What should you pay attention to with a new modem router?

Buying a good router has become quite a challenge, given the many options available on the market today. It’s even more challenging for buyers looking to buy their very first router.

Take all the jargon you find in the box. What does it all mean? Are you asking yourself? “What wireless router features do I actually need?”

In this buying guide, you’ll learn what to look for in a Wi-Fi router, including features and specifications.

WiFi standards

When users look at a box, they find terms like AC1200, AC1900, and AC3200. What do these combinations of letters and numbers mean?

These are network standards. In a nutshell, they are meant to inform consumers how fast your connection can go. AC1200 means having 1200 Mbps; AC1900 gives you 1,900 Mbps; and so on. The higher the number, the more bandwidth it can support.

So you would think going higher is better, right? Well, not exactly.

First, real world conditions won’t get you anywhere near billed bandwidth. Most internet plans have a maximum of 1 Gbps. Second, 1200 Mbps is more than enough to download a movie in 30 seconds.

Finally, the advertised speed is largely theoretical at this point. It doesn’t really refer to the actual speed but to the maximum speed that can be delivered per frequency (more on that later).

As long as you buy a router that is AC1200 or higher/newer you should be fine.

Wireless Bands

There are three types of wireless router bands (AKA frequency bands): single-band, dual-band, and tri-band.

Here’s a quick answer: having more bands is better. But in reality, the sensible answer is a little more nuanced than that. Why? Because a tri-band router is overkill in most cases.

WiFi frequency band

Here’s a quick summary of how Internet routers work. WiFi signal travels on a frequency of 2.4 GHz. Most routers can channel that frequency and are called single-band routers.

But modern routers can provide internet on two frequencies, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Routers that can provide two frequencies fall under dual band.

Tri-band routers use both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, but can provide the latter in two frequencies.

Frequency and internet speed

Tapping on more than one frequency will give you more speed. Imagine living in an apartment where all residents use the same 2.4GHz frequency. All your Wi-Fi signals will no doubt cross each other. This affects the speed at which your devices receive data.

But if you’re on a 5GHz connection, you’re knocking out the competition by stepping out of their frequency and moving to something higher.

Compatibility

So why isn’t everyone buying dual-band or tri-band routers? Because not all devices can receive 5 GHz signals. For example, some phones can’t get the most out of 5GHz, such as the iPhone 3G or 3Gs.

What should you choose?

It would depend on what you need. Here’s a quick comparison between the three options.

  • single band – The most affordable. It is compatible with most devices. But it’s getting older by the minute. Most people are on this frequency, so expect some interference.
  • Dual Band – Much more flexible than single-band. Newer devices have the ability to connect at 5 GHz. Gives you more bandwidth, but is much more expensive than single-band routers.
  • Tri-Band – Able to tap three frequencies. They are expensive, especially for home users. But if your household has a lot of power users and uses a lot of bandwidth, this might be for you.

A dual-band router should be enough for the average user.

USB port

You would want a router with a USB port. This is useful when connecting devices such as printers and hard drives to your network.

A router with USB 3.0 for faster transfer rates is the one you should aim for.

Robust app

Most routers these days have an accompanying app that allows you to manage the router settings without having to plug in directly. Since each manufacturer has their own approach to apps, it’s best to do your research to see which one appeals to you the most.

Keep in mind that most of these apps will only work if you are connected to the network. If you want to connect to the network remotely, you’ll need to find a router that has that feature built in.

So our advice is to look for a companion app with important functions such as changing the Wi-Fi name and password.

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