utilize the full potential of the speeds.
Are Two Bands Better Than One?
In a web without wires, our connections operate in two bands--2.4GHz and 5GHz. The first is where most devices that utilize wireless technology operate on, such as cordless phones, baby monitors, and microwave ovens. It's also where most wireless networks in the US are operated. Of course, due to this, it also suffers more interference from those types of devices and other networks, due to network overlap. This in turn will limit your speeds and your connection consistency if you are in an area where many of these devices are operated at once.
The latter, the 5GHz band, of course starts with the main benefit that it has lower interference! Due to the lower number of devices that utilize this band, there is less technology chatter on the band that can cause your speeds or connection to drop. In a situation that this begins to occur, the 5GHz band also has 8 operable channels that can all be used, compared to the 2.4GHz radios' 11 channels that only allow 3 channels (1, 6, and 11) to be used. This means that you can easily tweak your settings, if you were so inclined, to make sure your network is always operating at its prime. The downside, however, is that the 5Ghz band suffers connection reduction more severely when passing through walls and obstacles.
So now that we understand that, what is dual band and single band routing? Essentially, a single band router operates on just the 2.4 GHz connection, which are found mostly in 802.11B, G, and some single band N routers. A dual band router, which are the N and the AC configurations, will operate on both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz connections either selectively or simultaneously. This lets any setting with many different devices take advantage of either band, and reduce the clutter on the network ultimately.
Gotta Go Fast
Manufacturers have lately forgone both listing speeds on their packaging prominently, or educating their customers on what those speeds mean. This is because wireless speed is one of the most poorly understood aspects of wireless networks. Those speeds listed on the box are "theoretical" maximum speeds that devices connected to that router can potentially reach. While your network may have that potential yield, it does not mean that your internet will instantly speeds that high. A bottleneck may yet exist in your modem, your service plan from your provider, or your wiring.
Making A Decision
Armed with the information we provided, do you feel entirely confident in trying to make a decision for your next network upgrade on your own? If so, then you've outdone our expectations! Wireless networking in any environment, whether it be home, small business, or corporate is truly a difficult undertaking. Choosing the right equipment can be a hassle to manage. But if you still need a guideline, we put together a few offerings we think are pretty well catered to different users.
If you find yourself as a very basic internet user, perhaps only a few devices and some light web usage; checking emails, browsing some videos, reading the news, you might find yourself interested in the D-Link Wireless N300 ($54.99 via Amazon). It supports both 802.11n and g standards, and offers a nice entry level feature set for basic home usage, while still giving enough capability to welcome more intensive use.
For those looking to introduce some light gaming, video streaming, file sharing, or working from a home business, we might also recommend to you the Netgear AC1750 Smart Router ($129.99 via Amazon). Featuring high power antennas, USB ports for connecting a network attached storage, and a more in depth series of security protocols, its perfect for those whom want to add a little more to the network. You could also look at the Google Wi-Fi Mesh Router ($129 per device via Google Store) which integrates ease of use and ease of setup with an expandable network coverage when you need to add more devices. You can read our write up of the Google Wi-Fi right here on our blog too!
When the top of the line is your bread and butter, and you need the best possible equipment with the best features to support your quickly growing business, your video streaming, your group video sessions, and maybe some heavy gaming on the side if you're a home user, we direct you to the ASUS RT-AC3200 Tri-Band Wireless Router ($187.88 via Amazon), which features two 5.0GHz bands, a 2.4GHz band, and an expansive selection of security features, in depth configuration, backup solutions, and remote data access features built right into the device. Where price meets performance, its sure to please.
If none of these recommendations do it for you though, take some time and really do your own extra research too! There is bundles of information out there that can help cater your purchase to what best suits your network style.