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Routers

If you want to get an internet connection at your home or place of work, then you are going to need to set up a router. Keep reading to learn more about what a router is, how it works, and what to look for if you are buying one.


What is a Router?


The router is a piece of network hardware that allows your local home network such as personal computers, smartphones, and other connected devices to communicate with the internet. Routers that are used in homes and other small networks are called residential gateways, but you will never usually see them called that. Your router acts as the first line of defense for network intrusion. When the highest level of security on the router is enabled, this switches on features such as a firewall, and it is one of the best ways to keep your network and your information safe from hackers. The majority of routers use network cables to connect to other network devices. They come in various shapes and sizes.


How does a Router Work?


Routers connect a modem to other devices, allowing communication between the internet and the connected devices. The majority of routers, including wireless routers, allow simultaneous connection of various devices to the internet through several network ports.

Typically, the router will have a physical connection through a cable to the modem via the WAN or internet port. A wireless router will have various wireless standards that are used to connect to devices that support the standard used. A public IP address is assigned to the local network connection, while a private IP address is assigned to the router, as the default gateway for the devices on the network. Both wireless routers and wired routers that have several connections will act as network switches that permit devices to communicate with one another.

For example, it is possible to configure computers that are connected to the same router to share printers or files with one another. Ultimately, a router is like a small computer and has memory and a CPU that deals with both outgoing and incoming data. It is possible to upload software to the router that works in a similar way to an operating system on a computer.


What Does a Wi-Fi Router Do?


Wi-Fi routers are one of the most common networking devices that you will find in homes and places of work. While you do not need a Wi-Fi router to simply access the internet, you do need one if you want to get online wirelessly. In order to understand a Wi-Fi router, it’s important to understand how a traditional router works.

When you get a connection for your home or office that is provided by your internet service provider, you will have a modem installed. Generally, internet-enabled devices in your home are not connected to your modem, but rather the modem is connected to the router, and then devices are connected to this. Some devices have the modem and router combined in a single box. The router will share the internet connection provided by the modem, as will all of the devices that are connected to it.

Both traditional wired routers and Wi-Fi routers work in the same way. However, the main difference between the two is that with a wired router, you will only be able to get an internet connection by plugging a device into it directly with an Ethernet cable. On the other hand, with a Wi-Fi router, you can connect several devices wirelessly to the internet with no Ethernet cable needed.

To get Wi-Fi at home, there are a few things that you will need. A Wi-Fi router is essential, along with a modem provided by your internet service provider. This might be separate to the Wi-Fi router or may come combined with it in the same box. You’ll also need to get an active monthly plan with an internet service provider to provide the connection to your home. Most plans will now include a modem and router that are sent out to you free of charge as a customer when you start your plan.


What are the Different Types of Routers?


The two main types of router are a traditional router and a Wi-Fi router. The main difference between the two is that with a traditional router, you cannot connect to the internet wirelessly and will need to plug an Ethernet cable into the device at one end and the router at the other to get online. On the other hand, with a Wi-Fi router, you can connect compatible devices to the network by selecting the Wi-Fi network in your home and entering the password, with no need for cables. There are some other differences between traditional and Wi-Fi routers that you may be interested to learn more about. Some of the key ways that traditional and Wi-Fi differ from one another include:

Sharing: When you have a Wi-Fi router, it’s much easier to share it with others such as friends or family who are visiting your home and want to get online with their smartphone, for example. When you have visitors, it’s much easier to help them get online in your home when you have Wi-Fi rather than a physical connection. Instead of running a network cable from the router to devices, all you need to do is share the Wi-Fi password. It also makes it easier for you and any guests that you have to connect multiple devices since not all modern devices, such as smartphones, will have an Ethernet port.

Reliability: A traditional, wired router might be more reliable compared to a Wi-Fi router. This is because there are several different things that might interfere with the Wi-Fi signal including materials used in the construction of your home, nearby objects, other Wi-Fi networks in the area, and even appliances in the home. Interference with the Wi-Fi network can cause black spots or reduce the speed. However, the good news is that this is rarely an issue.

Speed: When you have a physical connection to a router with an Ethernet connection, you can usually enjoy a faster speed compared to being connected to Wi-Fi. However, that being said, you will usually have the option to connect with an Ethernet cable to a Wi-Fi router if needed, so you don’t have to choose between one or the other if you want to access faster speeds.

Restriction: While a wired connection to the router might be faster and more reliable, one of the main issues that people have with it is that you need to be sat near the router to get online. With Wi-Fi, there is no restriction on where you can go in your home or which devices you can connect to the internet. While traditional routers will only usually work with computers and laptops that have an Ethernet port, you can connect any Wi-Fi enabled device to a Wi-Fi router including smartphones, smart TVs, smart speakers, tablets, and much more.


Single-Band


These are the cheapest type of routers, but they do have some significant downsides. Firstly, you are limited to only the 2.4Ghz frequency band, which means slower internet speeds. They are also more prone to interference. However, if you don’t live in a major city, don’t need super-fast internet at home, and want something reliable and not too expensive, this might be an ideal choice for you.


Dual-Band


Ideal for densely populated areas, the dual-band routers allow you to access both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequencies. This can be much better for those living in a busy city, for example, as 5Ghz is used less than 2.4Ghz so you are at a lower risk of getting stuck in ‘Wi-Fi traffic jams’. However, it’s worth noting that there might be more interference since 5Ghz isn’t as good at getting through obstructions.


Tri-Band


Tri-band routers add a second 5Ghz band, which helps to reduce interference and congestion on the network and makes it easier for you to reach higher speeds. Most will automatically sort devices between the three networks depending on compatibility. These routers are the most expensive, but they are often ideal for heavy internet users who have a lot of devices connected at the same time and live in a densely populated area.


What is the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?


You may have heard the terms ‘modem’ and ‘router’ used interchangeably if you use the internet in your home or place of work. However, despite often being used to refer to the same thing, the two are not the same. A modem is the device that brings the internet connection into the home, while the router delivers it to your devices either via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection.

A modem is essential if you want to have an internet connection in your home. You will usually be provided with one when you sign up for a new internet plan from an internet service provider. A modem usually looks like a small box, and it will be connected to the service for fixed wireless, fiber, cable, or satellite internet depending on your service. If you have DSL service, it will connect to your home’s phone line. The modem then has a cord that connects to your router. It is connected to an outlet for power. If the modem does not receive power or is not correctly connected, then the internet service in your home will go down.

On the other hand, a router is a very different device. It may look similar to the modem, or in some cases, the two may be put together in the same casing so that you only have one device for both. A router is necessary for taking the internet connection that the modem provides to your home, turning it into various lines of service for the internet-enabled devices in your home such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, streaming devices, and other smart devices. Without a router, you will not be able to connect to the internet in your home.

The router has a port that the internet comes in through via a cable connected to the modem. There are also several Ethernet ports on the router, which you can connect your devices to if you want to get online. If you don’t have a Wi-Fi router, then the only way you are going to get online is to plug an Ethernet cable into these ports and then into your device. However, since most people today have a Wi-Fi router and connect wirelessly, it’s likely that the ports are just ‘nice to haves’ and will go unused.


What are Some of the Security Challenges Associated With Routers?


Many Wi-Fi routers today are not as secure as the users would like to think they are. In fact, security experts say that some routers in homes today are so vulnerable that the best thing to do is simply throw them away. Routers are commonly given by internet service providers, but since they give away so many of them, they often become huge targets for hackers. To improve router security, experts recommend upgrading to a commercial router that is designed for small businesses. Separating your modem and router into different devices instead of using a ‘gateway’ device that combines the two can also be a good way to make it more secure.

Not many home internet users realize that their router is actually a computer with its own operating system, software, and risks. If a router is compromised, it can spy on you, stage man in the middle attacks, alter data that has not been encrypted, or send the user to duplicate websites that look like legitimate online banking sites, for example.

Because of this, it’s important to understand security for your home router and how to lock it down. Ideally, you should make sure that the router and the modem are separate devices as dual-purpose devices give you little control over your home network. If you were provided with a single box by your internet service provider, then the good news is that you can usually ask your internet service provider to switch off the router part of the box so that it only acts as a modem, and then get your own router for more control. Some other things that you can do to improve router security include:

Avoid Using Cloud-Based Router Management: Experts recommend turning this feature off if you can, as it involves trusting a third-party between you and your router.

Set Up Guest Wi-Fi: If you can, it’s a good idea to set up a guest Wi-Fi network and offer this to anybody who does not live in your home who wants to use your Wi-Fi network while visiting. This generates a new Wi-Fi name and password that guests can use so that you don’t have to give your password out to anybody else. Enable WPA2 and WAP3 encryption standard: If the router supports these, they should definitely be enabled. WPA2 wireless encryption means that only authorized users can join your network. Get a new router if there is only the older WEP standard supported. Newer routers from 2021 and later support the new WAP3 encryption standard, so it’s worth enabling this too if you can.

Switch Automatic Firmware Updates On: If they are available, it’s a good idea to set your router to automatically update firmware. This is usually an option for newer routers, so you don’t have to worry about it getting out of date if you forget to do it manually.

Change the Network Name and Password: One of the first things that you should do when you get a new router is change the network name and password. This is because the ones that are provided by internet service providers are often extremely easy to guess by hackers and can make your network more vulnerable. Choose a unique name but avoid anything that will give your identity away. Similarly, change the password to one that is long, unique, and strong with a range of lower- and upper-case characters, numbers, and special characters. You can do this by logging into the router as an admin from your computer or smartphone.


Managing a Router


There is likely to be times when you will need to make some changes to how your network works, which you can do by accessing the software on the router. You can usually connect to a home router as an administrator by entering the router’s IP address in your web browser and logging in using the admin username and password that is typically provided on the router itself. There are several reasons why you may want to do this including the upgrade the router’s firmware, to change the login password for the Wi-Fi router, to change the Wi-Fi password, to set up port forwarding, to encrypt your wireless network, or to change the Wi-Fi name or SSID on your router. You may also manage the router by accessing the admin panel if you need to restart your router with some models, or to reset the software.


Buying a Router


At home, the Wi-Fi network is crucial for your digital life. Because of this, if you are looking to buy a new Wi-fi router, it’s important to look for one that is secure, meets your needs, and will last a while before you need to replace it. First of all, consider whether you want a separate modem and router, or a router with a built-in modem. The main advantage of getting a combined device is that it uses less space and may be cheaper than buying the two separately. However, with two separate devices, you will usually have more control over things like firmware and settings. Separate devices also often perform better. Some things to consider to find the best router for you are:


Wi-Fi Coverage


Consider where your router needs to reach once it is set up in your home. Maybe you only have a few rooms on one or two floors that you will need it to reach, or perhaps you have a large home with a basement, attic, and garage and want a Wi-Fi connection throughout. This factor will help you determine the best wireless router for your home. Some routers may not be able to deliver Wi-Fi throughout the entire home, and you may need to consider a long-range router or a Wi-Fi booster or extender device.


Wi-Fi Performance


Speed for wireless routers is advertised in megabits per second. However, the highest Mbps rating is not the only factor to look for when considering Wi-Fi performance. A high-speed router won’t be able to speed up a slow internet connection, so think about the speed of the internet that you are getting from your internet service provider plan and opt for a router that is going to be able to deliver this. Buying the best home router that delivers speeds at least as fast as what is offered by your internet service provider will maximize the speed of your wireless network.


Wi-Fi Security


Since routers can easily be compromised, security is a key factor to consider when buying. Experts recommend keeping your router and modem separate and that the best internet router is a commercial rather than a home router to get extra security and reduce your risk of having the router compromised.


Wi-Fi Controls


There are various ways to control your Wi-Fi including smart routers, which you can manage from a smartphone using an app that connects directly to the network from anywhere, even if you are not at home. They are easy to set up and may be worth considering if you want the additional control. On the other hand, a router with standard controls is usually a cheaper option. You can access the settings from these routers by entering the router’s IP address in a web browser and logging into the admin panel.

To get an internet connection at home, you are going to need a router. You may get one from your internet service provider when you start a new plan, or you can buy one to use with your internet package.


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