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Expert guide: How to buy a wireless router

01 Nov 2014

First things first - just what is a wireless router?

A wireless router is a device that allows you to connect WiFi devices in your home wirelessly – including computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers, gaming consoles and Internet-enabled HDTVs – and allows them to communicate with each other without having to plug in any cables. A wireless router is the central hub for a connected home.

What are the advantages of buying a wireless router? And do I really need one?

With a wireless router, you can surf the web, print wirelessly, play online games and stream music and video from any room in your home. As you use an ever-increasing number of devices in your home, a wireless network becomes more and more important to connect them all together.

Wires and cables can often be unsightly and confusing, and it can be inconvenient to stretch them across the room and make sure that you’re always near a telephone point. Many people buy a laptop so they can be mobile, and then plug all sorts of cables and devices into it so that they only ever use it in one place.

Most modern wireless networks can easily cover medium-sized offices and multiple rooms. Printers, scanners and file systems can also be accessed wirelessly, banishing cables altogether.

Previously you needed a computer expert to help you set up a wireless network, but wireless routers have become much easier to use and can be set up at home in as little as three easy steps.

Sounds good. But what are the limitations of a wireless router?

Most off-the-shelf wireless networks easily cover a small house or office, and you can extend or boost coverage if needed.  Generally, the closer you are to an access point, the stronger the signal and the faster the connection. Multiple antennas on your sending and receiving devices help, and wireless access points at the edges of your network will replicate the signal over a larger area.    Before buying a wireless router, think about the type of applications you’ll use so that you get the right router for your needs. Sometimes video (like YouTube) can be a ‘stop-start’ affair wirelessly, but you can set Quality of Service settings to prioritise different types of traffic.

As you add more devices to your household and as technology becomes more sophisticated, it can be necessary to upgrade to a wireless router with the latest standards to match the higher networking demands that you are placing on it.How secure are they? Are some more secure than others?

How secure are they? Are some more secure than others?

Because wireless works by sending information over radio waves, it can be more vulnerable to intruders. Like signals from mobile or cordless phones, signals from a wireless network can be intercepted, increasing the possibility of theft or fraud.

With new wireless routers, the highest level of security is enabled as part of the set-up process, and advances are constantly being made to increase security.

You can also configure your router for enhanced security by setting parental controls for each computer or device, giving visitors a password-protected internet access on a separate guest network, customising advanced settings and changing the network name and password.

Should the devices that I plan to network play a factor in my choice of router?

Most definitely, yes. Each wireless router is designed for use with specific devices and types of information, so choose one that is best suited to your needs. These range from routers for general wireless and internet usage, which connect computers and devices wirelessly, to routers that are optimised for streaming video and other entertainment, computers, gaming consoles, internet-enabled HDTVs and Blu-ray players.

What’s the difference between Wireless G (802.11g) and Wireless N (802.11n)?

Wireless G and Wireless N are two different standards for providing wireless. Wireless N is a newer standard that improves upon Wireless G to offer faster wireless with less interference from other wireless devices such as cell phones and cordless phones, and better capability for transmitting through brick and concrete walls. For Wireless N to operate at its best, all devices connected to the home network need to be based on the Wireless N standard.

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