How to choose a router: tips, technical conditions and tips

How to choose a router: tips, technical conditions and tips

Everyone wants reliable and fast internet, and a good router can help. The trick is how the complicated mess of standards, confusing acronyms and science-fiction features turns into better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we tear down the curtain to uncover relevant facts about Wi-Fi, routers, network systems, and other jargon. We hope that you will be better equipped to buy a router by the end.

Updated February 2022: We have added MoCA information related to our Wi-Fi 6E explanation and added a backhaul explanation.


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Who is your ISP?

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) connect your home to the Internet and usually send you a modem and router (sometimes in one device). A modem connects your home to the wider Internet; the router connects to the modem, and you connect all your gadgets – wired or wireless – to the router to access that connection. ISPs often charge you a fee to rent this equipment, and their routers are usually basic in terms of performance and features. The good news is that ISPs are no longer allowed by law to force you to use their equipment or charge you for using your own hardware, although you may still need to return their belongings to avoid costs.

We are largely considering using your own router in this guide and using your ISP’s modem. By using your own, you can potentially save money in the long run, but you can also enjoy faster Wi-Fi, better coverage, easier configuration, and additional features such as parental controls and Wi-Fi guest networks. We will go through your router options, but no matter which system you choose, check compatibility with your ISP before purchasing. You can also search your ISP’s forums to find posts where people are discussing using different routers and modems. A little research before buying can save you a big headache.

What kind of router do you need?

Photo: Villa

There are different ways to make your Wi-Fi faster, and buying a new router is one of the most obvious. To help you decide which type of router to choose, calculate the rough square footage of your home before you start.

Single Router

The simplest solution for most people is to choose a single router or a combination of router and modem. Note that this device will need to be plugged into your existing outlet or modem via an Ethernet cable, which limits where you can place it. The Wi-Fi signal will be strongest near the router and will gradually decline and slow down as you get further away.

Routers should always square for coverage, but certain types of construction — thick walls, insulation, and other devices — can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, so don’t expect to enjoy full-speed Wi-Fi over long distances. Powerful routers with wide coverage are often large devices with multiple external antennas, but are usually very expensive.

Network systems

If you have a larger home and want solid coverage in your garden, or you have thick walls and specific dead spots with your current setup, then network Wi-Fi might be the answer. Network systems consist of a central hub, which connects as a single router, as well as additional satellites or nodes that you can place around the house.

Devices connect to the Internet through the nearest node, so by adding a node you can achieve wider Wi-Fi coverage and a more reliable connection in different areas. Just keep in mind that every node will need a socket. Network systems are more expensive than single router configurations (though not always), but they increase coverage and reliability and often boast additional features and control options. They also tend to be smaller than regular routers and are usually designed to fit harmoniously into your decor.

Alternatives to the new router

Photo: Eskay Lim / Getty Images

If your problem is more about coverage and you have one problem room where you want to improve Wi-Fi or a specific device that needs a faster connection, you may not need to buy a new router. Try one of these alternatives. Each has its own technical challenges and potential problems. Even when successfully implemented, it will not be close to the benefits of a good network system, but they are all much cheaper.

Wi-Fi repeaters

You can use Wi-Fi repeaters to extend Wi-Fi from one router a little further and potentially amplify the dead center signal. These devices are a good solution for some people, but can be inefficient, prone to interference, and often create a secondary network with a different name than your usual Wi-Fi network.

Power adapters

Sold in pairs, power adapters let the internet signal through your electrical installations. Plug one into an outlet near your router and connect it with an Ethernet cable, while the other power adapter plugs into an outlet in a room where you want faster internet. They can be a good solution if you have a console or smart TV in the living room at the back of the house, but your router is in the front hallway, for example. Unfortunately, the efficiency largely depends on your electrical wiring.

MoCA (Coaxial Multimedia)

If your home already has coaxial cables installed (perhaps for cable TV), you can use them to create a reliable wired network that offers high speeds and low latency compared to Wi-Fi. You can buy routers, network adapters or Wi-Fi extenders that support the MoCA standard. Similar to power adapters, this can be a great way to forward an internet signal to a smart TV, game console, or desktop that doesn’t get a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Access points

If you don’t mind the challenge and have a spare old router lying around, you can configure it as an access point or use it as a Wi-Fi extender. This can be especially effective if you are able to connect it to the main router via cables, but the configuration can be inconvenient.

Photo: Getty Images

There are many things to keep in mind when trying to decide how fast your router should be. The maximum speed of your Internet is determined by your ISP. Internet speeds are expressed in Mbps (megabits per second). The average global fixed broadband speed is 58 Mbps for downloads and 24 Mbps for uploads, according to the Ooklin Speedtest. Most ISPs will point to a certain speed or give you a range — such as 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload — but what you actually get is often lower than the maximum (especially transfer speeds) and must be shared between all your connected devices.

You can check the download and upload speeds by running a speed test in your browser. Simply type “speed test” into Google to find some options. To get a rough idea of ​​how Mbps converts to Internet use, we can refer to the FCC’s Broadband Speed ​​Guide, which suggests that you need 3 to 4 Mbps to transfer standard definition video, 5 to 8 Mbps for HD and 25 Mbps for one 4K stream. Generally speaking, if there are more people in the household streaming 4K video from several connected gadgets, you will need at least 200 Mbps, if not more. If you only have a few connected devices and mostly just surf the internet, with some video here and there, you’ll be fine with 50 or 100 Mbps.

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