Buying Guide: Wireless Router
Today, the use of wireless routers for connecting to internet is common across many households. However, making an effective and a trouble-free usage of a wireless router does require one to have some amount of knowledge regarding the technology that runs this device. Also, having background knowledge of router and its technology is preferable when you are planning to buy one. So, read on as we try and understand this exceptionally useful networking device so that we are able to make a well-informed and intelligent choice when buying a wireless router.
Understanding a wireless router
Different from the wired router types, a wireless router is a networking device that acts as both a router and a wireless access point. It is commonly used to access a computer network or the Internet without the need for a cable connection. Furthermore, a wireless router also features several local area network (LAN) ports, and can be used to connect a wired computer network. As such, a wireless router is a very versatile device and can function in a wired LAN, a wireless LAN, or a mixed wired/wireless network. Moreover, a wireless router can also be used to connect a wireless LAN to a wide area network (WAN). The primary advantage that a wireless router provides is freedom of movement; you are no longer constrained by wires when it comes to the setting up of your devices. Furthermore, a wireless router makes perfect sense in small spaces, for wiring clutter is more visible in such locations. A wireless router also makes sense in a small office or a home office, for it gives you high-speed connectivity sans any wireless clutter or any movement constraints. This also ensures that you have more room for other more essential devices. What’s more, a wireless router can also act as the hub for other wireless computing peripherals such as printers.
The market for wireless routers has matured to a rather great extent, with various manufacturers (e.g. Linksys) offering highly competitive products throughout the price range. Nevertheless, almost all routers (other than some highly-specific outlying routing devices) do feature some common hardware features: at least one LAN port (that can be used to connect to a network device, a network, or the Internet using an Ethernet cable), at least one WAN port (that can be used to connect to a wider area network, and that can be used to filter the routing functions; furthermore, the WAN port allows easy file sharing and transfers for it allows you to connect your entire office network to your broadband connection), and at least one wireless antenna (that sends/receives the signal to/from other wireless devices). In addition, almost all wireless routers include DHCP servers that automatically assign IP (Internet Protocol) addresses to each computing device on your network. Some routers even provide additional features such as firewalls, signal filtering, and even integrated cable modems, thus eliminating the need for a separate external cable modem.
Before we go into the details of the criteria you ought to consider before buying a wireless router, we will clarify the various wireless standards (or protocols) currently existent in the marketplace. Though, conventional logic will dictate that you go in for a wireless router following the latest wireless standard, things are not as easy as they seem. It is not necessary that the latest standard is the best and most suited to your needs. All standards have their own plus points and minus points, and it is recommended that you understand these carefully before making a purchase.
First, we look at the 802.11a wireless connectivity standard. The 802.11a wireless connectivity standard is among the lesser popular ones and operates over the not-so-popular 5 GHz band. While this operation frequency band ensures that there is no risk of external interference or disturbance, the number of compatible devices is significantly reduced for the 802.11a standard devices are not compatible with hardware that operates on the more standard 2.4 GHz band. While boasting of real-world data speeds of approximately 22 Mbps (56 Mbps in theory), the 802.11a standard suffers from very limited operational range, usually around 100 feet. Furthermore, 802.11a standard devices also consume much more power as compared to other devices.
Second, we look at the 802.11b wireless connectivity standard. The 802.11a wireless connectivity standard was at one time the most popular wireless network standard. This was largely due to two factors: the 2.4 GHz operation frequency band (that ensures compatibility with a wide range of devices) and inexpensive hardware. The main drawbacks of the 802.11b wireless connectivity standard are the interference that can be expected (because of the 2.4 GHz operation frequency band) and the very low slow real-world data speeds of approximately 5 Mbps. In addition, the 802.11b wireless connectivity standard has a somewhat-less transmission range of 150 feet; however, 802.11b standard devices consume much less power as compared to 802.11a standard devices.
Third, we talk about the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard, one of the most popular wireless connectivity standards in the world. Though the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard operates on the 2.4 GHz band and thus offers compatibility with a wide range of devices, it suffers from the same problem of interference that plagues 802.11b standard devices. Furthermore, the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard has the same transmission range (as the 802.11b standard) of 150 feet; the 802.11g standard devices, too, consume less power as compared to 802.11a standard devices. The main advantage of the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard is that it provides rather noteworthy real-world data speeds of approximately 22 Mbps (56 Mbps in theory); also, the 802.11g standard devices are inexpensive. Lastly, the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard is backward compatible with the 802.11b wireless connectivity standard, and also supports Wi-Fi hotspot access.
Fourth (and last), we discuss the 802.11n wireless connectivity standard, the latest wireless connectivity standard. The 802.11n wireless connectivity standard is much like the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard except for one crucial improvement: the 802.11n wireless connectivity standard makes use of multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology that uses multiple input and output signals to send/receive data that not only increases throughput and but also reduces bit error rates. This yields faster transfers and minimal signal degradation. The use of MIMO technology also minimizes the risk of interference from other wireless devices. As such, the 802.11n wireless connectivity standard offers the best in wireless connectivity and will pretty soon be the dominant standard in the market, and it is highly recommended that you go in for an 802.11 wireless router. Note, however, that the 802.11n wireless connectivity standard is not backward compatible with the 802.11g wireless connectivity standard.
Once you have decided upon the wireless standard most apt or your set-up, the following are the items that merit your attention:
- 1. Price: Needless to say, the more fancy the router and the more the bells and whistles it comes equipped with, the higher the price. Here, it is essential that you determine what exactly you need from your modem. Do you want the latest in wireless connectivity? Do you want to go in for a router that comes with the maximum number of goodies? Or are you looking for a value-for-money product that offers decent connectivity.
- 2. Built-in cable modem: It is also important to check if the wireless router that you have selected comes with a built-in cable modem. Most wired internet connections today still rely on cable technology, and if yours is one such connection, having a built-in cable modem implies that you will not need a separate external cable modem. The space thus saved can be put to better and more deserving use.
- 3. Traffic filtering: It is necessary that you check whether the wireless router you are purchasing supports traffic filtering, which allows the information passing through the router to be filtered in accordance with the IP addresses of the senders and receivers. Furthermore, some wireless routers will even allow you to update the routing tables using a web browser interface.
- 4. Firewall: While for a comprehensive set-up, a separate firewall is essential, for most home office and small office wireless networks, the firewall built-in the wireless router is sufficient. As such, it is necessary to check if your wireless router comes with a built-in firewall.
- 5. Brands: There are plenty of options in terms of brands when it comes to buying wireless routers. Some prominent ones include Linksys router, Cisco router, Asus router, Trendnet router, and D-Link router.
- A wireless router is a wireless networking device that performs the functions of both a router and a wireless access point. A wireless router provides access to a computer network or to the Internet without a cable connection.
- The most significant benefit that a wireless router provides is that it gives you the freedom of movement; you are no longer limited by the length of your cables when it comes to installing your peripherals.
- In small spaces, where wiring clutter would be more prominent visibly, a wireless router makes perfect sense.
- There are four wireless standards existent in the market: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. All have their own pros and cons, and it is advisable that you assess these carefully. Furthermore, ensure that the wireless standard of your wireless router is compatibly with the wireless standard of your computer/network device.
- Other factors to note when considering buying a wireless router are as follows: price, built-in cable modem, traffic filtering, and built-in firewall.
- Some prominent options for wireless routers include Linksys router, Cisco router, Asus router, Trendnet router, and D-Link router.
Buying a wireless router that is just right for you can be a daunting task. Use the above mentioned criteria for comparing different models so as to narrow down the options. Also, do remember to check onto the warranty and after-sales services offered on different models before you choose.
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