Although you use it every day, you probably don’t pay much thought to your wireless router. These book-sized devices sit quietly, mostly ignored, while providing us with a wireless internet signal that’s vital in today’s modern mobile world. If you’re using the router supplied by your ISP, however, then you might not be getting your money’s worth, especially if you’re paying costly equipment rental fees that can cost more than $100 per year — considerably more than the router actually costs.
Buying your own router can save you on those rental fees, but it has other advantages, such as giving you more hands-on control over your Wi-Fi network and improving your connection (especially when multiple people are using the internet at once). You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a good one, either, and these cheap wireless router deals are your chance to grab one for even less:
Today’s best wireless router deals
- — $30, was $90
- — $63, was $80
- — $75, was $99
- — $150, was $200
- — $162, was $190
- — $500, was $600
A beginner’s guide to wireless routers
If you have the internet, then you almost certainly have a wireless router somewhere in your home. There’s also a good chance that it was the one supplied by your ISP, which means you’re probably paying a monthly fee to rent it. These ISP-supplied routers are, as you might expect, generally not the best — they’re often the same cheap routers you can buy yourself for $20 to $40 — but that doesn’t stop service providers from charging anywhere from $5 to $15 per month in “equipment rental fees” for the privilege of using one.
That alone is a big reason why it’s a good idea to find a good wireless router deal and buy your own, as even a solid midrange unit can easily pay for itself in a matter of months. Yet another reason is that a good wireless router can enhance your home or office Wi-Fi network by allowing you to enjoy the internet speeds you’re paying for. This is especially important if you frequently have multiple users connected to the internet at once, and even more so if you regularly stream or game online. Routers are relatively complicated and some of the specs and terminology can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated, however, so here’s what you should know before buying.
What does “dual-band” mean?
Most Wi-Fi routers you will see today (even cheap routers) are dual-band, meaning that they transmit data across two separate streams or “bands.” The 2.4GHz band is used for tasks with moderate bandwidth needs, such as web browsing, while the 5GHz band is reserved for bandwidth-hungry jobs like HD video streaming and online gaming where a lot of data is being transmitted at once. Dividing your wireless connection up between two “highways” in this manner prevents congestion, particularly when multiple people are using the internet at the same time, which can slow down your connection. Many newer routers also have a feature called MU-MIMO (multiple user, multiple input/multiple output) which divides the bands into separate channels to further mitigate congestion when the network is under heavy load.
What does “bandwidth” mean?
If a “band” is a data stream, the “bandwidth” refers to how much data can be transmitted across that stream at one time. Imagine something like an oil pipeline — the wider the pipe, the more can pass through it at once. Routers vary widely when it comes to bandwidth, and how much you need will depend on your network environment. A wireless router will typically have its bandwidth speed represented by a number — N450, AC1900, AC5300, et cetera – which tells you at a glance how many megabytes per second (Mbps) of data can be transmitted across all bands at once.
The routers that are typically rented out by ISPs are on the lower end of the bandwidth spectrum (which, as we said, is why you find a good wireless router deal so you can buy your own), but 600 to 2,400 Mbps is a good range for normal users and small families. Larger networks and more demanding users, such as gamers, will be better served by a router in the 3,200 to 6,700 Mbps range, while routers in the 7,200 to 9,600 Mbps range are deep into “professional” territory — think large offices and other bandwidth-heavy network environments. Note that this total bandwidth is divided between the bands; for instance, a dual-band AC1600 router with 1,600Mbps total bandwidth might commit 300Mbps to the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps to the 5GHz band.
Can wireless routers provide wired connections?
Pretty much all wireless routers (again, this includes cheap routers) have Ethernet LAN ports on the back that allow for multiple wired connections where you want them. Depending on where your wireless router is installed, it might be worth it to use a wired Ethernet connection, as these will almost always be faster than a wireless connection. For instance, if your router is close to your PC or smart TV, it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of this wired connectivity. It will also free up some wireless bandwidth that your other devices are using for their Wi-Fi, preventing wireless traffic congestion, although your overall bandwidth will still be determined by your internet service.
Can a faster wireless router give me faster internet?
Your base internet speeds are capped by your service provider and depend on what internet plan you are paying for. A faster wireless router cannot increase the bandwidth limits set by your ISP; however, a faster router can allow you to more fully enjoy the speeds that you’re paying for if a slow unit — such as the cheap routers typically provided by ISPs — is bottlenecking your connection. If you’re paying for faster internet, make sure you get a router that won’t create a “choke point” that slows your Wi-Fi down to ensure you’re getting all the bandwidth that you’re already paying for. You’ll want a gigabit-capable router (that is, at least 1,000Mbps on the 5GHz band) if you have gigabit internet service, for example.
What are mesh routers?
If you have a large home or are looking for a router capable of sufficiently covering a similar large space (like a multi-story office), then you might want to consider investing in a mesh router system. In contrast to standard single-unit wireless routers, mesh router systems feature multiple “hubs” that you place throughout your network zone. These hubs amplify your internet’s wireless signal, essentially blanketing your home or office in Wi-Fi connectivity and thereby mitigating or eliminating dead zones in the network. This prevents you from losing your connection when moving about.
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