Wi-Fi has become the preferred choice to connect to the internet over wired internet connections for a lot of users. Thanks to its ease of use, Wi-Fi is being used across all sorts of devices, such as laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, and even home automation systems. With the increased demand for connectivity, it’s important to have a reliable and efficient Wi-Fi router that can handle multiple devices and high-bandwidth activities like streaming and gaming.
However, with so many options available in the market, it can be challenging to select the right Wi-Fi router that meets your needs. If you’re also wondering how to choose the right Wi-Fi router, then you’ll want to hear what we have to say.
In this post, we will guide you through the essential factors when considering a Wi-Fi router. We’ll be covering important factors such as maximum speed, coverage area, Wi-Fi bands, and much more. At the end of it, you should be able to choose the right Wi-Fi router for yourself.
But first, you might want to check out the following:
- Learn the difference between a Router and a Modem
- Never go offline when using these power banks for your Wi-Fi router
- Save a buck while gaming online with these budget Wi-Fi gaming routers
1. Check with Your ISP
In an ideal world, you could just buy any router and use it with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). But, that’s not the case. In fact, if your internet connection requires you to use a cable modem with DSL, it is likely that a random router may not work.
Thankfully, most ISPs have a list of recommended or compatible routers. You can find it on their support pages. Alternatively, if you have a couple of routers shortlisted, you can simply get in touch with the customer service of your ISP to verify whether your router is compatible or not.
2. Wi-Fi Standards (Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6)
Most routers feature Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 etched on their packaging. These are Wi-Fi Standards that have been defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Each standard supports different ranges and speeds. As for the naming convention, each protocol features the IEEE 802.11 designation, followed by a combination of letters, such as a/b/g/n.
To simplify things, each standard is individually given a name. You can check the list below to better understand each standard:
- 802.11b is called Wi-Fi 1
- 802.11a is called Wi-Fi 2
- 802.11g is called Wi-Fi 3
- 802.11n is called Wi-Fi 4
- 802.11ac is called Wi-Fi 5
- 802.11ax is called Wi-Fi 6
- 802.11be is called Wi-Fi 7
Each Wi-Fi standard differs in terms of its frequency band, maximum data transfer rate, and range. However, at the time of writing, you will find only two types of routers in the market, namely Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers. While Wi-Fi 7 is the latest version, it’s still in its infancy, and routers leveraging the latest standard aren’t quite as readily available.
When you compare Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6, the newer version, which is Wi-Fi 6, reigns supreme. Wi-Fi 6 can theoretically provide a maximum speed of up to 9.6 Gbps, while Wi-Fi 5 has a maximum speed of up to 3.5 Gbps. It can also support more devices at once, is more efficient, and is slightly better in terms of the overall range.
Ideally, if your budget allows, it’s always recommended to go for the latest router that supports the latest standard. However, you also need to ensure that the devices you wish to connect to your router support the same. If not, there’s no point in paying the extra premium. Instead, you can save a buck and opt for cheaper Wi-Fi 5 routers.
3. Maximum Speed
One of the first things to consider when choosing the right Wi-Fi router is its throughput. To that end, you will want a router that at least targets your ISP’s connection speed. It’s important to note that you won’t magically get faster download and upload speeds by swapping out a newer router. Your internet speed is always limited to the slowest point in the connection, which will be what your ISP provides.
To understand this better, suppose you have an Internet plan of 100Mbps. In such a scenario, an AC1200 router will easily suffice for you. There’s no need for you to spend extra on an AC5000 router unless you require more antennas for better coverage, or you wish to use your wireless network to transfer files locally over the network.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the peak speeds mentioned for a router are a combination of the various bands they use. For instance, an average AC1200 router that claims speeds of 1200Mbps doesn’t offer 1200Mbps across all bands. Instead, it’s most likely limited to 300 Mbps on the 2.4GHz channel, and 867 Mbps on the 5GHz channel. Collectively, it offers a total yield of 1200 Mbps.
4. Wi-Fi Bands – Dual-Band vs Tri-Band
Speaking of bands, you should know that there are three types of routers on the market, including single-band routers, which only operate on the 2.4GHz radio. Then there are dual-band routers, that support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Finally, we have the new tri-band routers, which come with support for 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz radio as well. These tri-band routers are mostly referred to as Wi-Fi 6E routers. For the most part, these are essentially the same as Wi-Fi 6 routers but offer the new 6GHz band as well.
In practice, both 5GHz and 6GHz frequencies have higher bandwidth and feature a much higher speed limit. On the flip side, having a higher frequency means that the signal loses more strength as it deals with walls, furniture, and other obstacles. Contrary to this, while the 2.4GHz band is mostly capped at 300Mbps
of peak speeds, it can easily penetrate walls and offers a superior range.
Right now, you’ll either get dual-band or tri-band routers. The biggest advantage of opting for a tri-band router is that since there aren’t a lot of other devices that operate on the 6GHz frequency, that radio has the least amount of noise. As a result, you get better speeds due to the lack of congestion. However, you need to ensure that your devices support the 6GHz connection as well.
For most folks, a dual-band router would suffice. However, if there is a lot of network congestion in your area, you would be better off opting for a tri-band router.
5. Single Router vs Mesh Router
It’s also important to factor in a Wi-Fi router’s overall range before purchasing the device. Of course, you get the best speeds when seated closest to the router, but you would still want your Wi-Fi connection to cover all corners of your house, right? As such, there are two options to choose from – a single router or a mesh router.
Every router manufacturer highlights their router’s coverage. Alternatively, you can always refer to reviews to get a number on the router’s realistic range. For a small apartment, a single router with multiple antennas should suffice. However, if you stay in a large apartment, a mesh router will serve you better.
A mesh router is a special kind of Wi-Fi router which uses more than one device to give you better internet coverage in your home or office. It works by having a main device connected to your modem, and then other smaller devices called “nodes”. These nodes are placed in different parts of your home or office to help spread the Wi-Fi signal. Each node talks to the other and the main device to ensure your Wi-Fi works well everywhere. As such, you shouldn’t have any areas in your house or office where your Wi-Fi connection is weak or doesn’t work at all.
If coverage is your main priority, a mesh router will always work better than a single router. However, the cost of a mesh router is significantly higher, and you’d have to spend extra for each node. Depending on your needs and your budget, you can choose between a single router or a mesh router.
Sure, Wi-Fi connectivity is great, and the latest standards offer blazing-fast speeds as well. With that being said, there are some devices that benefit from wired Ethernet connections tremendously. Be it to avoid noise, to get consistent speeds, or to have more reliable connectivity, wired connections are still the preferred choice for devices such as PCs, gaming consoles, or NAS drives.
As such, it’s important to factor in your router’s ethernet ports as well. For example, most mesh routers only feature a single LAN port. If you wish to add your gaming console to the network as well then, you will be out of LAN ports. In such a scenario, you can opt for ethernet switches that add more ethernet ports to your router.
Additionally, if you wish to add storage to your network via an external HDD or a NAS drive, you need to ensure that your router has USB ports as well.
7. Security Standards
Performance aside, buyers on the hunt for Wi-Fi routers should also look into other features, including the router’s security standards. Since anyone can discover your Wi-Fi connection, it is important to protect your privacy with the best security. To that end, security standards such as WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) are now outdated.
At the time of writing, the bare minimum in terms of security is WPA2. Even though it was introduced way back in 2004, it remains one of the most widely used Wi-Fi security standards, thanks to its use of AES encryption. However, the latest WPA3 standard is slowly gaining traction too. In fact, you’ll find it more commonly used across Wi-Fi 6 routers. That being said, there are a couple of Wi-Fi 5 routers that offer WPA3 protection as well.
Wi-Fi Jargon Simplified
Apart from all the factors prefaced above, routers come with some other unique features too. Some of these are quite useful albeit can scare prospective buyers away with their complex terminology. Here’s an easy guide that should help you with the same when you’re shortlisting a router.
What is MU-MIMO?
In traditional Wi-Fi networks, only one device can transmit data at a time, and multiple devices have to wait their turn, leading to slower data speeds. Modern Wi-Fi routers use MU-MIMO technology to improve the efficiency and speed of the wireless network. They create multiple streams of data by using multiple antennas and radio chains, which allows for simultaneous transmission of data to different devices. This allows a Wi-Fi router to transmit data to multiple devices at the same time, which results in faster data speeds and shorter wait times.
What is OFDMA?
OFDMA is used to improve a router’s data efficiency. It allows the router to send data to multiple devices at the same time, thereby reducing the wait times. This is done by dividing the Wi-Fi signal into smaller sub-signals called “tones.” Each tone can be allocated to a different device, enabling simultaneous data transmission.
What is Beam-Forming?
Beamforming is a router technology that focuses Wi-Fi signals directly on connected devices. It does this by using multiple antennas to pinpoint a device’s location. As a result, you get boosted signal strength, range, and speed of the Wi-Fi connection. It also helps reduce interference from other devices and obstacles like walls.
What is Quality of Service (QoS) on Wi-Fi Routers?
Many Wi-Fi routers have a feature called Quality of Service (QoS), which prioritizes certain types of internet traffic. For instance, if you are watching a movie, QoS ensures that streaming traffic gets priority over downloading traffic. As a result, your movie will continue to play smoothly. Similarly, there are set profiles or gaming, video calls, and more.
FAQs on How to Choose the Right Wi-Fi Router
There are several types of routers in networking, including wired routers, wireless routers, core routers, edge routers, virtual routers, distribution routers, and SOHO routers. Each type of router has a specific use case and feature set that make it suitable for different types of networks.
For the most part, your Internet speed will determine how quickly you can browse the interwebs. That said, a router can make or break the overall connectivity experience. A good router can improve your internet speed, provide better coverage, reduce network congestion, and offer advanced features such as parental controls, guest networks, and Quality of Service (QoS) settings. All this, while also working on the latest Wi-Fi Standards, and protecting your network against online threats as well.
There are several ways to test your router’s performance. The first thing that you can do is to use a speed test utility such as FAST or Speedtest by Ookla. You can also transfer a large file between devices connected to your router to check the speed and stability of your network. Finally, we recommend using a Wi-Fi Analyzer app to check the strength of your Wi-Fi connection in various sections of your home or office. This helps in identifying the range of your router, along with the dead zones in your network.
Make the Right Choice
At the end of the day, if you are wondering what to look for in a router, this Wi-Fi router buying guide should suffice for you. By considering factors like coverage area, frequency band, maximum data transfer rate, and security features, you can make an informed decision and select the right Wi-Fi router that meets your specific needs.
While the basic idea of newer is better holds true when buying a Wi-Fi router, you don’t necessarily need the latest technology. Make sure to figure out what devices you will be linking with your Wi-Fi connection. It’s always good to future-proof yourself, but only when it doesn’t exceed your budget.
Last updated on 10 April, 2023
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