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Buy a new router? Understand these Wi-Fi basics first



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Choosing a new router can be tricky, but we're here to help.


Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Buying a new router can be overwhelming, especially if you do not understand exactly what you are looking for. There's a lot of jargon you have to deal with, many hyperbolic claims about speed and range that you have to thwart, ISP Restrictions – and that's before you try to understand the new features that are New Next-Generation Wi-Fi Technology .

However, it is not necessary to feel paralyzed when an upgrade is required. If you understand some important basics, you will not have a problem finding the right router for your family. Here is a guide to help you do just that.

802-dot-what now?

Wi-Fi was developed and standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which classifies the technology of the 802-standard family for local area networks. The full IEEE code for Wi-Fi is 802.11, pronounced "eight-oh-two-point elf". The ".11" distinguishes Wi-Fi from other family standards, including Ethernet (802.3), Bluetooth (802.15.1) and Zigbee (802.15.4).

Over the years, the IEEE has done a bit to certify new Wi-Fi enhancements and standardize them for widespread use. This is where the confusing letters that come after "802.11" come into play. Each of them denotes specific generations of Wi-Fi. For example, in 1999 the first widespread Wi-Fi version called 802.11b was released. Shortly afterwards followed 802.11a, then 802.11g in 2003 and 802.11n in 2009. 802.11ac, the current version of Wi-Fi that most devices use today, was first introduced in 2013.

  The Wi-Fi Alliance wants you to search for the Wi-Fi 6 logo.

The latest version of Wi-Fi is simply called "Wi-Fi 6," which is much easier for consumers to understand than the technical name "802.11ax."


Stephen Shankland / CNET

When your eyes turn a bit glassy, ​​I have good news for you. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the nonprofit trading organization that carries the Wi-Fi trademark, concluded that the Wi-Fi nomenclature had become too confusing for consumers. With a new Wi-Fi version called 802.11ax coming on the market this year, the group decided to market the standard as "Wi-Fi 6" and in the same way retroactively to earlier Wi-Fi generations refer. The current version of 802.11ac is called Wi-Fi 5, 802.11n is called Wi-Fi 4 and 802.11g is called Wi-Fi 3.

Tell me more about Wi-Fi 6

In a nutshell, it It's faster and better to connect many devices and users simultaneously to a single access point. This means that it is likely to have the greatest impact on public areas such as airports, stadiums and office communities, but also represents a significant improvement for busy households with many family members and smart home devices competing for bandwidth.

New routers that support the standard are already appearing on store shelves, but do not buy any. While Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible, the new features that make it better and faster than Wi-Fi 5 will only work with devices that have their own Wi-Fi 6 radios. And apart from a few minor details – namely the iPhone 11 series and Samsung's Galaxy S10 and grade 10 – there are simply not many of these devices are still on the market .

For the sake of brevity, I'll spare you the details beyond that – but if you're curious, check out my full Wi-Fi 6-decoder.

to better understand how it works, why it's better than Wi-Fi 5, and when it might make more sense to upgrade.

What does this number mean in the router name?

Along with Most of today's routers are typically labeled with "AC1900" or "AC3150". The point is to give you a quick, comparative overview of which Wi-Fi version each router supports ("AC" for Wi-Fi 5, "AX" for Wi-Fi 6, etc.), as well as a rough overview [19659008] I say "coarse" because these numbers after the "AC" or "AX" part indicate the grand total of the maximum theoretical transfer rates over each band of the router. This is not useless information when you shop in comparison, but it is more than a little misleading as this total is almost always significantly higher than the fastest speeds you experience as a user.

  ac-router

"AC" indicates that it is a Wi-Fi 5 router, while "2600" refers to the combined theoretical maximum speeds of each router band Speed ​​per device will be much lower.


Ry Crist / CNET

For example, the D-Link DIR-867 is listed as an AC1750 router. It is a dual-band WLAN 5 router with theoretical maximum transfer rates of 1,300 Mbit / s in the 5 GHz band and 450 Mbit / s in the 2.4 GHz band. Add these two numbers and you get 1,750, so AC1750.

The problem is that you can not combine these tapes – you can only connect one at a time. This means that the theoretically fastest speed you can achieve with the DIR-867 is 1,300 Mbps and not 1,750 Mbps. And I say "theoretically" because these maximum speeds are measured by the manufacturer under optimized laboratory conditions and not in real environments. When we tried the thing, we measured maximum speeds of 163 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band and 802 Mbps in the 5 GHz band. Solid results for a budget-friendly router, but nowhere near 1,750 Mbps, even if you add them together.

As soon as you deal with triband routers adding an extra 5 GHz connection, things get puffed up. For example, Asus sells a tri-band WLAN 6 gaming router in its ROG Rapture series called "AX11000". The "AX" indicates that it is a Wi-Fi 6 router, and the "11000" indicates the combined peak speeds of each band – 1,148 Mbit / s at 2.4 GHz and 4,804 Mbit / s on each of them both 5 GHz bands.

That's a lot of concurrent bandwidth, but do not think your computer, phone, or game console can connect at a rate of 11,000 Mbps. The fastest number you've ever seen from a single device is 4,804 Mbps, and today's ISP connections are not nearly as fast. In fact, the average Internet speed in the US is currently 119 Mbps.

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What should I look for when shopping?

Shopping for a new router displays all kinds of Wi-Fi jargon. The following is an overview of the terms that you see most often and their meaning for your home.

Mesh : A mesh Wi-Fi network uses multiple access points to ensure better coverage in large homes. Start with a cable that is connected to your modem like a conventional router, and then add satellites throughout the house that act as repeaters for the signal. If you have an annoying bedroom that's having trouble keeping in touch, move Mesh Router to the top of your list.

MU-MIMO: Short for "multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output" (and pronounced "multi-user-meem-oh") MU-MIMO allows your router This allows the router to send data to multiple devices at the same time, and if the receiving device supports it, the router can also use MU-MIMO to send multiple streams simultaneously for faster data transfer speeds. Current generation routers can support up to four simultaneous data streams (4×4), while next-generation Wi-Fi 6 routers support up to eight streams (8×8).

MU-MIMO has arrived as an upgrade for Wi's current generation – Fi 5 routers, although some early Wi-Fi 5 routers still use the single-user single-device approach previously used, MU-MIMO is a widely used feature at this point, with the SU-MIMO routers like these completeness, can be skipped.

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A mesh router like this Google Wi-Fi setup can help increase the range of your network in a big house to enlarge.


Josh Miller / CNET

Tape Control: Different brands have different names for the function, but a growing number of routers automatically move devices between tapes when their position changes within the range of the router. So, if you make a video call on your phone with Wi-Fi and sit in the living room next to the router, you may automatically be assigned to the 5 GHz band, the fastest is short range. If you move to another part of the house during the call, the router may automatically "redirect" your connection to the 2.4GHz band, which provides a more stable connection some distance away.

Beamforming: A Basic Technique The router sends its signal more or less equally in all directions, but with beamforming the router can direct its signal in the specific directions of the devices trying to connect to it manufacture. This can help to achieve a slightly better range.

Quality of Service: Quality of service is often abbreviated as QoS and allows the router to prioritize certain types of traffic before others. This is a common feature for gaming routers.

Beyond these fundamentals, router manufacturers are increasingly turning to extras such as simplified, app-based setup, integration with language assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant, VPN support, better parental control, and optional cyber security monitoring. All are worth considering if you think you would use them at home.


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