Struggling with wireless coverage? Then perhaps it's time to switch to a new wireless router! We tackle some important questions so you can make the right choices when purchasing a new Internet router.
A wireless router is not only a wireless router. There are several different standards. And if you want to achieve the best performance, be sure that you buy a router that can support the highest speeds.
The latest standard called 802.11ac solves a great deal of wireless problems that many users have struggled with in recent years.
802.11ac is one of the main performance-related improvements in computer equipment for many years.
With transfer rates in excess of 200, and even 450 Mbps, it means we are now much less dependent on wired networks when large amounts of data has to be moved. HD video streaming can now be streamed without buffering problems, and it is no longer necessary to connect the laptop to the ethernet port when you have to backup your files.
It allows PCs, mobiles, tablets and other devices on a local network (LAN) to talk to each other and to route traffic between devices on the local network and the Internet (WAN).
Dual Band Routers
One thing to be aware of is that 802.11ac operates at 5 GHz. All AC-routers can operate with two frequency bands, such as 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously.
2.4GHz band is more commonly known as 802.11b/g/n.
Wireless routers with 2.4 and 5 GHz network are not new. So-called dual-band routers have been around for a few years, and using the 5GHz 802.11n standard has been an eye-opening experience for many.
What we have seen with 802.11n is that it tends to go faster on the 5 GHz than 2.4 GHz. The downside is that 5 GHz networks have less signal range. The 5 GHz signal is weaker as one moves away from the router.
Nevertheless, we have seen examples that 5 GHz gives better transfer rates, despite the weaker signal strength than 2.4GHz some distance away from the wireless router. This is also partly down to the drawbacks of the 2.4 GHz network. It is a frequency band that everyone uses! Your neighbors, nearby businesses, and also some other household appliances such as baby monitors, cordless home phone, microwave ovens etc. This, together with the channel characteristics of 2.4 GHz, makes this band highly susceptible to interference.
So, how does one choose?
IEEE 802.11 is the basic standard for wireless communication, and uses radio frequency bands 2.4 and 5 GHz. 802.11b was the first, and theoretically allows up to 11Mbit speed, and 802.11g allows up to 54Mbps and both operate in the 2.4 Ghz band. 802.11n provides a theoretical speed of up to 600Mbps and 802.11ac up to 1300Mbps (which will eventually be increased to 1700Mbps). Note that these are theoretical speeds, actual rate will usually be lower.
What features should the router have?
Buying a new router today without the support of AC standard is quite rare, as prices are already relatively low. Choose a router with support for AC1600 or higher. AC1600 means a theoretical maximum rate of 300Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band and 1300Mbps on 5GHz band.
In addition, make sure that the network connectors on the rear supports up to 1000Mbps (Gigabit LAN/WAN).
USB ports are also very welcome addition, and ideally at least one of them should be a USB 3.0 port. You can connect external hard drives and printers that you can easily share access to over your network, and some routers even supports USB-based 3G/4G mobile adapters. With this option, you can share your mobile broadband with the entire household!
Also check that the router has the ability to set up multiple wireless networks, such as one for the family and one for guests. A Guest network, for example is limited to accessing the Internet only, and is excluded from the rest of your home network.
Parental control and a timer is also something many appreciate, and QoS (Quality of Service), where you can set how much bandwidth is to be used for different services, such as gaming and video. Fortunately, this is in place on most new routers today.
In our experience beamforming works very well and gives 802.11ac clients a better 5GHz signal than we have been accustomed to on 802.11n. We therefore recommend beamforming when buying a new router.
Should the router have internal or external antennas?
Many routers have both internal and external antennas. The latest 802.11 standards require at least three antennas (MIMO - Multiple In Multiple Out) for full range and speed.
Where should I place the router in my home?
You could ask yourself where would you place a lamp? You would hardly placed it in a corner where it would only illuminate a small portion of your room. Think alike when placing your router. Placing it somewhere central in your home up off the ground usually gives the best wireless coverage. Obviously, you may be limited by the placement because of the phone and electrical socket, which you need to connect the router to. If that's the case then you can use a cable extension which you can run under the carpets to your desired location.
Can I extend the reach of my wireless signal?
Yes, it is possible - and may be necessary if you can only place the router next to the phone socket. The simplest method is to invest in a repeater, which repeats the wireless signal and sends it to your device. These devices plug into your normal electrical sockets and can be placed anywhere where a socket is present.
Which routers do you recommend?
Asus, TP-Link, Netgear and Linksys score very high in independent tests. They are also easy to set up and comes with settings for most UK broadband providers.
How much money should I expect to pay for a new router?
If you want a router that supports the latest AC standard, you will find a lot of good ones from around the £100 mark.