Advice on network routers
1. What's a router for?
A router distributes the internet connection within a household or business, providing multiple devices – wired or wireless – with access to the Internet. Most internet service providers supply a modem that already has an integrated router. That router usually has limited range, limited security options, low speed, and few handy additional functions. HD or 4K video streaming, online gaming without lag, quickly sending large photos and videos, or connecting an external hard drive via USB is often not possible. By buying a new router, you can get more control over your Internet connection at home.
2. What determines the speed of your router?
You can connect a device to the Internet in 2 ways: with a network cable or wirelessly via WiFi. Because each way uses different technologies to send and receive data, the speed differs.
Via a network cable
Gigabit Ethernet Almost all network devices have Gigabit Ethernet ports. With Gigabit Ethernet, the transfer speed between two devices – for instance your router and PC or your router and NAS – 1,000Mbit/s.
Fast Ethernet With Fast Ethernet, this transfer speed is 100Mbit/s. In order to calculate the number of MBs per second, you divide the Mbit number by 8. Gigabit Ethernet has a maximum throughput speed of 125MB per second. For Fast Ethernet, it's 12.5MB per second. Make sure you connect the right cable to the right port, so for instance a Fast Ethernet cable to a Fast Ethernet port.
Wireless AC and AD
WiFi technology is standardized. That means you can use WiFi internet acces with any device via your router. In order to make internet connections faster and more stable, new and faster WiFi standards are introduced every now and again. The latest are wireless AC and AD. Both support the old standards, so you don't have to worry that your router won't work with a certain WiFi device.
Wireless AC can achieve a theoretical maximum speed of 1,300Mbps (162.5MB per second). There's also wireless AD, which has a theoretical maximum speed of 7Gbps (875MB per second), that's more than 5 times as fast as a Wireless AC router. Wireless N has a maximum speed of 600Mbps. Wireless B and G are older standards with maximum speeds of 11 and 54Mbps respectively.
3. What determines the range and stability of your network?
Your router's wireless signal has a certain range. This range is continuously influenced by all kinds of factors. For instance, the location of your router and the construction of your house or office are important, as well as interference from other devices. Because there are so many different factors, routers use different technologies to ensure optimal range and stability for your connection. That prevents your connection from suddenly becoming slow or cutting out completely.
2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 60GHz
Routers use 2 or 3 frequency bands to establish a WiFi network. The 2.4GHz frequency band is a wireless signal that can easily travel through walls and solid objects. That's why this frequency band offers the biggest range. The 5GHz band is faster than the 2.4GHz band, but doesn't go through walls as easily. The 60GHz band is even faster than the 5GHz band, but has a very limited range. In reality, the 60GHz frequency band only works in the same room as your router. Your router automatically and continuously determines which WiFi frequency band offers the best signal.
Beamforming is a technology that makes your router aim the WiFi signal at your device. Your router will recognize that your device is in a specific place, allowing it to establish a more focused wireless connection to exchange data. This improves stability.
Multi-room or mesh WiFi
Multi-room or mesh WiFi is a type of router that consists of of multiple stations. Instead of 1 router covering multiple rooms, each base station of a multi-room WiFi system provides the WiFi for the room it's in. Together they form 1 large WiFi network; if you walk from one end of the building to the other, you stay connected to the same network. You'll always connect to the strongest signal. MU-MIMO
If you play online games with multiple people in a network, stream HD video, or transfer and open large files, MU-MIMO (Multiple user multiple input multiple output) prevents any one device from taking up too much bandwidth. A router will distribute the data in such a way that you get a stable WiFi signal on every device.
4. What do the different WiFi frequency bands mean?
Wireless networks use two frequencies to send signals; the 2.4GHz frequency band and the 5GHz frequency band. A single-band router only uses the 2.4GHz WiFi frequency band. A simultaneous dual-band router uses two bands; the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz WiFi frequency band.
The commonly used 2.4 GHz WiFi frequency band has it limitations and is getting increasingly crowded. From smartphone and console to car alarm; more and more devices use the crowded 2.4GHz band. The 5 GHz band on the other hand has much more space and it's less crowded. The result is that it has higher speeds and offers a more stable WiFi range.
With a simultaneous tri-band router, you can even operate on 3 WiFi frequency bands simultaneously. They have one 2.4GHz band and 2 separate 5GHz bands. They can also have a 60GHz band instead of a second 5GHz band. This ensures a stable WiFi signal with good range. Do make sure that your wireless network equipment supports the 5GHz frequency band, or you won't get the most out of a dual-band or tri-band router.
5. Which additional accessories do I need?
It's preferable to connect large devices that you don't move around regularly – such as desktops and smart TVs – with a network cable. That reduces the strain on your own network and keeps your connection stable. Because you connect to the Internet via a cable, you don't have to worry about invisible obstacles. Most routers come with a (too) short network cable. That's why it's a good idea to get an additional network cable. Choose a Gigabit Ethernet for the highest speed.
Sometimes, you don't have enough network ports to connect all your devices. A switch is a small box that splits 1 of your network connections into at least 5 extra network connections. That means that you can hook up extra devices to your router.
Do you have that one room in your house where you just can't get an internet connection? A powerline adapter is the right solution for you. This is a device that you plug into a socket and that uses the electrical wiring to transmit internet data. You always need at least 2 powerline adapters. One is connected to your router with a cable. The other is placed in the room where you want to extend coverage to.
Do you have a laptop or desktop without WiFi, do you want to increase the wireless speed of your current device, or make it suitable for the faster 5GHz WiFi frequency band? A WiFi adapter is what you need. Connect it via a USB port, set it up, and connect to your router.
Does the range of your wireless router not reach far enough to cover a particular room? In that case, you can place a WiFi repeater that receives and retransmits the signal. Because a WiFi repeater works like a walkie-talkie and uses half the bandwidth to 'talk', you will lose speed. That's why a WiFi repeater is only suitable to extend the range a bit in rooms on the same floor.