Wireless routers are now widely available for home and small business use. The number of technologies that can tap into a wireless network is growing every year. Choosing the best router from the many similar models can be bewildering, while choosing the wrong one can be expensive or unworkable.
To simplify the process, consider the requirements of the network the router will serve. The features and functions of wireless routers that matter most are: fitness for the purpose, speed, security, performance over the useable distance, and cost.
A specific router is a good fit if it supports the technologies that it will connect to a network. The operating systems to be used in the network are pertinent; some routers do not work with Unix or with Mac OS.
Each network device that does not have an internal network card or card adapter will need a USB adapter to connect with the router. The availability of these adapters for the mix of machines to be connected with the router is an important factor.
Another part of fitness is the network standard supported by the router. The oldest, most accessible and widely used in-home wireless protocol is 802.11b. The successor, 802.11g, is faster and more robust. The combination, 802.11b/g, is readily supported by many current wireless routers and offers the most connection options.
The newer standard, 802.11n, is now offered, although it will be called "Pre-n" until the standard is made official. This supports a faster and stronger signal than its predecessors. There are now reasonably priced wireless routers that support 802.11n and 802.11b/g.
This flexibility for the right price is particularly important for future uses. New technologies are designed to use the latest standards. It is nice to know that changing to a new laptop or adding VoIP or a mobile game system later won't force a change in the router, too.
The physical setup of the area to be served by the router should be reviewed. If all networked devices are within 50 feet of each other, there is no added value in choosing a more expensive router that is capable up to 150 feet.
Speed across the network is important up to a point, and varies with longer relays as well as with the protocol used. Online gaming, VoIP and printing images to a networked printer are the types of applications that could be compromised by a too-slow router. These can also be slowed by the Internet connection; a router can't solve a problem there. A robust wireless network that is adaptable to increasing traffic demands needs a higher speed router.
To choose between wireless routers that each meet the distance and performance requirements well and can work with each node's operating system, review the security offered. Security is very important in every wireless network. The router should serve as a reliable firewall to outside traffic, and a main point of management for the network security.
The firewall offered in the router can block hostile action to any and all connection points on the network. The manufacturer should provide updates to software and firmware router components; a reliable maintenance program is essential.
Some routers incur performance problems, such as dead spots and interference, in settings that don't affect other models. A signal that needs to work through three house floors or alongside other wireless devices, such as telephones, will not be provided by every wireless router. When choosing a wireless router, look at the performance specifications.
The real decision point for wireless router choice, as for many technologies, is cost versus benefit. Lower-volume uses in a home with a typical desktop, laptop, printer and perhaps a game system on the network, with no immediate plans to change, could be handled by a less-expensive router made by any major manufacturer.
A plan to add VoIP, more devices or greater distance to the network in the next one or two years suggests a more flexible and expensive solution is required.