Wireless Network Buying Guide

Wireless routers or Wi-Fi Mesh Systems enable you to log on to your home or office broadband network without being directly connected to an Ethernet port. Whether it's a PC, laptop, games console or a multitude of other devices, a router or Mesh System can ensure everyone is able to access the internet wherever they are.

1. What does a Wi-Fi router or Mesh System do?

A wireless router or Mesh System is the hub of your home or office network. It allows you to share your broadband Internet with multiple devices such as PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers and more. Some devices can connect via "hard wired" Ethernet connections directly into the router and others will be able to connect using wireless or "Wi-Fi" that will enable you to move freely throughout your home or office, whilst maintaining a connection to your internet and other devices on the network.

2. What is the difference between a Wi-Fi router or Mesh System?

Quite simply, a router is a device that receives an internet connection and then controls and shares where that connection goes. All networks, large or small, require a router to perform this role so that devices can be assigned with individual IP addresses and allow the network to function correctly.

Traditional standalone Wi-Fi routers have been around for a long time, this is generally a single device that is installed in a home and transmits a Wi-Fi radio signal from one point. Wireless enabled devices within the range of the signal can then connect to the network. Higher powered routers feature better antennas and faster processors to service a wider area and handle the needs of more devices at once.

The problem with some older or lower powered Wi-Fi routers is that the radio signal may not reach all areas of a large modern home. Density of building materials, furniture and other transmitting devices can all influence how far a Wi-Fi signal will travel.

A Wi-Fi Mesh System uses multiple “nodes” or “access points” that communicate to each other to create a wider and more powerful wireless signal strength. This can be a much more suitable solution for larger homes where a single Wi-Fi router may not reach the required rooms or areas that need a strong connection.

Mesh systems are also very easy to install and will often connect to the existing modem/router that is already in place in your home. They generally offer simple setup procedures using an app on a mobile device.

3. Wireless Standards

Wireless routers come in various standards and speeds. The most current wireless standard is called 802.11ax or more simply Wi-Fi 6. This standard is now replacing the older 802.11n/ac (Wireless N/AC or Wi-Fi 4 & 5) standards that have been used in most routers and devices for the past 5+ years.

Wireless AX (Wi-Fi 6) is capable of much faster speeds and can provide better Wi-Fi range around your home or office whilst allowing you to connect multiple devices and enjoy a fast and stable internet connection.

Whilst wireless N & AC (Wi-Fi 4 & 5) is still relevant for many users and will continue to be supported into the future, It is worth considering a wireless router that is using the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology in order to support the needs of any modern home or office environment. It is also important to note that Wi-Fi 6 routers are backwards compatible with older Wi-Fi standards and devices.

4. Wi-Fi Bands and Speeds

In order to connect to your wireless enabled devices, Wi-Fi routers transmit information through a radio frequency or "band". Older more basic routers, N300 for example, use only a single band that is transmitted using the 2.4GHz radio frequency. More modern routers will be either "Dual Band" or "Tri Band" meaning that they have either one or two extra bands that also transmit on the 5GHz frequency simultaneously. Having multiple simultaneous bands available on your Wi-Fi network allows more devices to connect at once and allows for much greater data transmission speeds.

For example, you could use the 2.4GHz band on your router for general web surfing on your laptop or tablet whilst using your 5GHz band to connect your media player to enjoy a movie from an internet streaming service on your main TV.

The extra bands on a router also relate to the Wi-Fi transmission speeds of data around your network. For example, an AC1200 wireless router can transmit up to 300 Mbps (Megabits per second) on the 2.4GHz band and up to 900 Mbps on the 5GHz band. As these two bands are operating simultaneously the router is theoretically capable of transmitting data at 1200 Mbps total.

Wi-Fi 6 technology has the benefit of being able to transmit on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. This allows the router to transmit more data simultaneously and therefore providing a more consistent bandwith to multiple devices. There are also two new key technology advancements in Wi-Fi 6, being OFDMA and two-way MU-MIMO.

OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) technology allows for small data packets destined for multiple devices to be transmitted together without the need for them to queue up.
This is perfect for Smart Homes filled with bandwidth-hungry IoT devices battling for their fair share of the internet connection.

MU-MIMO (Multi User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) technology helps distribute the flow of data to a number of devices simultaneously.
Wi-Fi 6 technology also leverages the multi-user version of OFDMA and MU-MIMO for better efficiency of upstream AND downstream transmissions, unlike previous Wi-Fi 5 (AC) technology where MU-MIMO could only operate simultaneously in downstream transmissions.
This combination greatly increases capacity, coverage and performance in ultra-high-density environments.

All of these features are important to consider based on your needs. Certain activities such as media streaming, gaming, video calls etc. can place a large demand on your network and it is important you have the right product to handle all of these things without suffering from lag, drop outs or buffering.

5. Security Features

It is important to ensure that your network is secured sufficiently so that no one other than authorised users can access your internet connection and/or any computers that may be connected.

All modern wireless routers will come with pre-configured wireless security using the WPA2 or new WPA3 encryption standards. During the setup procedure you will be given the option to either use default security settings and a pre-defined Wi-Fi password or change this to something that is easier to remember.

It is important that you choose a Wi-Fi password that is not too simple and easy to guess. Many routers also have extra security features such as guest networks that allow you to give someone a separate password to connect to your internet without being able to access other parts of your network.

There are also website filtering and parental controls available on some routers. This should be a consideration for parents who wish to monitor and control the internet usage by members of the household.

6. Setup and installation

Most routers and Mesh Systems are designed to be set-up quickly and easily, either via a web browser or an app on a mobile device. There will be certain factors to keep in mind though, such as the best location for the router or Mesh nodes and any devices that may benefit from a direct “hard wired” connection to an Ethernet port. If you encounter any problems, most products will have a troubleshooting guide that can help you and/or technical support available via phone or website. Always check with the manufacturers support services as this will usually be the quickest and easiest way to resolve any problem.

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