Tri Band Wireless Routers with WiGig Support and More

TP-Link Talon AD7200 Multi-Band Wi-Fi Router
TP-Link Talon AD7200 Multi-Band Wi-Fi Router. tplink.com

Wireless broadband routers have evolved over the past 15+ years with increasingly higher performance and more features.  Tri-band routers offer the latest-and-greatest high-end technology available in the mainstream market... for a higher price.  But do you really need one?  Making an informed choice requires understanding some basic principles of wireless networks.

Single-Band and Dual-Band Wireless Consumer Routers

Early generations of broadband routers supported single-band Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz signal range.

The oldest ones supported 802.11b Wi-Fi, followed by models that also supported 802.11g (so-called 802.11b/g routers), then also some 802.11n (“Wireless N”) single band units (technically, 802.11b/g/n routers as all three versions of these Wi-Fi standards are compatible with each other).

Note: Do not confuse wireless bands with wireless channels. Those with experience in administering a home network have encountered the concept of wireless channels in Wi-Fi.  Each Wi-Fi connection runs over one specific Wi-Fi channel number. For example, 802.11b/g single band Wi-Fi defines a set of 14 channels (of which 11 are used in the U.S.), each using 20 MHz of wireless radio space (called “spectrum”).  Newer versions of Wi-Fi standards add more channel channels and sometimes increase the spectrum side (“width”) of each channel, but the basic concept remains the same.

In summary, a single-band router uses a wireless radio to communicate on any one of the wireless channels it is capable of communicating on.

This one radio supports multiple (potentially many) different wireless devices communicating with it: The radio and router handle traffic across its entire local network by sharing the single stream of communication across all devices.

In contrast to single band support, dual-band Wi-Fi routers use a pair of radios that operate independently.

Dual-band Wi-Fi routers establish two separate subnetworks (separate SSID network names) with one radio supporting 2.4 GHz and the other supporting 5 GHz. They first became popular with 802.11n as an alternative to single-band 2.4 GHz 802.11n. Many 802.11ac routers also offer the same 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz support. For more, see - Dual Band Wireless Networking Explained.

How Tri-Band Wi-Fi Routers Work

A tri-band Wi-FI router extends the concept of dual-band Wi-Fi by adding support for a third 802.11ac subnetwork (no Wireless N tri-band routers exist). These routers still function using the same two frequency ranges (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) as dual-band radios but add another independent stream of communication onto 5 GHz. Note that it is not technically possible to pair up the two 5 GHz bands (a method sometimes called “channel bonding”) into one stream.

Current dual-band routers are often marketed as “AC1900” class products, meaning that they support 802.11ac and provide an aggregate network bandwidth of 1900 Mbps – meaning, 600 Mbps from the 2.4 Ghz side and 1300 Mbps (1.3 Gbps) from the 5 GHz side. In comparison, current tri-band routers on the market boast much higher ratings. Many different combinations exist, but the two most common flavors are

  • AC3200 - the same 600 Mbps 2.4 GHz and 1300 Mbps 5 GHz combination as dual-band Wi-Fi, with an additional 1300 Mbps from the third band
  • AC5300 - 1000 Mbps 2.4 GHz plus approximately 2150 Mbps (2167 to be precise) from each of the two 5 GHz bands

How Much Faster Can Your Network Run with a Wi-Fi Tri-Band Router?

On networks with more than one active 5 GHz client device, a tri-band router can simultaneously offer two separate streams of data transfer, doubling the overall throughput of the 5 GHz network. The performance improvement a home network will experience depends on its setup and usage patterns:

  • any networks with only one active 5 GHz client device will not see any performance improvement from the third band
  • a network with more than one active GHz client device will see only minimal performance improvement from the third band unless both are sending or receiving large amounts of data (typically by streaming video, playing online games, and/or running home network backups)
  • networks with very high-speed fiber Internet connections are more likely to see improvement than those with slower Internet links

Brands and Models of Wi-Fi Tri-Band Routers

Mainstream vendors of consumer network equipment all manufacture tri-band routers. As with other categories of routers, each vendor  attempts to differentiate their tri-band products on a combination of elements:

  • price
  • quality of radios and antennas
  • form factor and industrial design
  • ports for connecting USB devices or other peripherals
  • service and support options (warranty, installation and update tools, etc.)

Except for the added band support, tri-band routers often offer the same feature set as the vendor's dual-band routers, including Wi-Fi network security options.

Examples of available tri-band Wi-Fi routers in the market include:

Tri-Band Routers with 60 GHz WiGig Support

If all of the above distinctions around channels, radio streams, and Wi-Fi bands weren’t enough complication, consider that another variation of tri-band routers exists.

  Some broadband router manufacturers are also beginning to add support for a wireless technology called WiGig. These routers run 3 subnetworks - one each at 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 60 GHz.

WiGig wireless technology uses a 60 GHz communication standard called 802.11ad. Do not confuse this AD with the B/G/N/AC family of home networking standards. 802.11ad WiGig is specially created to support wireless communication over the range of a few meters (feet) and not suitable as a whole-home networking option. WiGig storage devices for wireless network backups can be one useful application of 802.11ad.

An example of a tri-band router with 802.11ad support is TP-Link Talon AD7200 Multi-Band Wi-Fi Router. Perhaps attempting to lessen customer confusion, TP-Link markets this product as a "multi-band" rather than a tri-band router.

The Bottom Line: Is a Tri-Band Router Right For You?

The decision whether to invest in a tri-band Wi-Fi router ultimately boils down to a willingness to pay extra money for their larger 5 GHz bandwidth capacity.  Many home networks - those with average Internet connection speeds and typical client devices (many of which do not even support 5 GHz Wi-Fi) - can function well with even a single band router. Typical households should consider trying a dual-band model first. In the worst case, a household will derive zero benefits from having a third band.

On the other hand, if a household has a very fast Internet connection with multiple 5 GHz Wi-Fi clients they often use for simultaneous wireless video streaming or similar applications, a tri-band router can help.

Some people also prefer to “future proof” their network and buy the highest end router they can afford, and tri-band Wi-Fi meets that need well.

Tri-band routers with WiGig support can be useful in homes with 802.11ad devices that can be physically located near the router, but the future prospects for this technology remain uncertain.