Whether you’re streaming cat videos, Snapchatting, browsing for recipes or connecting with old friends on Facebook, you’re using the Internet. Setting up your home for a frustration-free Internet experience can be a trying task. Patience is a virtue but no one enjoys waiting for that single page to load. We’ve come to expect a certain amount of speed and performance when it comes to our Internet experience and that’s okay.
Many people don’t know that routers play a great role in your browsing or streaming experience. As you likely know, routers are what connect to the Internet and provide WiFi to all your devices. Your router essentially serves as your gateway to the Internet. This means that it can make or break your browsing experience. Your router can cancel the benefits of the fastest Internet and the newest device.
“Your router can cancel the benefits of the fastest Internet and the newest device.”
We’re discussing four things you can look for when choosing a router so that you know what you’re getting and how it will affect your WiFi experience.
Single-Band vs. Dual-Band
You’ve likely heard the terms “single-band” and “dual-band” when it comes to routers but may not know what they mean. Wifi typically works on two signals, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Whatever device you’re using to access WiFi will have antenna for one or both frequencies.
A single-band router can only access the 2.4 GHz band. This band has a larger range but suffers in performance. However, it’s typically sufficient for browsing the Internet, email, downloading files, etc. If you’re going to be using your Internet for more than this, such as streaming video (Netflix, YouTube, etc.), cloud storage or gaming, you will want 5 GHz. A dual-band router will provide access to both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.
Another thing to look for is 802.11 standards. When it comes to WiFi, there are endless providers, devices and manufacturers out there. This requires a standard for how everything successfully communicates. 802.11 is that standard for WiFi.
You’ll likely see these numbers followed by some letters (a, b, g, n or ac). The letters represent the version of the standard. What do we know of versions? There are newer ones developed over time and the newer versions are improved versions. This means that a router operating on the 802.11ac standard will operate faster than one on the 802.11n standard. The 802.11n will be faster than the 802.11g and so on.
However, it’s important to note that choosing a router with the 802.11ac standard isn’t all you need to have fast WiFi. To understand what this means, let’s look at an analogy.
Have you ever seen a picture of a wagon or carriage being led by two horses? Imagine you’re choosing the horses to pull the carriage. You choose a young horse that’s in perfect condition, fast and full of stamina. For the second, you choose an old, slow horse, the grandpa of horses. For the carriage to be pulled successfully, the horses will need to travel at the same speed. Let’s imagine you want to go fast. It doesn’t matter how fast the young horse can go, the carriage will only be able to travel at the speed of the old horse. The speed and stamina of the young horse is wasted by being paired with the old horse. 802.11 standards are kind of like that.
Essentially, your technology needs to be evenly paired to get the greatest advantage. Therefore, if you have a new device with 802.11ac wireless working with an 802.11n router, your Internet speed will be limited only to the benefits of the 802.11n version. The 802.11ac will offer a better experience but if it’s paired with an 802.11n router, you’ll lose that experience. Likewise, if you purchase an 802.11ac router but you’re using a computer with an 802.11n wireless access, you won’t be utilizing the benefits of the router.
Another thing to consider is the router’s class. You’ll recognize this as a combination of uppercase letter(s) followed by three or four numbers. The letters tell you what 802.11 standard it is. For example, AC1200 would indicate that the router operates on the 802.11ac standard. N900 indicated the 802.11n standard.
So what do the numbers following mean? These numbers indicate the maximum link speed in megabits per second (Mbps). This will either indicate the speed of a single channel (as with single-band routers) or the combined link speeds of two channels (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, as with dual-band routers).
A router class of AC1900 indicates a higher maximum link speed than AC1750, for example. The class, therefore, is another indicator of the speed at which it can operate. Note that the speed of your Internet service provider (ISP) plays a large role in your experience. The router’s class simply indicated its speed capacity.
While a router’s function is to provide your home with WiFi access, it’s still limited by its range. The range of a router is the area in which it will provide WiFi access. Range can be impacted by how many antennae a router has (the more the better), the placement of the antennae (external is better than internal) or even the size of the antennae. It’s also affected by the frequencies it broadcasts on (2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz) and the number of frequencies (single-band vs. dual-band). And, no surprise, the standard it operates on plays a role as well (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac). This means that a class AC1900 router with four antennae will provide better range than a N900 router with two antennae.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the placement of the router in your home plays a role in the range of your WiFi. Placing it in a central area where it won’t be blocked by obstructions (such as brick walls or metal frames) will provide better range.
For those who aren’t tech-savvy individuals but love the Internet, choosing a router can be frustrating and we covered a lot of information in this article. To make things easier, here are a few key takeaways to help you on your search.
The following features will indicate a router has high-performance potential:
- A higher class number (AC3200 vs. AC1300, for example)
- Several external antennae
Don’t forget that a router is only as good as the Internet and devices it’s working with. Happy searching!