If the idea of buying a router is a minefield of jargon, we’ve come up with some handy pointers to make sure you pick up the right one for your home
A router isn’t just used for accessing the internet, it’s
also a wireless access point, network switch, privacy gateway, and resource
sharing device. Virtually every item of technology, in some cases even fridges
and ovens, these days can expand its capabilities by connecting to a router and
having access to these elements.
The router we receive when we take out
an ISP contract is generally fit for purpose. But buying our own can lead to
more features, better speeds, and the ability to connect more devices. But what
should a good router be able to do? And what features should you look for when
buying one beyond the standard model supplied by your ISP?
this guide we’ll have a look at some of the key features, and briefly examine a
range of routers to help you answer those questions.
Encryption – Wireless security is an absolute must have feature in any
router. To gain access to your house you need a key, the same applies for
accessing your home network and your internet connection.
security modes have changed a lot in recent years. We have WEP, the weakest of
the security algorithms, WPA, and WPA-2, which is the strongest of the current
home-based router security protocols.
recent ISP supplied routers will feature WPA-2, however, if you’re using an
older model router it might be worth checking your settings to make sure that
its capable of WPA-2 and that it’s using it.
– While most of us will never use Port Forwarding, it’s a handy feature to have
available should you ever consider using it. Basically, port forwarding directs
internet traffic to a targeted application, such as a game server.
a lot more to it naturally, but in essence if you decide one day to host a
Minecraft server, then port forwarding is something you’ll need to look into.
and USB – We’ll approach the wireless speeds and standard next, but for those
systems that are wired gigabit Ethernet is a must.
a gigabit connection your backups to a NAS drive, and access to local video
streaming will make a huge difference over a 100Mbps Ethernet connection.
ports allow for external hard drive to be attached, acting as Network Attached
Storage for backups or media streaming.
Wireless Standards and Speeds – Wireless access speeds all depend on the
standard the device is using to communicate with the router. Currently we have
802.11, the original, followed by a letter: a, b, g, n, and ac. The protocol
standards up to 802.11g are pretty much obsolete these days, so 802.11n/ac are
the ones you need to concentrate on.
put it simply, 802.11ac is the newest standard for a modern home router. It
doesn’t have the range of 802.11n, but its bandwidth is significantly higher
and it’s backwards compatible with older standards.
is dual band technology, so it operates at 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and 802.11ac
provides high bandwidth at 5GHz, with theoretical speeds up to 1,733Mpbs.
IPv6 support – In
layman’s terms, the internet/local network communicates using IPv4, that’s the
184.108.40.206 type addresses you’ve probably come across. IPv4 was exhausted
some time ago, and to future proof the internet, as it were, the IPv6 standard
IPv6 hasn’t quite took over just yet, but it probably will, so it’s a good idea
to have it ready from the off.
Antennas – If you live in a three-bed terrace, then the chances are most
common routers will be able to reach all the rooms in the house with relative
ease. If you’re lucky enough to live in something bigger then you may not get a
decent enough signal throughout, and you may encounter WiFi deadspots.
better antenna will usually remedy this, as will careful placement of the
router itself. Imagine a 10+ metre signal radius around the router and take it
from there. There’s much trial and error involved, but having the right router
to begin with takes much of the hassle out of the equation.
Budget, mid and top
of the range examples
While we won’t specifically tell you to buy a particular make
or model, here are three good examples of what a budget, mid-range and top of
the line router has to offer; and how much you’re looking at.
Budget – the Zoom 5792
costs just £25, but it’s a budget wireless N model router offers decent speeds
for the average home user as well as a simple to use interface.
are cheaper, such as the wired only TP-Link TL-R460 for only £12, but the Zoom
covers most features with relative ease. Be warned though, it’s rated with a
maximum ADSL speed of 27Mbps, so if your broadband speed is quicker you may
The Belkin Wireless AC1200 is fast, has plenty of features including four
gigabit Ethernet ports, and is extremely reliable and good for games and media
certainly a capable router, and will be able to run rings around most, if not
all, of the ISP provided models. For around £100, it’s one to look out for.
Belkin Wireless AC1200
Top of the line
– The Asus RT-AC87u is an expensive, but exceedingly capable router that does
pretty much everything you could think of.
multi-band, has gigabit Ethernet, USB ports, and a host of features and
services that put many other routers to shame. It does cost the best part of
£200 mind you, but it’s one of the best routers currently available and is
perfect for streaming media and for gaming.
Of course, there are examples between each of these so it
necessary to do some research and single out the one that’s best for your
network and wallet.
non-ISP provided router can be better, but weigh up your needs first and
consider how easy it is to log into your ISP from a new router. Take time to
browse your ISP forums, and ask other members for their insights. A little
knowledge goes a long way when dealing with a router.