Updated February 2015 to include newest wireless routers in recommendations…
Your wireless router is the quarterback for your home’s internet connection. It takes your internet signal from your internet service provider (ISP) and broadcasts it wirelessly throughout your home. Then, it becomes air traffic controller as your laptop, tablet, mobile phone, Roku, and other devices request access to the internet. If your wireless router is outdated, it may be a bottleneck in your network, and you may be paying monthly for internet speeds you will never achieve. So, is it time to buy a new wireless router?
Test #1: Internet Connection Speed
Wireless routers have made significant advances in past years to provide a better signal, blast your internet further throughout your home, and make sure you are getting the best speed possible. To decide if you need a new wireless router, you need to take some metrics of your current home network. This won’t take long to do, and the payoff is to ensure that your home network is getting the internet speeds that you are paying for as well as minimizing buffering, lag, and other atrocities.
Theoretical ISP Speed
First, you need to figure out the internet speed you are supposed to be getting from your internet service provider or ISP. You may know this already, but if you don’t, take the time and give them a call or look at your monthly bill. Ask for the “Downstream Speed” since that is the higher speed that your network needs to be running at.
Next, head over to your wireless router and bring along with you a laptop or computer. Using an ethernet cable, connect your computer to one of the ports in the back of your wireless router. Then, turn off your computer’s Wi-Fi. Open a browser and go to speedtest.net. This website will test to see how fast you can connect to the internet. Run the first test (connected directly to wireless router with Wi-Fi off) and make a note of your download speed. For the next test, unplug the ethernet cord from your laptop and turn Wi-Fi back on to connect to the internet through Wi-Fi and run the test again making note of this download speed as well.
Evaluating the Results
So now, you should have three different numbers: the theoretical ISP speed (Speed #1), the speedtest.net download speed when connected directly to your wireless router (Speed #2), and the speedtest.net speed when connected through Wi-Fi (Speed #3).
Speeds #1 and #2 should be within 1-2 Mbps of each other or else you need to call your ISP and get grumpy with them. If you aren’t getting the speed you are paying for when connected directly to your wireless router, then they need to do something to make sure you do.
We are most interested in the difference between #2 and #3 since this will dictate whether or not your wireless router is a bottleneck for your connection speed to the internet. If speeds #2 and #3 are very close (within 1 Mbps), your wireless router is capable of getting you the internet speed you are paying for. If speeds #2 and #3 are further apart, run a few more tests to make sure this remains true. After additional testing, if you still see a greater than 1 Mbps difference, you probably need to buy a new wireless router.
Test #2: Intranet Connection Speed
Today’s technology also communicates from device to device within your home network. Technologies that require a zippy LAN speed are AirPlay from Apple, IP Cameras, Network attached storage devices, backing up your computers wirelessly, or simply sharing files between computers. While most wireless routers can achieve the speed you require for internet, it takes a newer router to make sure the above technologies operate to their potential on your home network.
Wireless Networking Standards
802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac are different wireless standards available for wireless routers. Most people call these standards “wireless B”, “wireless G”, “wireless N”, and “wireless AC”. Wireless B is the oldest and slowest standard, and wireless AC is the newest and fastest. The maximum speed your devices can connect to your router (and therefore to each other) is heavily determined by this standard. Figure out which standard your router is capable of by googling the model number or your wireless router.
Depending on your router’s wireless standard, your transmit rate should fall within the below ranges:
Wireless B: 8-11 Mbit/s
Wireless G: 36-54 Mbit/s
Wireless N: 130-450 Mbit/s
Wireless AC: 400-1600 Mbit/s
If you are interested in the transmit rate you are getting on your network, follow the instructions below.
Get the properties of the wireless network you are connected to, and you will see a wireless connection speed (If someone could post a screenshot of what this looks like I’d really appreciate it! I don’t have a Windows computer on-hand.).
So, Do I Need to Buy a New Wireless Router?
While Test #1 provides a definite answer whether or not an upgrade is in tow, Test #2 is more subjective. Some homes would be fine using a wireless G router as long as they don’t have a need for fast device-to-device network communications. However, a wireless N or wireless AC router is required if you want the best range or need to push your network to higher speeds to facilitate wireless backups, streaming files or data locally from device to device (like using AirPlay, a NAS, or an IP Camera).
Easiest Setup and Best Wireless Router for Apple Users
Look no further than Apple’s Airport Extreme if you are in Apple’s “ecosystem” and have an iPhone, Mac, or other Apple products. The Airport Extreme boasts top notch features, an easy setup process, and an easy setup process. You can’t go wrong here.
If you are itching for a wireless router upgrade, I would recommend the ASUS RT-N66U router. It is considered the best buy wireless router by most and boasts the following features.
- Wireless N
- Dual Band
- Up to 450 Mbit/s (that’s really fast!)
- 3 Antennas
Best Wireless AC Router
But, if you want to “future-proof” a bit and don’t mind spending a little more to do so the ASUS RT-AC66U is similar but has the new wireless AC standard along with the following features.
- Wireless AC
- Dual Band
- Up to 1300 Mbit/s (ridiculous!!)
- 3 Antennas
How zippy is your wireless network and are you considering an upgrade? I’d like to know! Let me know in the comments section below.
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