Jargon Busters: All About Wi-Fi Routers
Most of us may have heard of some commonly used Wi-Fi router terms like Dual Band, IP Address, Guest Network, etc. But this is not it!
Here are a few more terms that are often used in the Wi-Fi and ‘Internet world’ and what they actually mean…
802.11ac / 802.11n from Wi-Fi Standards
801.11n and 802.11ac are two of the Wi-Fi standards commonly in use today. Routers clearly mention these on the box, and you will also find these listed in the specifications of your laptop or phone. 802.11n, found even on older devices, will be supported by any gadget or router you buy today.
801.11ac is a newer, faster standard, and if you can get a router that supports this, do so, as it’ll be more future-proof. It’s not just better speeds you get, but also other features that make your home Wi-Fi more stable, or ensure it stays fast even with multiple devices connected at once.
Please also note that some routers are faster than others that meet the same standard. For example, you’ll find 802.11n routers that offer speeds up to 150mbps, 300mbps, and even 450mbps. Newer standards, such as 802.11ax, promise even faster speeds but are as of now only found in few flagship devices.
Wi-Fi uses radio communication, and like other wireless methods (such as TV), the available frequencies are divided into channels. Your router sets the channel and devices automatically connect to that. For best performance you should choose a channel that’s not ‘crowded’ – not used by other routers. Alternatively, select the ‘automatic’ option and your router will pick a channel it thinks will be best.
Another setting you need to be aware of is Channel Width (in 2.4Ghz networks, it’s either 20Mhz or 40Mhz). ‘Wider’ channels offer faster maximum speeds but this may make your Wi-Fi less stable in areas where there are many networks competing for the same channels.
Routers work in either (or both) Wi-Fi bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The former is slower, but offers far better range so is ideal if you want to cover a big house. The latter, supported by newer routers (and laptops, phones…) offers much faster speeds but has difficulty passing through walls.
5GHz also offers many more channels and is less prone to interference from other Wi-Fi networks so it is a good choice if you’re staying in an apartment with many neighbors close to you. 5Ghz routers also support dual bands – both 2.4GHz and 5Ghz, so you can run two networks at once (older devices and some peripherals like printers may not support 5Ghz networks).
All devices on a network are assigned their unique IP (Internet Protocol) Address. IP Addresses can also be split into two – external and internal. Your router’s external IP Address will be assigned by your Internet provider, while internal addresses can be assigned manually if required, or automatically, by enabling the DHCP option in your router.
Every equipment that connects to a network has a unique Media Access Control (MAC) Address. While you don’t normally have to bother with MAC addresses while setting up your router, it’s useful if you want to make advanced changes to your home Wi-Fi – perhaps restrict access to some devices at certain times, or allow greater bandwidth for your Amazon Fire TV Stick. This is also sometimes referred to as a hardware address.
Service Set Identifier (SSID) is nothing more than the name of your Wi-Fi network. Every network needs a name, and you can change it as you wish. You can also have this set to hidden if you want.
Some routers offer a Guest Network feature, which lets you set up a secondary network for guests.
This helps increase security as you don’t have to hand out your main password, and also keeps guests’ devices on a separate network. Some routers offer an easy-configuration method with phone apps used to display a QR code your guests can scan.
Another useful feature you’ll find in some routers is that you can set a Guest Network to automatically switch off after a set time.
Repeaters or Wi-Fi Range extenders can help extend your Wi-Fi network’s range to areas where coverage is poor. These plug into the wall and set up a new network for the area which the main router can’t cover effectively. This is a great alternative to buying a new, higher-power router for larger homes and offices.
There are many forms of security that protect your Wi-Fi network. Older options, such as WEP and WPA, are not recommended. Even WPS security, which uses a PIN is not as safe as WPA2-AES security. Always use a complex password and make sure WPA2-AES security is turned on.
Networking speeds are measured in Mbps – Megabytes per second. 1mbps equals 0.125MB/s (Megabytes per second). How fast is this? Well, Netflix recommends 5Mbps for HD streaming, and 25Mbps for UHD / 4K streaming.
The maximum speed mentioned on your router box is a theoretical one – networking devices take up some of that for signaling purposes, and you also need ‘client’ devices (laptops, phones, game consoles…) that support those speeds: A Smart TV that maxes out at 300Mbps will connect only up to this speed even if you have a new router that promises much faster speeds.
Sometimes it also helps to set speeds a bit lower especially if you’re encountering Wi-Fi issues such as interference or need a longer range.
And finally, your internet speeds are usually determined by your ISP, as most routers have enough capacity for DSL or even super-fast Fibre broadband connections.
A faster router will not make Internet much faster, but it might have a more powerful processor, more RAM, and normally will support new features that enhance Wi-Fi stability and let multiple devices connect without any slowdown.