Q: Last week you talked about some things that people can do to improve the WiFi service in their home. You talked about moving the WiFi router around, adding more access points, using mesh networks and range extenders. But you seemed to skip over the heart of the matter: the WiFi router. It seems to me that this is where it all starts and I am seeing a lot of new units out there now with lots of antennas that cost lots of dollars. Can we talk a bit about WiFi routers today?
A: You make a really good point. The WiFi router IS the heart of the system an it there are a lot of things we can talk about. Faster internet everywhere in my home is what we hear all the time.
But before we start with routers, we need to talk about the signal source. Please bear in mind that the router can’t transmit a wired or WiFi signal any faster than what is being delivered by the Internet Service Provider. Typically satellite signals are the slowest at about a megabit per second. DSL is usually next at 12 mbps and cable comes next wit speeds varying from 30 mbps up through 400 mbps. Charter is now upgrading their standard residential service from 60 mbps to 100 mbps for free. Upgrades to business services are for pay. So the speeds available start at the speed that is being delivered by your ISP.
Q: OK, I have a good speed coming into the home or business but things still seem slow.
A: Now we can start talking about your router’s capabilities. There are numerous standard router protocols (a, b, g, n, dual band, ac, dual band, ax…) Let me just say that if your router is lower than WiFi-n you may have problems with streaming nusic and videos wirelessly to devices in your house/business. You should strongly consider upgrading your router.
Q: Upgrading to what. I see all kinds of WiFi routers out there today with lots of antennas. Is that what I need?
A: Depends what you are doing and how new your laptop is. The fancy routers with all the antennas are more for homes with multiple users who may be doing gaming or a lot of users streaming music and videos. Bear in mind though, to use some of the features on these units your laptop has to have the newest WiFi receiver built into it.
It turns out that for a basic home or business WiFi-n or -ac, dual band are good choices because that’s what WiFi hardware is in most of the computers and phones sold today and in the recent past.
Q: Wait a minute…What’s this Dual Band that you just mentioned? Why is it important?
A: It turns out that the original WiFi band (2.4 GHz) was not very wide and had a lot of other things in it that could interfere with WiFi traffic. So another WiFi band (5 GHz) was developed. It has more space for transmitting things, there are fewer things in the band and it can transmit data faster and it has been around for a good while so there are lots of WiFi devices that use it. So dual band WiFi is a good thing to get.
Q: So I see all these antennas on the newest WiFi routers. Why are there? What do they do?
A: They allow for multiple in/out transmissions that allow the new routers to handle more conversations with more devices faster than the units with less antennas. This is good if you are doing a lot of things on an intra-net. But remember that your ISP controls the speed that you can do things on the inter-net.
Q: OK, so to summarize, what should I be looking for in a router for my home or small business?
A: For a general home or business we recommend a dual band WiFi-n or -ac router. We generally think something in the $100 to $150 range is adequate for most applications. Note I say most applications…there’re always exceptions.
Q: And if they have further questions about WiFi routers or WiFi service in either their home or business who should they call?
A: I would strongly recommend that they contact PC Applications. We have been working with PCs and PC networks for more than 25 years. At PC Applications. Our goal is to understand your requirements, provide the right WiFi equipment, and make sure it’s working well for you.
That’s PC Applications on the web at www.pcapp.com.