Wireless Routers 101
When someone drops by your place, there’s a huge chance that they’ll ask if they can use your WiFi. That practice has become an inevitable norm. After all, people have become too dependent on the Internet. You might even go crazy if you get disconnected from the Internet.
With so many Internet-capable smart devices, it has become the standard for every household to get connected. And since almost everyone uses some form of device that connects wirelessly, it is a must to have a wireless router.
Do You Need A Wireless Router?
Of course, you do need one! One of the biggest reasons — as obvious as it might sound — is to connect wirelessly using your smart devices, which primarily means being capable of connecting to the Internet using your phone.
Why use a wireless one instead of the traditional switch or router? Is it a bad idea to use cables to connect? Not really. To be honest, it is much preferable to connect your computer to the Internet directly with an Ethernet cable. Connecting your computer through an Ethernet cable will offer you a much more stable connection with unnoticeable latency. It is also the most preferred type of connection if you plan to play online games.
On the other hand, why would you settle for old switches and routers when wireless routers also allow you to connect using an Ethernet cable?
Plus, if you are using a laptop, an Ethernet connection will be very inconvenient, especially if you use the Internet for things that do not require low latency connections such as regular web browsing.
The cable will only tether you near the modem or the router. Installation and/or extending the cable can be a pain — not to mention that it can be a bit expensive, too!
Determining Your Router Needs
People do not need a router all the time. This is especially true if you only have one device — usually a personal computer. With that kind of setup a modem and a short Ethernet cable would suffice.
You will also not need a wireless router if your ISP (Internet Service Provider) has already provided you with a Wireless Gateway. A Wireless Gateway is a modem combined with a wireless router (some do include other peripherals though). On a different note, if you have multiple computers which cannot connect wirelessly, then you can just settle for a regular router.
How Advanced a Network User Are You?
The market is filled with a lot of wireless routers. Just one manufacturer of these little devices sells multiple versions and models that basically do the same thing. And it can be quite confusing when the aggressive salesman talks his way, and try to make you buy the most expensive model — which might not really differ from the cheap ones, depending on your needs.
So, how can you choose the right router for you? The easiest way is to become more familiar with basic computer networking terms and learn about how wireless signals work and how devices connect to the Internet.
Still, if you just want to connect a few devices in your home, any regular wireless router can do the job. Price does not matter; the cheapest ones you’ll see in a tech store should be enough for you.
If you want to have full control of your Internet connection, like managing the bandwidth that your devices will receive from your Internet connection, it would be best for you to get a wireless router that offers QoS (Quality of Service) and familiarize yourself with that function/feature.
By the way, do note that most wireless routers come with the QoS feature. Most of them have interface options that can be difficult to comprehend if you do not have a background in networking. Some provide an easier interface, so you do not need to learn the technicalities of QoS rules just to manage the amount of bandwidth your devices will receive or have.
Types of WLAN (Dual Band or Single Band)
Wireless routers can be categorized into two types: single band and dual band. The latter has more powerful signals and is ideal for huge places with multiple users. Meanwhile, the former has weaker signals and is best for small dwellings and offices.
Single band wireless routers only operate on the 2.4 GHz band. On the other hand, dual band ones operate on two bands at the same time, namely 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz. Dual band models are much better than single band wireless routers. However, they still have a disadvantage — they are expensive.
If you are on a tight budget, only have one or two devices that connect wirelessly, and live or work in a small house or office respectively, then that is the only time that you will need a single band router. For those who have larger houses or work in a huge office, dual band wireless routers are necessary.
Why do bands matter? Here is a simple explanation.
Most wireless devices use the 2.4 GHz band, and if there are a lot of devices that send signals using that band at the same time, wireless traffic congestion will happen. The congestion will cause latency and delay, and it might result in frequent timeouts or intermittent Internet connection.
It means that the more devices using the 2.4 GHz band, the slower your Internet connection will be if you use a single band router. (Note that most wireless devices run on the 2.4 GHz band.)
However, before you get a dual band router and use the other band (5.0 GHz) to avoid wireless congestion, be sure to check if your devices are capable of connecting to that band.
Bandwidth of the Router
Wireless routers do not only provide a wireless connection. They also usually have ports so that you can connect to them using an Ethernet cable, as mentioned a while ago. Due to this, buying a wireless router is a wise decision and a smart investment — you can still connect to your router using the regular cable you have, and when you do decide to go wireless, then you can do not need to buy another router.
When you buy a router the bandwidth of the Wireless and Ethernet interfaces should be taken into consideration as it might affect your daily usage. If you connect your computers by Ethernet you don't really need to worry, but with WiFi you should consider a bit what your requirements might be.
Nowadays the minimum throughput on the Ethernet ports are 100 Mbps, but gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps) is quickly taking over as the standard, which is great as faster is better. Even though internet connections over 100 Mbps are not common, it is good to have gigabit Ethernet as it will allow for faster transfers of files between your home network computers.
This is such a broad topic that we've written another post explaining the different standards of WiFi and their throughput, pros and cons.
If you don't feel that you want to read through that post, a safe choice is to go for a router that is either "wireless N" (between 300-450Mbps) or an "Wireless ac" (up to 2GBps, most ranging between 400-900Mbps). The wireless AC routers will be a bit more expensive, but will also be more future proof.
Security Features on a Router
Security features on a router can be divided into two categories. The first category refers to its features that secure you against attacks from malicious entities from the Web. The second category refers to the router’s features to prevent unauthorized access to your Internet connection.
One of the most important security features included in the first category is DoS prevention. This feature prevents people from attacking your router or connection using Denial-of-Service techniques. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, DoS attacks can be performed by sending a computer or connection with a huge amount of data from single or multiple devices.
The data that the DoS attacks can generate will make your modem or computer waste bandwidth. And when the attacks get worse, it will come to a point that you will not have enough bandwidth to use anymore — leaving you incapable of using your Internet connection and with, possibly, an unresponsive computer.
Other security features in the first category are usually not that essential to regular people who use the Internet for personal stuff. The features in the second category are crucial to common Internet users, especially when there are a lot of people and applications that are capable of hijacking a wireless router and leeching off from an Internet connection.
A few of those security features are:
- Connection/Password Encryption
- MAC/IP Filtering
- WPS/WiFi Protected Setup
Here are some features that are included in the subset of the second category, which can allow you to limit the amount of Internet and content that wireless or wired Internet users, who are connected to your router, can access.
- Port Filtering
- URL Filtering
- ACL/Access Control List
- Parental Control
USB Ports or Not?
Modern wireless routers come with USB ports. A few might get confused about the function of these ports. Can you connect to your router using a USB cable?
Well, primarily, those USB ports’ main functionality is to allow all people connected to the router to gain access to a device connected to that USB port. A perfect example is a printer connected to the wireless router via a USB cable.
This is an extra function that some wireless router manufacturers offer to their users, which is not really noticed much. After all, most printers and other shareable computer peripherals can be connected to the wireless router via a wireless connection — while some can be connected through Ethernet.
Nonetheless, it can be a handy bonus. For example, you can connect your USB storage device to the wireless router for all the users to access it. Aside from storage devices, webcams, scanners, and even keyboards can be connected to the USB ports of those specialized wireless routers. Then again, if you will have to pay a hundred bucks more just to have that router with a USB port, then it is highly recommended that you do not take it.
Do you need a wireless router? The answer is yes. The Internet has become a vital part of everyone’s lives, and it would be really convenient if everyone could stay connected all the time.