Just like Gershwin’s old song “You say tomahto, I say tomayto”, you can call the device that promotes Internet connection a “troublemaker” or “rooter”, but please don’t turn it off. Although you can connect directly to a computer at a single fixed location, almost everyone with an Internet connection uses a router.
Last spring, when two fiber-optic Internet providers dug into our site, many of my neighbors wondered if they needed a new router to take advantage of the rapid development of fiber-optic Internet. Both companies promised “speeds up to 1 Gb.” Please note that no WiFi system can match the speed of a wired Ethernet connection, and most cannot even match it. Worse, the farther you are from the router, the slower the speed.
First, return the proprietary and insufficient modems and routers provided by the cable company. These will not apply to new fiber optic providers.
You can buy routers from more than a dozen manufacturers for about $60 to $400. If you strictly require a wired Ethernet connection without WiFi, the cost of the router does not matter as long as the “Gigabit” port is guaranteed. WiFi proves that it is reasonable to increase router spending. Although there is no absolute relationship between WiFi quality and price, usually more expensive routers can provide greater wireless reliability over a larger range. As prices increase, more expensive routers will provide increasingly higher capabilities to fine-tune the way equipment operates. Most users rarely explore these useful options because they tend to be confusing or even overwhelming. The $400 router uses the latest technology you may not need. For example, the new WiFi 6 standard only benefits users who are equipped with the latest equipment (such as laptops with WiFi 6). Your existing iPad or smartphone will not recognize the difference between the two. WiFi 6 will begin to appear in next year’s models this fall.
Your residence also has a great influence on the choice of router. If you live in an apartment or condominium, a router with limited range may be better than a powerful remote model. At the same time, if you live in an apartment, you need a router that can accurately and automatically select the least used WiFi channel or allow you to set the WiFi channel independently to reduce conflict with neighbors. Kind of like an old CB radio! If you live in a multistory or scattered house, adequate range and some kind of antenna array (built into or on the router) will improve connectivity. Expensive routers allow a certain degree of “tuning” performance to expand range. The price of this model ranges from $100-$200.
If the coverage of the router needs to be extended, the range extender and relay have little effect. The best way to cover a large area with a good, fast signal involves deploying a relatively new technology called a mesh router. These small modules usually include their own routers, and they are no bigger than a pint of blueberries. You place mesh routers on each floor or opposite ends of the house to evenly distribute WiFi signals. The manufacturer usually allows you to configure the grid system using a smartphone app. Some will be set automatically. PC Magazine provides the most comprehensive and easy-to-understand description: pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-set-up-wi-fi-mesh-network.
The best deal on the mesh router system is probably Amazon’s three-unit Eero Mesh system, which costs about $250. If you wait for Amazon Prime Day this fall, you may spend less money. You can buy other modules for $100. It even includes a trivial implementation of the Alexa voice assistant. The Ars Technica website gave a high evaluation of the system. You can also choose a grid system from Plume and Google Nest.
The ASUS RT-AC5300 is one of the best routers I have, and its price is around $270. WiFi 6 has a newer version and a higher price.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champagne region, is a long-time commentator in the consumer electronics field. Email him [email protected].