In today’s guide, we will be covering everything that you need to know and might ever possibly want to know about wireless routers.
Because we use them on a daily basis, but few of us really know how they work and all the related tips and tricks.
If you work, shop or browse regularly online this guide can help you understand how to get a better experience on the internet no matter what device you’re using.
What Is A Wireless Router?
A Wireless Router is a type of router which allows you to join two or more networks together.
The most common use of network connection is connecting to the Internet (a network).
Other common uses include connecting to a Private Computer Network or Local Area Network.
The primary difference between a wireless router vs a router is that the wireless router is free of cables or “wires”. We interface with a router via wireless adapters and similar mechanisms.
Today most people refer to wireless routers as routers… although they are two different things. However, since wires are disappearing for the most part, I guess it’s not that wrong.
Benefits Of Wireless Routers
The main advantages of using wireless routers include:
- Unique IP Address for Every Device connected to the router
- Wi-Fi Access for Wireless Devices
- Access to The Internet Anywhere within Signal Range
Sip or Gulp: Types of Wireless Routers
There are two types of wireless routers which are referred to as Sip and Gulp. We’re going to talk about them in depth below.
A router is called a sipper when it provides the best performance over a small-medium range.
If you have a small apartment or smaller home a sip router is ideal. However, they don’t offer a wide coverage, so you might need either a signal amplifier or getting another router.
A gulper provides a lot more throughput and a stronger signal.
These are ideal for long-range needs. So if you have a larger home this is exactly what you’ll be needing. These are usually more expensive, though.
How Does A Wireless Router Work?
A wireless router works via connecting itself to a phone line or splitter in your phone line which is connected to your nearest internet hub.
This hub is then fitted with certain technology that dictates what kind of speeds you’re able to receive.
Once connected it will start receiving IP packets from your ISPs Network.
Each routing device has certain components which allow them to connect networks together.
A wireless router allows multiple concurrent connections via wi-fi as opposed to physical or wired routers which have two or more NICs (Network Cards) which define how many connections are available.
Wi-fi allows you to connect to your router via frequencies or frequency bands. Sometimes called wireless bands.
Your wireless router will connect to these bands and transmit your data through the frequency you’ve connected to.
Dual-band and tri-band wireless routers operate with the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands either concurrently or based on the needs of the connected device.
What Is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is a facility which allows one or more devices to connect to the internet & communicate with each other in a wireless network, within a specific area.
Many people believe Wi-Fi has a meaning or that it is an acronym for “wireless fidelity”, which is an urban myth.
Actually, it is a trademarked term used to describe the method of how devices interact with a network in order to communicate with each other / connect to the internet.
Types Of Wireless Bands:
Today we use two wireless band frequencies;
The best wireless routers will typically offer dual-band connectivity to allow your device to specify which band is best suited for it.
Each band is used to connect various devices through. The most recent standard offers dual 5Ghz connections, and a single 2.4. These are called tri-band routers.
Tri-Band routers allow you to connect more devices to individual bands which increases the bandwidth or measurable speed of each device’s connection.
In other words, a 5Ghz router will allow for greater speeds than the 2.4 Ghz ones.
Single-Band vs Dual-Band vs Tri-Band Wi-Fi Routers. What’s the Difference?
One thing that these three types of bands have in common is they are only able to use the 2.4Ghz or 5.0Ghz frequency, or both.
The single-band is limited to only a single frequency band.
These routers aren’t as popular today, but most often carry compatibility for only the 2.4 frequency. If you have an older router model, most likely it is only 2.4.
The dual-band allows you to use either the 2.4 or 5Ghz band frequency.
When introduced, the dual-band was revolutionary for routers and to this day it’s still the most common kind of router.
Not only does allowing both frequencies improve speeds, but operating with two bands also means double the bandwidth.
Tri-Band is still relatively new, typically supporting a single 2.4Ghz band and x2 5Ghz frequency bands.
The main pro of these kinds of routers is that if all else is equal you’ll be able to make use of 3x the bandwidth as you would when compared with a single-band router.
Using the 2.4 and 5Ghz Bands
Many people ask if you can use 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz at the same time.
The short answer is yes because your router is allowing both of those bands to be in use. Or all three in the cases where you have a tri-band based router.
The catch is that any single device can only be connected to a single frequency band at a single time.
Not all devices support 5Ghz so many will default to 2.4Ghz.
However, having the extra 5Ghz band means your newer devices can make use of it without bandwidth becoming limited due to older devices.
At the same time, if you have multiple devices, you can have some connected to the 5Ghz band, while others are connected to the 2.4Ghz. It all depends on what connections your devices support – but fortunately, your router allows for them all.
What Is The Difference Between Wireless 2.4G and 5G?
The major difference between these two wireless bands is not actually the speed, but the interference and number of non-overlapping channels.
2.4Ghz has a much wider band frequency meaning it picks up more interference which can weaken the signal and reduce the amount of data that can be sent in a timely manner.
With 5.0GHz you have a much smaller band frequency which is more accurate.
5Ghz is better in short range areas as you might expect, while 2.4 works better in larger houses or homes with significantly thicker walls.
One reason the 5Ghz is so desirable is with all factors taken into consideration it can provide significantly more throughput which is why it is faster.
These are the main differences between the two that you should know about, but for further reading please see this linksys article.
What About Range?
The range of 2.4Ghz has been known to be able to span many miles in the right circumstances. While the signal of 5.0 can in the right circumstances extend well beyond a poorly implemented 2.4.
Range depends on several external factors such as physical obstructions, transmission output, antenna/aerial effectiveness and much more.
Most figures on the web about range are merely estimates or that persons own experience based on their own unique situation.
So it’s almost impossible to give an accurate figure for the precise range you’ll be able to operate your Wi-Fi within on either frequency.
What you can do is make sure that whatever router you purchase is a quality product and this will in most situations allow you to increase the range vs a cheaper product with a less effective design.
Wireless Networking Standards
Some of you might be wondering why every so often your Internet Provider will want to send you (or sell you) a new router.
This is because of the Wireless Networking Standards.
Older routers may be out of date. These Wireless Standards deal with the technology that is behind your Wi-Fi. Newer tech allows faster and better connections.
If you’ve been very unlucky to own an extremely old router and a new device your network connection throughput will be throttled by the speed of the slower device or the router.
Not all devices provide backward compatibility, and the same goes for routers. However, most good routers and devices do offer backward compatibility.
Improving network standards is important, but the odds of all your devices being able to make use of the newest standard is statistically unlikely.
Any network is only as strong as the weakest link. However, the latest wifi technologies defined by these standards will likely give you massive improvements for some of your devices, as well as future-proofing your home.
Current Wi-Fi Technologies:
Today there are three commonly used wi-fi technologies in the United States and throughout the world:
802.11ac is a huge improvement over previous standards. Offering speeds 2.5x faster than 802.11n, which is faster than the previous 802.11g.
IEEE 802.11ac is the current standard released in 2013.
Offering backward compatibility with 802.11b/g/n it makes upgrading seamless.
It was the first standard to allow wireless connections to truly rival that of wired connections. It boasts an impressive signal range compared to its predecessors.
Two of the big changes with 802.11ac happen to be very significant…
First of all 2.4Ghz support was removed meaning both frequency bands operate on 5Ghz which offers significantly higher speeds.
The second change was the support of MU-MIMO or “Multi-User MIMO”. This allows more connections to your network without losing speed of data transfer. With IEEE 802.11n we saw a single MIMO which means you would often see two aerials or antennas. With MU-MIMO you will often see 4.
Not all 802.11ac routers offer Multi-User MIMO so check to make sure if you’re looking to buy one for this reason.
When you compare the 802.11ac vs 802.11n or 802.11g, the 802.11ac wins in every single category.
IEEE 802.11n is still a popular choice and far more people are using it than you’d think as it was only released in 2009.
This standard introduced the wide-spread adoption of aerials on routers in order to increase the overall bandwidth they could handle across the dual-band setup.
While this tech, known as Wi-Fi 4, is still fine in certain countries such as the United Kingdom where the internet download speeds rarely exceed 80Mbps it is extremely slow for most countries today which is why it was followed shortly after by the 802.11ac.
There are still people out there who are using the IEEE 802.11g.
Most of the time this happens due to how long router technology can actually last.
If something isn’t broken most people don’t tend to go out and replace it.
802.11g was the last standard to be built on SU-MIMO or Single User MIMO. If you’re still using an 802.11g it’s probably a significant reason why you can’t get faster internet speeds especially if you have a lot of devices in your home.
These single-user routers would split your internet speed for every device in your house. Each device waiting until previous devices requests had sent and received packets.
If your internet is significantly slower between 6-9PM when everyone else is at home there’s a good chance you may have an 802.11g
Buying The Best Wireless Router
Let’s face it, routers are quite often overlooked as part of a good tech setup. But they are very important and you have to look at a few factors before making a purchase.
Let’s check out below all the things you have to pay attention to when buying a router!
Whether you’re buying an expensive router or a budget one you need to make sure that it’s going to be reliable.
This means looking at reviews and of course the brands themselves. Some good brands include Netgear, Linksys, Tp-Link and ASUS.
Other good brands are out there such as Belkin so just do your research or go for something trusted.
If you go with an 802.11ac which there’s no reason not to due to the budget options available you’ll be set to get incredible speeds.
Some cheaper models can struggle with this, so make sure that if you’re paying a lower price it’s because you’re sacrificing features not quality.
Regardless of the advertised speeds on your router, one thing you do need to know is that when your router is communicating with another device; the maximum speed you will get is the speed supported by the slowest device. So an older device will only run at its max speed, not the max speed of the router.
While prices of routers can vary massively it’s safe to say that nobody wants to spend a fortune on something that will be outdated next year.
It’s a good time to look for something that’s reasonably priced as a lot of the higher priced models aren’t going to be a huge improvement on the cheaper alternatives.
If you’re set on improving your browsing, gaming and streaming speeds today you’re going to want to look for an 11ac that offers MU-MIMO.
If you have a large house just check that buying a new router that’s based on 5Ghz isn’t going to cause signal issues. One way around this is to get a good signal booster which can extend the range of your signal.
Here’s my final tip for buying a wireless router…
Ultimately what you want is something that can offer you better speeds than whatever you’re using right now which is going to be the .11n or .11g’s if you don’t already have 802.11ac.
If you have a standard router sent from your internet service provider, odds are you do need to upgrade to get the best speeds.
Hopefully our wireless routers guide has helped you learn a thing or two and it will make purchasing your next router a lot easier.