In our daily lives, one thing we do not want to compromise with is our Internet connection. Most Internet service providers provide a router along with their service. However, to get the best out of your network, it is better to handpick your own router. In this article, we explore the various factors that must be considered while picking the right Wi-Fi router for homes.
Important Wi-Fi router features
The choice of a Wi-Fi router depends on various factors of use: area to be covered, number of users and devices to be connected to the network, Internet connection speed, usage mode (moderate or data-intensive) and so on. For homes, speed and coverage range are the primary consideration factors. Having good bandwidth support and a secure connection also play important roles in the router’s performance. Given below is what you should look for while buying a router.
Routers mainly function on two bandwidth frequencies: narrower 2.4Ghz and much wider 5.0Ghz. The more common single-band Wi-Fi routers tap into 2.4Ghz bandwidth only to transmit data. The challenge with this is that it is also tapped in by other electronic or wireless products such as phones and tablets, cluttering the channel. As a result, while smaller data packets can still pass through, heavier data (like videos or large files) fail to transmit properly, deteriorating Wi-Fi performance.
A dual-band router, on the other hand, taps into both 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz bands. Small data packets are passed through 2.4Ghz bandwidth, while larger data travels through 5.0Ghz channel, which has much less traffic. Therefore users experience better media streaming or online gaming using a dual-band device. However, a dual-band router is costlier.
Latest standard and speed
Wi-Fi works on IEEE 802 group of standards. IEEE 802.11ac is the most upgraded standard at the moment—compared to older standards (802.11n, b, g or a), it is faster and more optimised for network operations. However, routers supporting 802.11ac are costlier. If the intended usage is not too data-intensive, then routers supporting 802.11n will suffice.
Wi-Fi’s hardware and build quality also play an inevitable role in speed capacities. Check the highest speed mentioned in the specifications of the product—higher the speed, higher will be the price. A 300mbps capacity is a decent option for all kinds of Internet and networking operations, including live streaming of videos, moderate gaming and Web browsing. To stream 4K videos or high-end online games, it is advisable to go for a 600mbps or higher device.
Antennae and coverage
A higher number of antennae means more channels for data transmission and reception, ensuring better data flow rates. Single-band routers have only 2.4GHz bandwidth-compatible antennae.
On the other hand, dual-band Wi-Fi router may come with dual-band-compatible antennae (capable of data transfer across both 2.4GHz and 5.0Ghz bands), or have separate antennae, each assigned to individual bandwidths.
For a small, single-floor premise (within 55.7sqm), a single-antenna dual-band router or a two-antennae single-band router will suffice.
For a larger area, for both categories of devices, a higher number of antennae (two to three) will have advantages in terms of signal strength, coverage and speed.
Antennae strength is measured in dBi unit, which essentially indicates signal strength. For a medium-size area, 5dBi is enough. If the premise has more walls and obstructions, or is larger, go for 9dBi specification.
For a home setup, Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) with at least 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard and Pre-Shared Key (PSK) encryption compatibility is compulsory. Good practices like using a strong Wi-Fi password, upgraded internal firewalls and updated firmware also play crucial roles in network security.
Choosing a Wi-Fi router with more Ethernet Ports (four or more) can be advantageous. This allows you to connect more devices parallelly and provide backup if the main port malfunctions.
Some Wi-Fi routers come with a USB port, which can be beneficial for sharing data from a common point across all devices connected to a network.
Many Wi-Fi routers come with Quality of Service (QoS) feature, which allows you to prioritise data and resource usage. Most routers today are configurable using mobile applications.
Last, but not the least, look for deals that give maximum warranty.
Here are some latest Wi-Fi routers in the market today:
Netgear launched R6260 dual-band Wi-Fi router in April. Although a bit expensive, R6260 is great for usage in larger apartments or office floors. It provides a total speed up to 1600mbps with two antennae (300mbps + 1300mbps). An 880Mhz processor powers connectivity using AC1600 Wi-Fi technology, that is, 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, making it ideal for streaming multiple HD content simultaneously or playing high-end online games. R6260 comes with USB 2.0 port and DLNA support. It is available online for ₹ 4989.
TP-Link Archer C-1200
This offering by TP-Link is another popular dual-band market option. It comes with three external antennae that provide a total speed up to 1200mbps, distributed over 2.4GHz spectrum and 5.0Ghz band via 802.11ac standard. The device is suitable for large homes and offices for data-intensive usage, and works well even through multiple walls and obstructions. It offers four Ethernet ports, one WAN port and one USB2.0 port. It is available online for ₹ 2749.
D-Link offers a budget-friendly dual-band 802.11ac router, DIR-816. It comes with three antennae and can deliver speed up to 750mbps. Supporting both WPA and WPA2 security and QoS feature, DIR-816 offers a large coverage range. It is a good option for daily home use. It contains four Ethernet ports and one WAN slot. Available online for ₹ 1799, the router comes with three years warranty.
The budget router, Mi 3c is a popular choice from 802.11n single-band segment. The device provides up to 300mbps speed and coverage up to 80 metres. It has four antennae—two dedicated for signal transmission and two for signal reception. There are two Ethernet ports and one WAN port. It can connect up to 64 devices simultaneously and provide 24 stable connections. It is priced at ₹ 999.
Tenda N301 single-band router supports 802.11n wireless protocol. It has two omni-directional antennae of 5dBi. The router provides speed up to 300mbps and is suitable for moderate home usage. It features three Ethernet ports and one WAN port. It retails for ₹ 900 and is available on various online stores.