Broadband Routers Explained

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A broadband router (also known as a residential or home gateway) combines the features of a traditional network switch, a network firewall, and a DHCP server. Broadband routers are designed for convenience in setting up home networks, particularly for homes with high-speed Internet service. Besides easier sharing of a home internet connection, broadband routers also enable sharing of files, printers, and other resources among home computers.

A broadband router utilizes the Ethernet standard for wired connections. Traditional broadband routers required Ethernet cables be run between the router, the broadband modem, and each computer on the home network. Newer broadband routers also incorporate wireless networking capability utilizing the Wi-Fi standards.

There are many different types of routers available, with ones using the newest technologies available at a higher cost, but they also include better features. Below are the most common types of routers, the first being the newest and then followed by the two older ones.

802.11ac Routers

802.11ac is one of the newer WiFi standards in 802.11 family. 802.11ac routers have newer hardware and software than previous implementations (see below), and are perfect for medium to large homes where speed and reliability is important.

802.11ac utilizes dual-band wireless technology and operates on the 5 GHz band, allowing up to 1 Gb/s throughput, or a single-link throughput of at least 500 Mb/s on 2.4 GHz.

This is the ideal speed range for gaming, HD media streaming, and other heavy bandwidth requirements.

The way this works is by adopting the technologies in 802.11n but also extending its capabilities, like allowing for RF bandwidth as wide as 160 MHz, and supporting up to eight multiple input multiple output (MIMO) streams and up to four downlink multi-user MIMO clients.

The 802.11ac technology is backward compatible with 802.11b/g/n hardware, meaning that while an 802.11ac router will of course work with hardware devices that support the 802.11ac standard, it will also provide network access to devices that only support 802.11b/g/n.

Best 802.11ac WiFi Wireless Routers to Buy

802.11n Routers

IEEE 802.11n-2009 (usually just called 802.11n or Wireless N) replaces the older 802.11a/b/g technologies, and increases data rates over those standards by using multiple antennas, achieving rates from 54 Mb/s up to 600 Mb/s, depending on the number of radios in the device.

802.11n routers use four spatial streams on the 40 MHz channel, and can be used on either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency band.

802.11n routers are backward compatible with 802.11g/b/a routers.

802.11g Routers

802.11g is an older WiFi technology, so these routers usually go for under $50. An 802.11g router is ideal for homes where the fastest speeds are not important.

802.11g operates on the 2.4 GHz band and supports a maximum bit rate of 54 Mb/s, but usually has about a 22 Mb/s average throughput. These speeds are just fine for basic internet browsing and standard-definition media streaming.

802.11g is fully compatible with the older 802.11b hardware, but because of this legacy support, the throughput is reduced by around 20% when compared to 802.11a.

Best 802.11g Wireless Routers to Buy

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