Your computer connects to your ISP, and that gives it access to the internet. Pretty simple, right? Well, if you decide to use a wireless router to create a WiFi signal in your home or business, you add another level of complexity to the setup – and another place where things can go wrong, and you can slow down your internet. Still, there are plenty of reasons to use a wireless router in your home.
Simply put, a wireless router gives you versatility in how you use the internet in your house. Without such a router, you need to connect your computer directly to your modem by using an ethernet cable. You’re literally attached to the modem, so if you have a laptop, you can’t walk around with it while you’re using the internet. With a router, you can connect multiple devices, like your laptop, phone, and a tablet, to the internet at the same time. (Most ISPs offer modems that are also wireless routers, so you may not have to purchase a router if this is the case.)
Wireless routers are great for many reasons, but their functionality can be affected by a number of factors that you’ll need to keep in mind:
- Distance – The further away you are from a router, the weaker the connection will be. If you have a large house, you can install multiple routers to help with this issue.
- Obstacles – If there are walls or other objects blocking the path from your router to your device, your Wi-Fi range can be shortened. If you’re two or three rooms away from your router, the multiple walls may shorten the Wi-Fi range to the point where you can’t connect to the internet.
- Radio frequency interference – If you’ve ever been using the internet only to have the speed suddenly slow when someone turns on the microwave, you’ve experienced radio frequency interference. Because your router uses radio waves to send and receive data, anything else in the environment that also creates or uses radio waves – like your microwave – can interfere with your router and internet speed.
If you need to buy a router, then you’ll need to choose the option that is right for your needs. Routers aren’t all made the same, and the router can actually affect your download and upload speeds, potentially slowing down your computer.
Router speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mbps); the higher the rating, the faster the router. You’ll find routers with speeds ranging from 54 Mbps to high-performance routers that boast speeds greater than 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps).
How much does a router’s speed matter? Well, it depends a bit. Buying a router with a significantly low speed can slow your internet connection. However, buying a router that offers a speed greater than the internet speed your ISP provides won’t actually speed up your connection. In short, it’s best to buy a speedy router, but don’t think that investing high-performance routers will make your internet faster if your ISP doesn’t offer those top speeds, too.
There’s another factor you need to consider when evaluating a router: the router’s technology standards. Wireless network devices, like routers, are measured according to technology standards. These standards are identified by the numbers 802.11, which are followed by a letter. The number and letter combination is used to identify the specific technology that the router uses, and this can indicate the speed range the router is capable of.
- 802.11g is the base technology that you’ll see in routers. It is a 2.4 GHz only technology. Because this technology is somewhat basic, these routers can only achieve speeds up to 54 Mbps.
- 802.11n is a step up in technology. This 2.4/5.8 GHz technology allows the router to achieve faster speeds, up to 600 Mbps. 802.11ac is a more advanced technology. This 5.8 GHz technology makes routers much faster, so they can reach speeds over 500 Mbps.
If you want to assess your router’s suitability for your use, one of the best options is to read some reviews online. These reviews can provide insight to a router’s performance and speed. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid the cheaper, lower performance routers, since they may have issues with low reliability and poor performance. We’ll go into more detail about troubleshooting your router later on.