The 411 on Wireless Routers

Wireless routers are indispensable for VoIP, streaming video, and Internet gaming. Check out the 411 on wireless routers, and become one of the converted.

More people these days absolutely cannot live without the convenience and versatility of wireless routers. Turning into a wireless snob is as easy as appreciating the joy and freedom of seamlessly moving from room to room or outside on the deck with a laptop, tablet, or other device connected to the Internet and your home network. Who wouldn't enjoy printing to your wireless printer from anywhere, sans wires? Who wouldn't relish the merits of connecting more than one device to the Internet -- minus the spaghetti mess and the limitations?

Untangling the confusion -- where to begin? The first step in selecting a wireless router is to determine what you need the router to accomplish. A simple setup calls for one type of wireless router; a complex home network with multiple devices will require something more robust.

Single band or dual band? Select a single-band router when your needs are simple and straightforward. You do not need to over-buy with wireless routers. Because the technology changes quickly, it's better to upgrade by buying new than get an expensive, fancy wireless router that you'll merely be replacing in a few years or less. Do your research, and you will uncover excellent resources for inexpensive models that perform the task needed. PCMag.com and CNET.com are great sites for trustworthy and up-to-date advice.

Keeping up with standards. Each device you wish to wirelessly connect with your new router supports a unique standard, denoted by a letter code: B, G, and N. Simple home setups with older equipment may call for a single-band B or G router. These are typically less expensive and will support the corresponding devices. If you have a pretty high-tech network with streaming Netflix, Xbox, laptops, and a new tablet, you will require a router that supports as mix of B, G and N devices. In this case, a dual-band wireless router that offers the mix-mode setting is a necessity.

Types of dual band routers. Simultaneous dual-band routers are very different than selectable dual-band routers. Buyers beware that with simultaneous dual-band, you will, in effect, run on twice the bandwidth of selectable models. This may sound confusing, but always remember: The more bandwidth, the better, faster, and more useful. Additionally, simultaneous dual-band wireless routers also allow for two entirely independent wireless networks that can run at different speeds, optimizing performance.

Why is throughput important? Another term to understand is "throughput." The throughput is the maximum tested amount of speed the router puts through from your ISP to your devices. ("Maximum tested" means under optimal conditions with zero interference, an environment not usually possible in the average home.) You may wish to select a router with external antennas that will assist the router in attaining the maximum possible throughput given the home environment.

Security. Protecting access to your information and bandwidth is really important. Wireless routers have settings called WEP, WPA, and WPA2 that do this job. Recently WEP security has been compromised, and router manufacturers are changing the technology to be more complex and more difficult to crack. WPA is the next line of defense, and WPA2 offers still more security. Buy a router that offers the highest security possible that is supported by your devices. While WPA2 is clearly the most secure, many older devices in your home do not support it, even after firmware updates.

The final 411 on wireless routers. In the end, you will need to set up and maintain your router. Some tech expertise will be required. If you read the instructions that came with the wireless router you've selected, then troubleshoot any issues or concerns, and finally set up security parameters, you will have established an admirable, stable, fast, and powerful network.

There's lots of help on the Web for further questions, and router setups are becoming simpler and more intuitive for the average consumer. Happy wirelessly routing!

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