You’ve finally got fibre to your house and you’re looking forward to those blazing fast speeds. But for some reason you’re not getting anything close to that. Before you grumpily ring your service provider to complain, there is a very good chance you need a new router.
Think of it like water being piped to you house with excellent pressure but it just dribbles out of the tap. You need a better system for getting that water out. The same can be true of your router.
The first thing to know about routers is that they are not all created equal. The latest routers look like something Batman would use. Sleek designs covered in antennas. These antennas are important because you want your Wi-Fi signal to reach everywhere in your house.
If you have fibre then you need a dual (or triple) band router. The bands refer to the frequencies your Wi-Fi network will work on: 2.4GHz and 5GHz (Giga-Hertz). The 2.4GHz band can’t carry as much data but is more powerful and can go through more walls. The 5GHz band can carry a lot of data but the signal is weaker.
The next thing you need to look at is Wi-Fi standards. These standards come in b, g, n and ac varieties (often written as 802.11 followed by the letters). The n and ac standards are the newest and currently best standards, and deliver higher speeds.
Nearly all modern devices employ the n standard. It works on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and has a top speed of 600Mbps (Mega-bits per second).
The newest commercial standard is ac. It only works on 5GHz and has a top speed of 1Gbps (Giga-bits per second). The ac standard isn’t in every device but will be found in most brand-new technology devices, especially phones and tablets.
These speeds sound incredibly impressive, but they are maximums. Realistically, you can expect much slower speeds than this. Still fast though. This will be really noticeable when you transfer information wirelessly between devices, something that is quite important if you have internet-enabled devices, such as sound systems, light bulbs and power switches.
If you run a VPN or smart DNS service on your router you may have extra choices to make. Most notably, does the router support custom DNS?
Beyond Wi-Fi, you may also need to connect some devices physically to your router. To get the best speeds you will need to ensure the router has enough Gigabit Ethernet ports. And also that your device can handle it.
And there is something else you need to consider: where are you going to put it?
A place close to the centre of your house is a good idea. That way you get maximum coverage. Routers look a lot nicer than they used to do, but they are still a bit ugly. But don’t be tempted to put it into a cupboard. Everything you put between your router and your devices can degrade speed.
So can your microwave. Some microwaves work on the 2.4GHz frequency, meaning that re-heating food can knock out your Wi-fi connection.
Even your walls can be a problem. The materials used to construct your house can stop Wi-Fi signals dead in their tracks. Brick is a really good Wi-Fi stopper. Some older houses even have chicken wire in the walls holding the insulation in place.
Of course, if push comes to shove, you can always get a Wi-Fi extender.
The main thing to remember is this: future proof. Don’t get a router that will “do for now”. New devices are coming along running new standards. The number of internet-connected home devices like fridges, kettles and lights are increasing at a fast rate, and you will need a good router to handle all these new devices in your home.
Don’t be left with a “dripping tap”.