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A basic guide to network Routers

This basic guide covers the main types of Router and what key features to look at

What is a router?

A router is a physical device that joins multiple wired or wireless networks together. The best example of this is connecting your local network to your ISP and the internet through the use of a modem.

What types of router are available?

There are four types of router available to consumers currently and vary on what type of internet connection you have and if you wish to connect wirelessly.

The major types of router available are as follows:

ADSL Router: The classic router provided by many ISPs in the UK. Includes a modem and requires a direct connection to the phone line to connect to the internet. Many ADSL Routers will include a switch to allow you to connect computers, laptops and games console to it with ease.

Wireless ADSL Router: Like ADSL routers the wireless versions include the modem to allow you to connect to the internet. They add wireless functionality allowing the connection of many devices including computers, laptops, games consoles, mobile phones and appliances such as internet radios.

Cable Router: The cable router is normally used when connecting to a cable internet connection. The biggest provider of cable internet in the UK currently is Virgin Media. The cable router connects to the external modem provided by your ISP and then your computers and devices connect to the cable router.

Wireless Cable Router:  Like cable routers the wireless versions don’t include the modem in the package and you have to use the device usually provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). They add wireless functionality allowing the connection of many devices including computers, laptops, games consoles, mobile phones and appliances such as televisions.

What do I look for in a wired or wireless router?

All wired and wireless internet routers might appear very much alike when looking at their specifications and headline features. There are several key features you should look for in a router:

Speed: Wireless routers normally advertise their speed in megabits per second or Mbps. The first generation Wi-Fi models offered 11Mbps wireless, more modern mid-range 802.11g routers offer connection speeds of 54Mbps and the most recent wireless N models offer 300Mbps or even higher connections.

Range: Many cheaper wireless routers can offer limited range compared with the higher specified multi-antennae models. Your performance will vary greatly depending on the location, how your house is built and if other devices such as cordless phones and baby monitors are operating close to your wireless router. Wireless computer network equipment typically uses radio signals in either the 2.4GHz range or the 5.0GHz range. These numbers are usually advertised on the product packaging but their meaning is misunderstood. Many people assume that 5.0GHz hardware is superior to 2.4GHz but in reality it offers few benefits. 2.4GHz can actually be the best choice for most consumers, if you are unsure of what to purchase look for a 2.4GHz device or a 2.4GHz/5.0GHz dual band router that is compatible with both standards. You can on many routers replace the antennae with aftermarket high gain models, although these can be costly.

Ease of Setup: It is a major consideration on how difficult a wireless router is to setup. Generally it is best to apply the logic that there is safety in numbers, if a router is very popular and a lot of users are using it you will be able to find support information much easier on the internet and product updates will normally be provided for longer than a less popular model from an obscure brand.

Warranties: Wireless Internet Router manufacturers always provide a warranty package together with their equipment. The length of the warranty and the terms of this can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so it is worth checking out before purchase, many manufacturers often list on their retail packaging and website free technical support to help you get setup and various other incentives to purchase their model. If you think you would need the help these can often be an invaluable service. With warranty length on wireless routers a longer warranty may indicate that a manufacturer is more committed to support their products, while a shorter warranty may indicate that the product quality is less or they have less confidence in the reliability long term.

Wireless equipment you already own: It is worth considering purchasing a wireless internet router from the same brand as the rest of your networking equipment if you can. The benefit is small but some vendors do optimise their products to work better with their own range. If you encounter problems setting up your network you will also often find manufacturers are more inclined to support a user if they are using their brand wireless router, wireless access point and wireless card than competing manufacturer’s products. Matching the brand of networking products is not essential but to the novice user it can often lead to a much simpler user experience. Remember you can mix and match wireless equipment from different manufacturers just you may limit the troubleshooting they offer.

Style: Many users have their wireless routers in the living room next to the television or on display in the hallway so style can be important.  You want to choose a model that will fit in with your décor as there a wide variety of different styles available.