Why is it so difficult to find the right kind of router for your home or office? Those who don’t know much about routers other than the fact they support high-speed Internet connection compromise on both quality and performance.
If you’re looking for something powerful, efficient, and stable for long-term use, you need an upgraded router. There are certain things you need to be aware of before choosing and purchasing a router. (1)
These factors spell out the difference between a bad and a good router. It doesn’t matter whether you’re setting up a brand-new home network or replacing an existing router.
1. The Different Types Of Routers
In simple words, a router is something that connects to a whole new gateway of networks. It is responsible for the correct flowing of data networks to the Internet and multiple devices connected.
The main 2 types of routers are wireless and wired routers.
Wired routers: A wired router functions as a standard router, but without wireless connectivity. They are box-shaped devices that connect to any device via a wire. Nothing about a wired router is without material contact. Wired routers come with Ethernet ports that offer speedier transmission connection. You might also like to know that wired router connection via Ethernet ports is much faster than wireless connection.
So opting for a wired router, especially when you want faster performance is a safer option for many users. Some say it’s budget-friendly and easy to set-up as well.
Wireless routers: A wireless router requires no “hard-line” connection between the router and connected devices for seamless Internet connection. A wireless router comes a cable modem that’s connected to the Internet via a cable. The antenna transmits wireless connection to multiple devices.
Wireless routers are fairly complex when compared with wired routers. This is because they establish certain area networks such as a wireless local area network, or WLAN. This protects your wireless connection for better Internet access and control.
Virtual routers: A virtual router is unlike a wired or wireless router. It functions and exists as an abstract object that links different networks together. It can act as a default router to link one sharing network with another. A virtual router uses the Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol, which acts as a secure, stable, and efficient protocol to avoid network errors or failures. (2)
2. Finding The Correct Speed Rating
Routers come with megabits per second, or Mbps. This measures the optimal speed and transmission performance of a router. The first few routers on the market offered 11 Mbps speed ratings and soon after this increased to 54 Mbps, 150 Mbps, 600 Mbps, and so on. Some routers also offer up to 1000 Mbps, which is 1 Gbps of speed.
The best way to distinguish the fastest connected is looking for routers with “802.11”. For example, research suggests that 802.11g routers offer up to 54 Mbps, 802.11n routers offer 150 to 600 Mbps, and 802.11ac routers offer up to 1Gbps. (3,4)
It’s not always advisable to aim for higher Mbps speed rating. It is possible that you can achieve better performance and seamless connection with minimum speed rating than you would in a more powerful router. But this depends on your home network package.
However, due to growing market demand, there are high-speed routers that increase Internet network speed for faster downloading and transfers. If that’s something you would prefer offer typical routers, opting for higher speeds isn’t a bad idea. A faster router that boosts and stabilizes your network comes with an extra cost.
Outlining your budget for high-speed Internet connection is the first thing you need to factor in when considering speed rating. Without it, what you’re buying may not be worth the extra cost. Other important signs that you need a high-speed router is the amount of space you need to cover and the number of devices connected to the router. (5)
3. Single or Dual Band – Which Do You Need?
You need to know how a router communicates with your network via a single or a dual-band connectivity. Some router models are only compatible with single radio band connectivity while some with two. (6)
Typically, single-band routers harness 2.4GHz frequency, which are the least expensive models to get on the market. They’re fairly basic so using them for versatile wireless connections can be a bit of a problem. For purposes like Web surfing, general downloading, and social media browsing, a single-band router would work.
Dual-band routers are good for high-end streaming and online gaming. One band connects to 2.4GHz frequency while the other to 5 GHz frequency, giving you faster internet speed and seamless media transfers. Using a 5GHz frequency band means less congestion and disruption in connection than usual. It’s more advanced, accurate, and speedier than 2.4 GHz.
That said, choosing a single or dual-band router is simple. If you have only a few devices to connect to and you’re living in an area with good network coverage, you need a single-band router.
But if you’re living in a crowded and dense neighborhood and require faster internet connection, you need a dual-band router.
The best part about using a dual-band router is that it allows you to configure various clients and applications on it. This helps ease the pressure off of the network, on both the bands.
If you reach a point where even a dual-band router isn’t enough, there are plenty of powerful tri-band routers on the market. These have a single 2.4 GHz frequency band and two 5 GHz frequency bands, giving you twice the efficiency and speed.
4. How Many WLAN Ports Does It Have?
You need WLAN ports or access points for better wireless performance and connectivity. It helps you connect to multiple devices while maintaining a seamless broadband network. The most convenient path to buying a router is opting for various WLAN AP technologies.
This offers access to multiple networks, both wired and wireless for easy streaming. A standard WLAN router consists of 4 Ethernet ports, an 802.11 access point, and a single parallel port for connecting devices such as printers.
This allows wireless users to have the same network access as wired users. While the use of wireless routers is growing, more and more are opting for alternative Ethernet cable support for versatile network access.
This factor also includes USB ports which is necessary for upgraded performance. You can connect your router to a USB-enabled device such as a printer, flash drive, etc. for better media transfers. And if your print has a built-in Wi-Fi server, connecting it to the internet is probably a good idea.
The ability to physically plug-in your USB drive into the port will allow better connectivity and support. Generally, routers come with USB 3.0 ports for super-fast and seamless connection.
Make sure your router has Ethernet LAN ports along with USB 3.0 port connectivity. This will help you access the network through a central location to any device, mobile, printer, or flash drive. (7,8)
5. Considering Wi-Fi Range
A router has the ability to offer the top speed of your local Internet connection. So finding the fastest wireless or wired router without understanding its Wi-Fi range is unacceptable. There are many important factors involved in determining a router’s range. This includes how its hardware is built, the strength of the Wi-Fi range, and its speed settings.
Your router’s maximum range lays down the actual distance of your signal strength. So you’ll know how far you can get from your router and still receive seamless internet connection. If you live in a larger room, using a strong signal router with a far-reaching router range is ideal.
Over the past few years, routers have gone through impressive technological advancements. The antenna strength of any router, and its material dictate how well your router performs, for both wireless and wired connections.
An expensive router is able to offer at least 150 feet of indoor and 300 feet of outdoor internet connection. This also depends on the number of obstacles in the way, such as walls, cabinets, doors, etc.
Before finalizing your purchase, considering the router range is very important. You can help increase its router range by increasing the number of antennas on the router, if it allows. You can also replace the antennas on particular routers to upgrade to an even higher router range. It’s all a matter of personal choice and convenience.
There are ways to boost your Wi-Fi range with your old router.
6. Fixing Up A Budget
At the end of it all, you will buy a router based on its overall performance and quality. If your router is easy to set up, has a great Wi-Fi range, and comes with consistent and seamless speeds, investing a higher amount is not a bad idea.
According to my research, a single-band router with 802.11n configuration costs about $25 to $100. While a dual-band router can go above $200 margin. If you’re willing to invest in a tri-band router for faster performance, you should be willing to invest more than $300 for high-quality and stability.
Since recent times, modern routers that cost above $300, whether single, dual, or tri-band, offer incredible range and speed. You can buy a solid and durable router with feature-backed performance at a higher price based on what you prefer using.
A router that falls outside of your budget, but with extensive features, is a good bet if you live in a larger area.
On the other hand, many router manufacturers offer negotiable prices from the actual retail price. Such discounts and rebates are only possible if you want essential features to fall back on. Like any other purchase, routers come in revisions to offer all the features you want for better performance and usability.
Setting a straight budget and sticking to it can eliminate defects. Once you compare different prices of 2-3 routers, you’re more likely to find a good value product in lesser time.
7. Router Security Is Important
Opting for backed-up router security can eliminate threats and hacks. You can also avoid getting exposed to the wrong kind of information on the web with a decent firewall and firmware.
To have full control over your router, you need to make sure it has advanced firmware in it. This includes a decent firewall and any other additional security feature that allows better navigation and access for your router.
If you’re a first-time user, you may require additional firmware installations for your router to give you better internet access, including guest network access. Any third-party advanced firmware like a DD-WRT security configuration can help avoid mishaps when you’re connected.
If you have children surfing the internet, it’s more than important than ever to have your router secure and away from inappropriate information. Some modern routers come with parental controls that allow you fix time slots for your children. While guest network access allows a secure Wi-Fi password that’s different from your primary Wi-Fi access.
Another way to ensure router security is to opt for WPA2 encryption. WPA2 encryption is the most recent and trusted security configuration a router can support. Look for the label “AC” on your router to know that it supports WPA2 encryption for 100% security.
In case you finalize a router without WPA2 encryption, you can contact customer service to enquire about the router’s current security firmware. If it’s WEP or WPA, both are outdated security versions that need to be avoided completely.
8. Do You Need A Guest Router Network?
Want to secure your home network? Buying a secure router with WPA2 encryption for your home isn’t enough, especially when you have guests over. Your router is the only device that connects to multiple devices, including your phone, laptop, tablet, etc. So it is a potential hacker’s paradise, unless it’s secure.
Keeping your router protected with guest network access and a strong password can go a long way. Guest wireless network lets visitors use a completely isolated network, and not your home network. This reduces risk of malware threats, which is most likely considering your visitors or friends aren’t hackers.
There are many benefits of having two networks in your home, this includes the primary network that you and your family members are connected to and the guest router network. You can set standard protocols on the guest router network such as limiting the bandwidth, illegal downloading, etc.
It’s important to maintain a fair guest network password. Unless you want outsiders to use your guest wireless network, keeping an easy password is ideal. (12)
Some modern routers come with network monitoring tools that offer added protection against potential threats and hacks. This is only when you have complete trust in your visitors. What a network monitoring tool does is it goes password-free, keeping guest network access completely open and seamless. So you neighbors can use the internet as well.
9. Checking For Parental Controls
Having parental controls is the only way to ensure your kids feel safe while surfing the web. Parental controls block any potential threat which includes websites, ads, and videos that have harmful and inappropriate content. (13)
Modern routers come with advanced settings that manage what your child sees online. Plus, parental controls are very easy to set up. It can be installed on your laptop, phone, tablet, gaming console, and even to your home’s broadband connection.
If your router offers immediate and precise parental controls, it means:
- You can fix a set time slot for your child to surf the web
- Restrict any sort of illegal downloading, especially the apps they’re too young to use
- Manage the type of websites and content they browse for without supervision.
Parental controls are necessary not only for security, but also for positive awareness. According to recent study, introducing considerate parental controls for your child can improve productivity, promote less digital screen time, and enhance cognitive and behavioral performance of the child. (14)
You can block all kinds of websites with malicious content and also impose restrictions so that your child spends his or her time constructively on the web. Blocking inappropriate website access keeps malware attacks well and away when you’re not around. This means your child won’t accidently click on an insecure link which might lead to illegal software hacking and spams.
10. How Long Will It Last?
The true life span of any router depends on lots of factors. The most important of them all is how well you maintain it on a daily basis. If the router is active 24 hours a day, it needs to be kept away from kids, pets, and dust.
Any kind of hardware, when put through a lot of stress can damage easily. This has a negative effect on its hardware, antenna quality, and network performance. As mentioned above, your router is the only device connecting multiple devices together, including your laptop, TV, gaming console, and mobile devices.
The amount of devices connected at once to the router can further determine its durability and usage. Some modern routers allow smart thermostat, lights, and home system configuration. So buying a durable router for a smart home is essential.
If you’ve been using a standard, single-band router for many devices and are finding it difficult to maintain it, it may be that your router needs an upgraded firmware. That’s precisely when you should buy a new, upgraded router, preferably a dual or tri-band router, to connect to multiple devices. It also helps future-proofing all your connected devices when you’re not around. (15)
Here’s how you can increase your router’s shelf life by looking out for common router problems.
11. Looking For The Right Network Router Warranty
Buying a router for the first time is difficult. And one of the things that makes it difficult is finding the right network router warranty. Most router manufacturers offer a solid warranty package along with their device. But which is the right warranty for you? That’s a tough nut to crack.
Warranties come with both length and term of approval in the product’s design and performance. Some brands offer warranty on only hardware components while some offer on performance stability.
Finding a suitable warranty for you means looking for a high-quality product that can handle the constant wear and tear. The router is something that runs 24/7, so it’s important to find something that runs consistently and efficiently to provide seamless connection.
The price of a router also comes into play when determining the right kind of network router warranty. You won’t find a super high-end router at an average price with a low warranty. In this case, it’s always what you pay for, especially for expensive routers.
If you want future-proofing, finding a top-of-the-range router with an extended network warranty is a good idea. The router is less susceptible to damage, its networking hardware is tough, and it has the ability to future proof your home or office network for longer.
Now that’s a deal well done, if you ask me!
12. Choosing The Right Customer Service
Buying a router from a physical store and buying one online can make a huge impact on your purchase. The factor that comes into play here is the customer service department. You need to be able provide your feedback of the router and disclose more information to the tech department, especially if there’s a complaint.
Like any other large purchase, your router is most likely to give you troubles due to poor connection and bad weather. So to know what’s happening in the area, contacting customer service is important.
Consumers can’t always walk in a physical store where they purchased their router for help. If you want to know more about your router’s performance, customer service helps fulfill that request.
With the right customer service, you can ask them for additional discounts, return rate, and other information about your router. If you’re purchasing a router online, you can either email or phone the customer care service to inquire more about the router, its latest features, and performance.
It also helps when you consider searching for the same router model you bought online, at a lower price, in a physical store to inquire about its performance and usability first-hand. Doing these things can really affect the way you use your route. It also helps because you get to know how a router works.
13. Don’t Forget Quality of Service
Quality of Service, or QoS, is traffic control or media prioritization. If you desire to have better control over your computer and router settings, it helps to look for QoS on the router. With it, you can experiment with your computer network settings, allowing more flexibility over router performance.
Let’s say you want to make the most of your router for streaming movies online and making Skype calls. You can manage bandwidth settings on your computer by allowing higher bandwidth for those stated applications only.
If you have multiple devices on, at the same time, this will eliminate buffering and lagging while you stream videos online. You might appreciate this kind of flexibility when someone is using your network to download a file.
Modern routers come with precise media prioritization and traffic control for what you want to do. You can prioritize gaming, streaming music, downloading large files, or making Skype calls almost immediately with your laptop or computer settings.
14. What’s Your Internet Speed?
Managing your network’s internet speed isn’t easy. There is a lot you need to know before you finalize the right router for fast internet speeds. This includes the ceiling speed, advertised, and real-world speeds.
Ceiling speed: In simple words, the ceiling speed of a router is the theoretical speed of the connection. It is unaffected by factors that might influence the connection’s data rate.
So if your router’s ceiling speed is 1,000 megabits per second, it means it can transfer data faster in lesser time. But the distance, signal loss, and device compatibility can potentially affect the data rate. When you isolate the real-world speed of a router with these factors, it brings the actual ceiling speed of the router.
Advertised speed: The advertised speed of your router is a marketing scheme. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not to fool you into buying a specific router. But it’s not the speed you need to trust when buying one.
The advertised speed is inaccurate when it comes to using wireless connection over multiple devices. Relying on a device’s advertised speed is inaccurate, but you might be able to differentiate between a router’s ceiling speed and real-world speed to know more about your router’s performance.
Real-world speed: The real-world speed of a router is always lower than both the ceiling and advertised speed. And that’s the mark of a good, valuable router. Research suggests that a router’s real-world speed is always between third and a half of its ceiling speed. (18)
15. How Many Devices Can The Router Support?
Knowing how many devices your router can support, at one time, is important. Most modern routers support up to 30 concurrent clients, or devices, at once. This is for ‘N’ routers that cost less than most routers on the market.
Moving forward, ‘AC’ routers offer at least 100 concurrent clients’ support at once. For a home network, buying a router that supports 30 devices is ideal. However, if you throw parties at your home, getting a high-end router that supports 100 clients is more suitable.
This will give you better accessibility, software support, and security against potential threats.
Before you head out to buy a router, it helps to write down all the devices your future router would support. This will help you determine the router’s size and bandwidth features in a jiffy. Plus, you should also consider the network compatibility on each device. For example, printers come with stronger network compatibility settings, so they might take more bandwidth than any other mobile device. (19)
On the other hand, buying a router for gaming, downloading, or online streaming requires more network connection than transferring data files across different channels.
At the end of it all, you need to love the router you’re with. Factors such as router limitations, security, parental controls, and speed play a major role in choosing the best router for you.
You can now buy a router that’s good for your small apartment with higher bandwidth needs, your office, or for your enormous house with many dead spots. Finding the right router that offers seamless wireless or wired network is easy when you know what to look for. Otherwise, your investment goes to waste.
A router might be a hefty investment, for long-term performance, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount for a good router. There are many valuable routers that cost less and offer incredible support.
Low-cost routers also offer the latest technology, which works for home networks at a fast data range. However, for larger homes and offices, finding cutting edge models that run with the pack is a good way to go.
On an ending note, selecting a good router brand you can trust in depends on lots of factors. You must consider solid warranty and an efficient customer service to find your best router. Plus, you need to make sure all your devices are thoroughly compatible with your new router network.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.