What to Know When Shopping for a Wireless Router

Choosing a wireless router for your home or office can be a very difficult task. Even if you know what sort of coverage, performance, and security you want, trying to decipher the technical lingo and specs on the box can be frustrating and overwhelming. Here is some help in figuring out what you want and what it means when you're looking to go from wired to wifi.

Coverage and Performance

It goes without saying that if you're looking to go wireless, you want to get the most coverage and the best speeds possible. However, some routers may not be sufficient while others may be overkill. First, you'll want to have a rough idea of the size of the area you want your wireless router to cover. Keep in mind that any time a router's signal has to pass through a floor or a wall, the quality -- and therefore the performance -- degrades. If you can install the router in a central location, you'll have the best coverage possible.

Now, the sort of specifications you'll want to look for in terms of speed and coverage will involve the numbers "802.11". Most average routers will be listed as "802.11n", which is the current standard and suitable for the vast majority of household and office uses. Older and cheaper routers may be labeled as "802.11g", which could limit overall performance. However, more higher-end routers may be listed as "802.11ac", which is a newer technology. These routers are not necessary unless you have devices that clearly state compatibility with 802.11ac, so avoid spending more money than necessary here.

Devices and Compatibility

You'll want to have a general idea of how many devices you expect to be connected to the network, and that includes computers, mobile devices (such as tablets and cell phones), and entertainment devices (such as smart TVs, game consoles, and Blu-ray DVD players). Again, your average router should meet most specifications for home use. If you're looking for a router for a small business, however, you may need something a little higher end to allow for multiple devices. Also, if you're looking to connect more than four computers to the same network in a business environment, consult with a networking professional, as most consumer wireless routers may not meet your needs. Additionally, if you want to be able to connect external storage devices or USB printers, you may need to consider a higher-end router.

Compatibility is also important. 802.11n routers are suitable because they have almost universal compatibility with newer and older devices and computers, but higher-end routers -- or 802.11ac routers -- may only work with the latest in computer and mobile technology. If you have devices that are older or still run on older operating systems, you may want to stick with 802.11n. This should only apply to wirelessly-connected devices, so any computers that are directly wired to the router via Ethernet should still be fine. Another factor to keep in mind is that wireless routers are generally compatible with any form of wifi-enabled device, whether a Windows or Mac computer, or even an Apple or Android smartphone, but that information is also available.


File Sharing and Home Networking

A good question to ask yourself is, "Do I need to share files and devices on my network, or am I just looking to get connected to the internet?" If you just want to make sure your devices can access the internet wirelessly, then your average wireless router should get the job done. However, if you're looking to be able to communicate between computers, share files, and access network storage or other devices, you may want to look at the speed measurement of the router. Surprisingly, these measurements don't refer to your actual wireless internet speed -- that is generally set by your Internet Service Provider -- but refer to your internal network speed, and this can range anywhere from 300 Mbps to 1750 or 1900 Mbps at higher levels. Keep in mind that these speeds were tested in theoretical environments without any interference, so you may not reach these maximum speeds in your home or office, but it's a good range to be mindful of.

Security

The current standard for wireless network security is called WPA2 and will give your network the highest level of protection possible. Most routers will have WPA2 as a security option, but it's always good to check. Other considerations could include whether you want Parental Controls or not to restrict internet access at specific times of day or block out certain websites altogether.

As you can see, the average 802.11n router will meet your needs 9 times out of 10, but just in case you have any special concerns, you may want to take a closer look at the specs of any router you shop for. Be sure to consult with a professional or sales associate if you have any particular questions or if the router's spec information is unclear or unavailable. With these tips in mind, you should find the best router to meet the needs of your home, your family, or your office.