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Choosing the Right Router for You

So, you've decided to buy a router. Good for you! Now, the question becomes muddled with technical jargon and all sorts of other terms that mean next to nothing to the average end-user. I will try to explain what much of this stuff means.

To start, you need to decide if you want a "wired" or "wireless" router. If have one or more computers and they will all be close enough to the router so that you expect to run network cables, then all you need is a wired router. However, if you have at least one computer in a location that is not so convenient for running a wire (such as a smartTV) and/or you want to be able to move one or more of the devices around (such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone), then a wireless router would be the better option for you. (A wireless router is actually a hybrid in that it has the capability to attach both computers connected by Ethernet cables and those that operate wirelessly.)

Now comes the gobbledygook of numbers and letters that I will explain. If you have decided that all you need is a wired router, then skip over this and the next four paragraphs. There are many different wireless standards about which you may have heard: Wireless-b, Wireless-g, Wireless-n, and so forth. They all refer to various methods of connecting machines together in a fairly short, enclosed environment such as a small office, computer lab, or home.

802.11b, also known as Wireless-b, was the first to be used in the home and is still available for implementation today but is slow by modern standards. It operates at only 11Mbps and has a very short effective range (typically around 50 to 70 feet within a home). Because of these limitations, it was easily superseded by its successors.

802.11g, also known as Wireless-g, came out not long after 802.11b as a vast improvement in both distance and speed. Wireless-g has a data speed of 54Mbps (or, in some circumstances, up to 130Mbps if using technology such as the SuperG line of products from D-Link). The range for it also increases to about 100 to 120 feet, depending on the building conditions such as how many pipes and/or electrical wires are running through the walls between the computer and the router.

802.11n, also known as Wireless-n, is the next advancement on 802.11g. It has speed capabilities up to 300Mbps and a range that, in practice, are about 150-200 feet. If you have a large house or have many walls between your computers and the router, then this is probably what you should elect to use.

All three of these standards are common in all wireless routers produced today, so no matter what type of device you have, any modern router will be able to connect to it with the exception being the oldest of devices that may not be able to speak the same encryption protocol (but that is a discussion for another article.).

Now, let's talk about 802.11ac, frequently referred to as either Wireless-ac or Archer. This is the most recent addition to the 802.11 family of wireless networking protocols. It is also what you will find most often mentioned by the various router models on the market. To confuse the typical end-user, the router will talk about all sorts of speeds from 450Mbps all the way up to 3Gbps (and beyond). Some may talk about beam-forming, dual-band technology, or other buzzwords. Each of these technologies expands the range of the network and the available speed of the connection to other devices within the home (read: even though you may have a 3Gbps router, it will not speed up your Internet connection of 30Mbps!) but the issue becomes whether your devices will handle these features. The best advice is to get a reasonably-priced router that will accomplish your needs with range being the most critical in this instance since just about any internal network speed will outpace the speed of the Internet connection.

To give you an idea of the effective broadcast range of an Archer router, it is not uncommon for an Archer router to be able to serve an entire small house (say, 1200-1500 square feet) with little to no problem. If the house is larger, beam-forming would definitely be helpful and, dare I say, advisable. A perfect case in point is a client who has a two-story home measuring about 4000 square feet total. He purchased a high-end Archer router with beam-forming technology and found that it was able to cover the entire house (both levels) without any dead spots. This replaced his previous router that required no fewer than three range extenders to accomplish the same task.

Now some people may be wondering what all this Mbps stuff is. Mbps stands for Megabits per second while Gbps is Gigabits per second. One megabit is equal to 128 kilobytes of information (about 20 average word processing documents). For comparison, one gigabit is equal to 128 megabytes. (For more explanation of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, and other such measures, please refer to the article Internet Terms Translated to English.) What matters to you, though, is that if you are hoping to speed up your Internet connection by getting a router (whether it be wired or wireless) it will do you no good unless you happen to live in an area serviced by Google Fiber or another similar product. You see, the issue is that even the fastest DSL service is typically under 10Mbps with the most common speed being 1.5Mbps. AT&T's U-Verse service, which is VDSL, is no faster than 45Mbps with 24Mbps being the fastest available in most service markets. In regard to cable modem service, the most common speeds are no fater than 30Mbps while the fastest are around 110Mbps. Thus, in most cases, you would still outpace your Internet service with any modern router, wired or wireless. (Wired routers nowadays most often run at 1Gbps, by the way.) Therefore, one should not be thinking about speeding up the Internet connection as a result of the router.

Once you buy a router, you need to secure it. To read about that, click here.