Simply put, a WiFi router is an electronic device that sends data received from an Internet cable to other devices. It also acts as a wireless access point from which it shares data through the use of radio signals. The router converts the data stream delivered by your Internet connection into radio signals. These signals are received by WiFi capable devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets.
The internet has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and so did WiFi routers. The first generation of WiFi routers followed the introduction of WiFi technology in 1998 and offered speeds of only up to 2 Mbps. To put that number into perspective, consider that the average video bitrate of a Full HD YouTube video playing at 25 frames per second is 8 Mbps.
As you can see, it would be impossible to enjoy the internet the way we do today with an old WiFi router. Fortunately, WiFi routers have improved significantly since 1998.
Most modern WiFi routers support the latest 802.11ac WiFi standard, which uses the 5 GHz band exclusively and is capable of multi-station throughput of at least 1 Gbps, and a single-station throughput of at least 500 Mbps, which is theoretically enough for over 60 YouTube videos playing simultaneously.
Besides being a lot faster, modern wireless routers are also a lot smarter. They support technologies such as beamforming to focus your WiFi signal where it’s needed the most, and they come with a host of security- and privacy-oriented features to keep you safe online. Of course, some features are reserved for the best WiFi routers and those who are willing to pay for them.
Generally, you should be satisfied with any brand-name router that supports the latest 802.11ac WiFi standard. But if you’d like to learn more about what separates best wireless routers from wireless routers that are merely average, we recommend you read about how to choose a WiFi router.
Here are some tips that can help you set up a wireless router. Based on the area you are intending to cover with your WiFi signal, you may only need one router to do the job. Properly setting up the router is essential in obtaining the maximum performance from the equipment.
Properly locate your router — Placing your router in a location that is free from physical obstructions is key to getting the best signal from your router. Place it as high as you can and keep it away from other sources that may produce wireless interference such as microwaves and cordless phones.
Secure your network — Make sure you access your router’s administration panel and change the device’s default password. Set your router to the highest degree of security with WPA2 as a minimum to protect your network and users.
Keep your firmware up to date — To ensure your device is operating optimally you should take advantage of firmware upgrades offered by your router’s manufacturer. We recommend you configure the router to automatically install any available firmware upgrades.
Minimize the distance between the router and connected devices — If you find that your wireless devices are experiencing issues with the WiFi signal you may have to move them closer to the router in order to achieve the performance you desire. If this becomes a major problem, you may be a candidate for a mesh network installation.
We’ve come to expect internet access to be available everywhere, and we have the same expectation even for WiFi networks. However, the average WiFi router can seldom cover more than a single room with a strong and stable signal, which is where mesh networking comes in.
From the outside, a mesh WiFi network works just like any traditional single-router WiFi network does: the network identifies itself to clients with a single SSID (service set identifier), and it may request clients to enter a password.
But there’s one major difference: the strength of a mesh WiFi network in a house or large office space doesn’t vary too much from room to room. That’s because a mesh WiFi network actually consists of multiple mesh WiFi routers, typically called nodes, organized in a mesh topology.
While it’s still more expensive to set up a mesh WiFi network compared with the cost of a single-router WiFi network, the benefits make it worth every penny — at least when configured correctly. Learn more about mesh WiFi networks and their configuration.
Setting up a mesh network comes with its own set of challenges that must be addressed. Here are some tips for setting up a mesh network.
Plan your mesh network — A survey of your coverage area is in order to plan the location of the nodes that provide access points into the network. Based on their locations you might opt for a mesh network that offers either a wired or wireless means of connecting the nodes.
Consider wired connections to certain devices — Entertainment components like televisions and gaming consoles can benefit from being directly wired into a node on the mesh network.
We do not propose that this is an exhaustive list of the WiFi routers that are available. That is beyond the scope of this article and would encompass hundreds of devices. The list we provide is designed to point you in the direction of some of the best routers on the market today from which to begin your search for the best router for your individual situation.
Here is a high-performance router whose compact size belies its power. It is a tri-band router providing support for 802.11n (2.4GHz, 5GHz) and 802.11ac (5GHz).
The device features four Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as a USB 2 and a USB 3 port. It is powerful enough to provide coverage through walls and ceilings and comes with installed anti-virus protection. It is a great choice for a home WiFi network.
This Linksys router offers tri-band support for the 802.11n (2.4GHz, 5GHz), 802.11ac (5GHz) standards and features flexibility that allows customization of your device to optimize performance.
The software allows you to use your desktop browser or the dedicated phone application to perform many functions such as monitoring network usage, prioritizing data allotment, and balancing data transmission across the three wireless bands. It includes 4 Ethernet ports and a USB 3 interface.
This is an expensive and extremely powerful router that is perfect for the hard-core gamer who demands peak performance at all times. It is also a tri-band router that offers the user a choice between the 802.11n (2.4GHz, 5GHz) and 802.11ac (5GHz) standards. Gamers will love the dedicated pair of Ethernet ports that ensure your gaming console gets the bandwidth that it needs. The router is easily configured and managed through the ROG Gaming Center web console.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover every WiFi router that deserves mention. Check the list of the best WiFi routers available in 2020 here.
This highly acclaimed system is considered one of the most manageable and easy to set up mesh networks available. Its ease of use is complemented by its high performance and advanced design. The Google WiFi mesh system is comprised of three components which can each serve as the core of the system, streamlining the installation of the network.
You control your system with the intuitive Google WiFi app which includes the ability to monitor your network and the health of your connection points. The app includes an Internet speed test and allows you to prioritize traffic to the devices that you choose.
Here is a Netgear router that is perfect for users who wish to implement a mesh network in their home. The kit comes with one router and two satellites to extend the WiFi signal throughout your home. The components feature a sleek and modern design that will not clash with your home’s decor. The Orbi offers great performance and is easy to set up. It is rather high-priced, but will definitely solve your issues with the lack of WiFi coverage in your home.
Google and Netgear Orbi aren’t without competition as many other large companies have also released compelling mesh WiFi solutions, including Comcast, which is trying to revamp its Xfinity home internet services under the xFi brand. The xFi Pods, as Comcast calls its mesh WiFi extender devices, can be paired with an xFi Gateway to create a mesh WiFi network and eliminate areas where WiFi coverage drops or is weak.
Here you can find out the best mesh WiFi routers for 2020.
Whether you decide that a single WiFi router solution will work for your needs or opt for a mesh network, you should make use of a quality WiFi analyzer such as Netspot to plan, maintain, and optimize your network. It can be instrumental in your ability to obtain the best performance out of your network no matter what type of hardware you choose to employ.
Netspot is a comprehensive WiFi analysis application that runs on both Windows and macOS. You can download and test the app for free to see how it can help you plan and tune your WiFi network. It is a powerful tool that looks good in any network administrator’s software toolbox, yet is intuitive enough for the general computer user to make use of to get the maximum performance from your WiFi router.