Buyer's Guide - Routers

This document is intended to help you pick the perfect router based on your needs.


Buyer's Guide - Routers

A router is the best way to share your cable or DSL connection with multiple devices.  There are a few key features that you should be aware of when selecting a router.

Wired Ports
Most routers come with several wired ports.  This is often a great option to use if your computer has a wired Ethernet port and is located near the router.  If you wish to use several computers on wired connections, make sure the router you choose has enough ports for all of them.  If you want to connect your computer with a wired connection but there isn't one on your computer, you can add a USB Ethernet adapter.

Bands
There are two main frequencies used by different wireless specifications - 2.4 GHz, which is slower but has longer range and 5 GHz, which can provide greater speed but at shorter distances.  Wi-Fi 6E routers also use 6 GHz, which has tremendous speed but a bit shorter range than 5 GHz. Here is a breakdown of what bands are used by each specification:

 Specification Name
 Used by
 Frequencies Used
 Max Speed*
Backwards Compatibility
Notes
 802.11b
(Wi-Fi 1)
 Older devices
 2.4 GHz  11MbpsNone
Obsolete
 802.11a
(Wi-Fi 2)
 Older devices
 5 GHz  25MbpsNone
Obsolete
 802.11g
(Wi-Fi 3)
 Older devices
 2.4 GHz  54Mbps 802.11b
Obsolete
 802.11n
 (Wi-Fi 4)
 Most current devices
 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz
 600Mbps802.11g, often 802.11a
Notes
 802.11ac
 (Wi-Fi 5)
 Newer devices
 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz
 1733Mbps802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11a
As of Jan 2020, this is the current mainstream standard
 802.11ax
 (Wi-Fi 6)
 Newest devices
 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz
 1.5x faster than Wi-Fi 5
802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11a, 802.11ac
Many of these devices can be upgraded via software to Wi-Fi 6E
 802.11ax
 (Wi-Fi 6E)
 Upcoming devices
 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 6 GHz
 tbd802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11a, 802.11ac
This is an extension of Wi-Fi 6 that uses the 6GHz bandwidth and will provide much greater speeds
 802.11ad
 Specialty devices
 60 GHz
7GbpsNone
This is a very limited technology designed for specialty use, not intended for primary home use

*: These are theoretical max speeds and are rarely achieved in real-world settings.  Max speed depends on building construction, number and kind of devices on the network and ultimately cannot exceed the speed of your cable or DSL connection.

Capacity
Not all routers are the same!  There are different ratings of routers based on the theoretical max speed that the router's antennas can receive.  Some routers also utilize MU-MIMO technology, which uses more antennas for additional speed.

Range
Many routers will list a range rating. While this is useful, keep in mind that you will likely get slower speeds at the extreme end of the range. The construction of your building can greatly impact your wireless signal.  A good way to estimate how much it will impact your network is to check your cell phone signal in different areas of your home or apartment. It is also ideal to place the router as close to the center of your home as possible to maximize the range.

Number Of Users
The number of users and devices that might simultaneously connect to the router is of utmost importance in picking a router.  Generally, the higher end the router, the more people it can support comfortably.  Here are DoIT's recommendation for routers:

 Capacity  # of users/devices
 Wi-Fi 5 (AC1000)
 1-2
 Wi-Fi 5 MIMO (AC1733+)
 2-3
 Wi-Fi 6 (3000 Mbps)
 3-5+


USB devices
Some routers offer the option to add an external USB device to be shared on the connection, such as a USB printer or external hard drive.  Apple's Time Capsule has a built-in hard drive that is used for backups.

Mesh and repeaters
Some routers use a concept called mesh. This allows multiple routers to be placed throughout the home, with all of them acting as a primary router with full bandwidth. DoIT recommends this over using a repeater to fix range issues, as repeaters will reduce the speed of your network and should only be used as a last resort. Please note: you can't upgrade a router to become a mesh router, you need purchase a router that specifically lists this feature. Many mesh routers are sold in 3 packs that will save you money.