Introducing wireless networking to the home has many advantages for the home user. With the full roll out of wireless n technologies allowing high-speed wireless access the take up by manufacturers has increased giving more options and more reasons to make your household a wireless one. At the heart of the home wireless network is the wireless router.
There are many wireless routers on the market today and choosing one based purely on price alone is not the best solution. In the following guide I will discuss some of the features that may be required when considering a wireless router for the home. Before continuing a basic understanding of networking technology and the various speed capabilities of each is required.
Cabled / Wired Networks Standards and Speeds
The three main speeds for wired connections are 10Mb (10 Megabits), 100Mb (100 Megabits) and 1GB (1 Gigabit or 1000 Megabits). The speed is measured in megabits per second and the maximum speed for each is 10, 100 and 1000 megabits per second. In order to reach the desired connection speed both devices must have a matching network port to allow connectivity via an appropriate network cable. It is worth noting that only CAT5e network cables are capable of 1 GB connections. Most modern network enabled devices have network ports that have the ability to auto detect the connection speed of the corresponding network port.
Wireless Networking Standards and Speeds
The current available standards for wireless networks are 802.11, 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n. The connection speeds of these standards have improved over time and are 802.11 2Mbps, 802.11a – 54Mbps, 802.11b 11Mbps, 802.11g 54Mbps, and 802.11n 100Mbps upwards. Wireless N is the latest addition and is becoming increasingly available to the home user. Some manufacturers advertise speeds of up 300Mbps for wireless N enabled devices but this speed is dependent on many factors including the design of the building and the thickness of walls etc.
Types of Wireless Routers
Essentially there are two major types of routers, those with modems built-in and those without. Routers without built-in modems need to be connected to an existing broadband modem to allow connectivity to the internet. These two groups of routers are split into two types by the connection types they handle ADSL and Cable (UK). The correct router type is required for the corresponding connection type. Before deciding to purchase a router with a built-in modem it would be advisable to consult your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for compatibility advice.
Most routers have an interface that allows the user to manage the functionality and features of the router. Although the layout and features can vary there are a few features that are considered a must when choosing a home wireless router.
Encryption and Security
When choosing a router security should be a high priority. There are a few standards available for securing wireless connections but nothing less than WPA2 should be used to prevent unauthorised access to a wireless network or use of a home internet connection. WEP is no longer strong enough to secure connections.
MAC Address Filtering
A MAC address is given to each network capable device when manufactured. Each network card or wireless network device has its own globally unique MAC Address. Some wireless routers allow these addresses to be entered into the routers allow list. Once enabled, devices that have not been added to the router allow list will be unable to connect wirelessly to the network.
Most good home wireless routers have built-in firewalls to prevent unauthorised access to the network via the internet. It is a good idea to include this feature in any router purchase.
Port Forwarding, Gaming and Application Access
Sometime specific applications or games on a computer may use specific ports to connect to the internet. This feature allows forwarding of the required ports to the required location on the network. Consult the manufactures instructions on setting up this feature.
Other features Wireless routers can include many features depending on the level and price of model purchased. Some extra features can be available and may be required in certain situations.
People who work from home may need VPN access to the workplace and may need a router that is compatible with the employers network requirements.
If access is required to devices when away from home then this also needs to be considered. Port forwarding may be required and some routers will allow the setting up of dynamic DNS account information allowing easy access via an internet web browser.
On many routers access times can be set to allow devices to connect to the internet at certain times during the day. This can be a useful feature for parents wishing to limit access times for children.
When purchasing a wireless router, security and performance should be the two deciding factors. If shopping on a budget always get the highest security and fastest wireless access speeds available within your price range.
Once setup the a good wireless router opens the door to connecting a variety of devices to the home network giving access to media files and the internet easily and from anywhere with the home or even garden.
The author has worked in the IT industry for approximately 15 years and has worked in various support roles for companies and public bodies. The company for which he now works is a supplier of home routers and wireless n network routers. The company blog has more information about buying a wireless router.