How to choose the best router for homes or home offices

Choosing the best router that the budget allows is a fundamental task that must be done by any user who wants to have a quality home network and secure Internet access with sufficient performance to take full advantage of the contracted connection. And no, although there are some exceptions that confirm the rule, the equipment provided by the operators is not sufficient.

The router is one of those devices to which a typical user pays little attention. And this is a big mistake. Generally, it is set up by the ISP and as long as it “works” it is forgotten. We must remember that it is the virtual gateway to homes or offices and therefore responsible for closing the door to strangers. If you take the trouble to install a physical door to close your home, why don’t you do the same to secure your digital life?.

On the other hand, the number of connected devices (mobiles, tablets, PCs, wearables, assistants, TVs, IoT…) to home networks keeps increasing. The Internet has become a crucial part of our personal and working lives and the confinement to curb the COVID-19 pandemic with the consequent increase in telecommuting, home study has increased it even more. All that digital traffic is handled by a single device and — along with the already saturated wireless radios — no wonder it often says enough is enough.

If you want to enjoy advanced features such as online gaming; high resolution multimedia streaming; quality video conferencing and generally give a good service to all your devices, it is time to upgrade your networking equipment with a guide where we will offer you the main sections to consider for the purchase of the router and a selection of updated offers.

How to choose the best router

It is easy to get lost in the complexity of technology jargon and existing computer networking standards. On a practical level there are three key questions to answer. One is the speed that the router must be able to handle according to the Internet connection we have contracted and another is the coverage we need to cover in a given home, both in terms of physical space and the number of devices to be connected.

The third key is common to any electronic device and refers to the amount of money we are willing to invest by valuing by the relationship between features and price of each model. Because there are quite a few price differences as you will see in the selection of offers. If the above is the general, the detail is much more extensive. Let’s review the most important.

Wi-Fi

The capacity of wireless local area networks that you will see highlighted as WLAN is one of the most important aspects to evaluate in a wireless router. They all use the general 802.11 protocol, but vary according to the versions, more advanced as the standard has been improved and finally the responsible organization has standardized by introducing simplified generational names that should appear in the names of devices, manuals and product descriptions and that are specified in:

  • Wi-Fi 6 – Wi-Fi 6E â 802.11ax
  • Wi-Fi 5 â 802.11ac
  • Wi-Fi 4 â 802.11n
  • Wi-Fi 3 â 802.11g
  • Wi-Fi 2 â 802.11b
  • Wi-Fi 1 â 802.11a

choosing the best router

Those are the main ones, although Wi-Fi 6 Version 2 is already in development and the next major version, Wi-Fi 7, is taking its first steps. In addition, network equipment and devices are also being introduced under the Wi-Fi 6E variant, which marked the approval of 6 GHz for Wi-Fi, a third band that expanded the spectrum of use by 1,200 MHz and is the most advanced of those currently available.

In practice, the entire range of new models on offer offer Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6. The former should be sufficient for a typical household with contracted ADSL or fiber Internet speeds below 1 Gbps and not requiring the maximum connectivity needed by multiple users for multimedia streaming and/or online gaming, surely the tasks that take up the most bandwidth along with downloading and torrenting.

Those that support Wi-Fi 6 offer great improvements over the previous one in performance, ability to manage connected devices and other advantages that we have been talking about. They are intended for users with tariffs of 1 Gbps or higher or those looking for the most advanced WLAN features. The latest approved standard, 6E, is still in the deployment phase, but is interesting for those who want to get a head start on the future.

Wi-Fi bands

Do not buy any wireless router that does not offer support for at least two radio bands. The two used in Wi-Fi 5 are those of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band operates at a lower frequency and offers greater range (reaches farther) because it is better able to penetrate walls and other structures. However, it is super saturated because it is used by a multitude of devices, including Bluetooth connections.

The 5 GHz band is less crowded and offers significantly higher throughput with minimal signal interference. However, it has a shorter range than the 2.4 GHz band. Most routers offer dual-band and allow the user to assign each radio band to specific applications and clients, which relieves the load on both bands.

The more advanced ones have support for triple band, one 2.4 band and two connected to the 5 GHz configurable for different tasks. It is common to see routers advertised with labels such as AC1200, AC1750, AC3200, etc. This designates the theoretical maximum speed of the router in Mbps by summing the throughput on all bands. In the case of Wi-Fi 5 the theoretical maximum speed is 5400 Mbps.

Wi-Fi 6 adds a third band of use to the previous ones, the 6 GHz band, achieving a greater range of the available radio spectrumtheoretically, this (and other technologies) can reach speeds of close to 10 Gbps, a tremendous throughput that can rival wired networks. A tremendous performance that can rival that of wired networks.

choosing the best router

LAN

A wireless router must also be equipped with ethernet ports to connect via cable to equipment such as desktops, NAS or those required by the user. Also to connect the router of the operator that in the case of fiber providers must be maintained to feed the second, either used as the main router in neutral router formats or complementary as Wi-Fi extenders or similar.

The router must have at least four Ethernet ports 10/100/1000 (gigabit). If you need higher performance, you can purchase routers that support link aggregation. This feature uses two gigabit Ethernet LAN ports to provide higher throughput (up to 2 Gbps). It also provides failover if a LAN connection fails and can be used to load balance network traffic.

More advanced routers can offer support for wired networks 2.5 and up to 10 GbEbut they are usually reserved for enterprise environments or some top-of-the-line consumer products. In all cases the LAN ports of the router can be extended by means of switches as long as we have the possibility to connect them by cable.

PLC

Wi-Fi is the leading technology for accessing the Internet or creating local networks through wireless interconnections that avoid having to run wiring throughout the home or office, something that, in any case, is not always possible to do. Much of this has to do with the inability of a typical access point to handle the huge increase in connected devices and reach any location satisfactorily.

For those unfamiliar with PLC technology, its operation is based on the use of the electrical transmission lines to broadcast communication signals. In this way, the power grid is used as a digital line for data transmission, allowing the full power of a broadband Internet connection to be carried over the power lines, turning any power outlet into a high-speed access point.

As you can understand, in addition to great performance by transmitting data over the fastest path, ease of installation is another of its great advantagesas they can replace Ethernet networks. Also significant is the increase in signal range, as we can connect these devices to sockets in any room, avoiding the typical interference caused by distance and obstacles such as doors, walls and ceilings that penalize the operation of wireless networks. These equipments are independent and can be used on any network.

choosing the best router

Other features to consider

MIMO. The technology Multiple Input Multiple Output was one of the most important technologies to arrive with Wi-Fi 5. It uses multiple antennas to send and receive up to eight spatial streams, resulting in improved performance. MU-MIMO downstream, designed to provide bandwidth to multiple devices simultaneously rather than sequentially, means that up to four clients can have their own data streams instead of waiting to receive data from the router. Wi-Fi 6 also offers MU-MIMO transmissions, but with enhanced downlinks as well as uplinks.

USBalmost all routers offer additional USB ports that are used to connect external devices and share them on the local network. The most common are printers or external storage devices to use them as if they were NAS to share files on the network. It is not essential when choosing the best router, although they can always come in handy.

Antennas. Many routers look like ‘alien spacecraft’ because of the number of antennas coming out of them. Although they can also be internal and in some you will not see a single one of them as they are inside, these external antennas are usually high gain and are intended to improve Wi-Fi coverage. Generally, the more the better, but it depends on their quality. There are models that offer removable and can be connected before specialized third-party manufacturers with greater range.

Firmware and software An important section for advanced users looking for total control and maximum possibilities of their network. These are third party developments that add more possibilities than the official ones provided by the manufacturers. They are not officially supported, but their installation is worthwhile as long as they are supported by each model. We highlight three of the best known, DD-WRT, Tomato and AsusWRT Merlin, a variant of the official firmware of this provider.

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Related to the above, point out other features of interest that can be managed in an advanced wireless router such as:

  • WPA security. All routers have security systems to prevent access to the router configuration and also to the Wi-Fi network protected by the WPA protocol with version v3 being the most advanced. WPA-Enterprise offers an additional level of security, but requires a Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) server to authenticate each client. It pays to invest additional time in router security with this type of task.
  • QoSÂ (quality of service) whereby the user can decide which applications and clients have priority on the network, to ensure streaming functions, on-line gaming or videoconferencing systems if you are working at home.
  • Parental Control. They limit content unsuitable for minors in the home or manage hours and days of access to the network through blocking systems that can be alphanumeric keys or a combination of keys, which are managed by the legal responsible.
  • WPS. A Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) router that allows you to add compatible devices by simply pressing a button on the router and on the device to add it to your network.
  • Mesh Networks. Mesh networks facilitate wireless communication by combining the two topologies of wireless networks and, in particular, allow network cards to communicate with each other, regardless of the access point.
  • Guest network. An additional network separate from the main network that allows use by third parties while maintaining security. It has an SSID identifier and passwords different from the main one.
  • OFDMA. It improves overall performance by dividing Wi-Fi channels into subchannels, allowing up to 30 users to share a channel at the same time.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT). It is designed to reduce power consumption by allowing devices to determine when and how often to start sending and receiving data.
  • IPv6. It is a 128-bit scheme that will offer an (almost) infinite number of IP addresses. Most current routers have built-in support for IPv6 addressing, but it is a good idea to check if you want to be ready for a mandatory transition as the available IPv4 addresses are running out.

On the hunt for the best router (Deals May 2022)

If you have come this far you will have seen that there are quite a few aspects to consider when selecting the best device, although in general network infrastructure providers offer everything you need, good build quality, customer support and most of the technologies we have seen above. When purchasing new devices, it is necessary to go for devices that support Wi-Fi 6. As you will see in the offers, their price is not much higher than those of Wi-Fi 5, their advantages are enormous and they are better prepared for the future.

As for their level, you will have to evaluate according to your needs and budget. This type of equipment will last you quite a few years and as in any electronics purchase in the balance between features/price is the virtue. We have selected some models that we consider of interest available at major Spanish retailers and from all the major manufacturers. Any of them, as main router-modem or additional to the one served by the Internet service operator, will be a great option to improve the performance of your local network.

Xiaomi Mi Router AX1800. One of the cheapest Wi-Fi 6 routers on the market, with a performance of 1,800 Mbps in its two bands. It has 4 external antennas and can handle up to 128 devices-Mi Mesh mesh. It mounts a 5-core Qualcomm chipset and has four Gigabit LAN ports. Currently on offer, it is priced at only 42 euros.

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TP-Link Archer AX10. A basic Wi-Fi 6 AX1500 router with dual-band support (1201 MBps on 5 GHz and 300 MBps on 2.4 GHz), WAN port and four Gigabit LAN ports. It has a 1.5 GHz triple-core CPU. Supports OFDMA and Beamforming to support more simultaneous connections and reduce latency. It has four internal antennas and is compatible with the Alexa assistant. It is priced at only 59 euros.

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Linksys MR7350. Another of the most economical is this dual-band 6 mesh WiFi router with maximum speeds of 1.8 Gbps. It has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, WAN and an additional USB 3 port. Like the previous ones, it features MU-MIMO, Beamforming and OFDMA technologies, WPA 3 support and guest networking. It costs 60 euros.

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AVM Fritz!Box 7530 AX. DSL/VDSL Router with WiFi 6, Dual Band (1800 Mbps 5 GHz and 600 Mbps 2.4 GHz) and multiple internal high gain antennas. It has four Gigabit LAN ports, WAN and USB 3.0 for integrated multimedia server (USB, NAS). It also has a PBX for IP telephony (VoIP) and / or fixed, with 5 answering machines and Fax. It is on offer for 152 euros.

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D-Link DIR-X5460. Another router with Wi-Fi 6 support in this case for the mid-range market. It offers a total bandwidth of 5.4 Gbps (4800 Mbps + 600 Mbps) combining the combined dual band of 5400 Mbps and MU-MIMO technology for simultaneous forwarding to multiple connected devices. It has a Gigabit WAN port and 4 LAN and Gigabit network (1000 Mbps) and two USB 3.0 ports. It has a VPN wizard, WPÃ 3 encryption, support for mesh networking and mobile control with Alexa or Google Assistant. It is priced at €199.

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ASUS ROG STRIX GS-AX5400. Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router specialized in gaming. Compatible with PS5 and mobile gaming, with features such as VPN Fusion, Instant Guard, Gear Accelerator, gaming port, adaptive QoS, and Aura RGB lighting system. It offers Wi-Fi performance of up to 5400 MBps and 160 MHz channels. It has a WAN port, four Gigabit LAN ports and a USB 3.2. It is priced at €241.

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AVM Fritz!Box 7590 AX. The best router of this prestigious German manufacturer, European leader. Supports Wi-Fi 6 4×4 (WLAN AX), dual band with 2,400 Mbps (5 GHz) + 1,200 Mbps (2.4 GHz). Includes four Gigabit speed LAN ports and dual USB 3.0 ports. It also has a VoIP telephone system and two analog telephone connections with a base for up to 6 wireless telephones and 5 integrated answering machines. It is priced at 283 euros.

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TP-Link Archer AX6000. Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router with up to 5952 Mbps throughput: 4804 Mbps (5 GHz) and 1148 Mbps (2.4 GHz). It has a 2.5G WAN port, 8 Gigabit LAN ports and dual USB 3.0. It is powered by a quad-core CPU at 1.8 GHz and 2 co-processors in charge of reducing latency. For the high end, it is not lacking in advanced features and is available for 299 euros.

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Netgear RAX120. Very visually appealing, with the external antennas covered by two panels. For Wi-Fi, it has four 6 GHz streams, four 5 GHz streams and four 2.4 GHz streams, expanding the networks capacity to accommodate more devices and offer up to 1200 + 4800 Mbps. It has five Gigabit Ethernet ports with 2.5G speed, two USB 3.0 ports for external devices and all kinds of features including support for Amazon Alexa voice commands. It is priced at €380.

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ASUS GT-AX11000 ROG Rapture. Impressive on the outside with those eight high-gain external antennas. And on the inside, with Wi-Fi 6 performance of up to 11,000 Mbps on three bands. Dedicated especially to online gaming (but good for anything), it has four 2.5G LAN ports, a gaming port, dual USB 3.2 ports, DFS band, wtfast, adaptive QoS and all kinds of features, including RGB lighting system. It is priced at 399 euros and if you are looking for one of the first Wi-Fi 6E, a ROG AXE11000 variant is also available.

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Extras

We do not want to end the article without adding two additional systems that are becoming quite popular. One of them refers to the ecosystem of wiFi Mesh wireless networks which takes advantage of the potential of the Wi-Fi 6 standard, the integration of routers, extenders and nodes for mesh networks and offers advanced features at a really affordable price as we saw in the review of the D-Link EAGLE PRO AI that we put as an example.

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The second is a pLC system the PLC systems that we have explained above, capable of converting any power outlet into a high speed access point by using the electrical network as a digital line to transmit data allowing to bring all the power of a broadband Internet connection to any point of a home or office in a very simple way. In this sector we like Devolo solutions.

All of the above is just a selection as there are hundreds of different routers on the market. You can find these offers and many more at our top retailers:

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Note: This selection contains some links from our affiliates, but none of the products included have been proposed or recommended by them or their manufacturers, but chosen at our own discretion.

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