Wireless Terminology to get familiar with:

Gigabit or not? Generally, a router's wired ports come in either the Gigabit Ethernet (1,000Mbps) or just regular Ethernet (100Mbps) standard. As you'd expect, Gigabit is 10 times faster (and indeed 10 times faster in real life). To put this in perspective, though, a CD's worth of data (about 700MB, or about 250 digital songs) takes about 5 seconds to transfer over a Gigabit Ethernet connection, and about a minute over a regular Ethernet connection.

That said, note that most Internet connections are much slower than 100Mbps. A top-tier residential cable broadband connection, for example, caps at about 50Mbps, half the potential speed of Ethernet. So if you just want to share an Internet connection, there's generally no need for a Gigabit router. If you get a Wi-Fi router, however, make sure it supports the Wireless-N (802.11n) standard: this is because older Wi-Fi routers (802.11g or older) might have a WAN port that doesn't fully support the 100Mbps speed. On the other hand, note that it never hurts to have Gigabit Ethernet and if you're lucky enough to have a superfast Internet connection, such as Fios, Gigabit is a must. The good news is Gigabit Ethernet is now much cheaper than it was a year ago.

Is USB support necessary? Many routers have a USB port; some even have two. Generally, this allows the router to host a printer or an external hard drive. The former means that you can share a USB printer with the rest of the network, allowing multiple computers, including those connected to the network via Wi-Fi, to print to that printer simultaneously. The latter means that you can connect an external hard drive to the router and share data stored on it with all network devices on the local network; this also enables you to stream digital content to network media players.

Many new printers come with built-in networking features, meaning that they can connect to the network by themselves via a network cable or Wi-Fi without USB ports. In this case, you don't need a router with a USB port to share these printers.

Dual-band or single-band? Wi-Fi signal works on two frequency bands, the ever-popular 2.4GHz and the relatively new 5GHz. Though Wi-Fi signals of the same standard have the same speed caps on both of these bands, the 5GHz band tends to offer much better real-world data rates. This is partly because the 2.4GHz band is saturated due to the sheer number of Wi-Fi clients on the market, and also because other home appliances, such as cordless phones, use this band, too.

If you live in a neighborhood with few Wi-Fi networks around, or if you just want to share a connection to the Internet, a good single-band 2.4GHz router should work just fine. On the other hand, if you want to have a robust Wi-Fi network with lots of local and Internet activity, you probably want a dual-band router that offers Wi-Fi signals on both bands simultaneously. Note that which band a Wi-Fi connection uses depends on both the router and the client. Most existing hardware clients, such as the iPhone 4 or the older iPad, only support the 2.4GHz band, so a dual-band router offers no benefit. It never hurts to have the dual-band feature on your router, however, and almost all new portable Wi-Fi devices now support both bands.

When do I need an access point? An access point (AP) is a device that broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal so clients, such as tablets and laptops, can connect to it. A wireless router is actually a regular router with a built-in access point. There are generally two situations where you'd need an access point: when your existing router or office network doesn't already offer Wi-Fi, and when you want to extend a Wi-Fi signal to an existing network. Since most home routers now come with Wi-Fi capability, you would generally only need a standalone access point to extend the Wi-Fi coverage.

How to find the best Wi-Fi extender? A Wi-Fi extender is another way to extend your Wi-Fi network, mostly because it's very convenient. Basically, it's a device that you place between the original Wi-Fi router and the client that's currently just a little too far out of range, and it will bridge the two. There's no wiring involved. However, there are a few things that you need to consider when getting a range extender for them to work effectively.

First, the extender needs to be the same standard as the original Wi-Fi network or better. For example, if you have a dual-band router that offers up to 450Mbps (three-stream) Wi-Fi speed, then you need to get an extender that also supports this Wi-Fi standard. Note that generally an extender only extends one frequency band at a time, so you might need two separate extenders to extend both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands in a dual-band network. Getting a range extender that supports an older or slower standard will affect not only the data speed but also the coverage of the extended Wi-Fi network, hence defeating the purpose of the extender itself. Getting an extender that supports a newer or faster Wi-Fi standard doesn't hurt, but won't give you the most bang for your buck.

Secondly, it's imperative to find the sweet spot to place the extender. This is the spot where the signal of the original Wi-Fi network is just about to wane. You can find this place by moving away from the original Wi-Fi network slowly and finding the farthest spot where you still receive full bars of Wi-Fi reception. Too close, the extender becomes less effective and even creates interference that adversely affects the original network. Too far, and there's not much signal for it to extend.

Is IPv6 important? IPv6 is a new Internet protocol that's replacing the existing IPv4 that's running out of addressing space. In the distant future, IPv6 will replace IPv4 completely, but for now all Internet sites and services, including those that have already adopted IPv6, support IPv4. New IPv6 equipment is also designed in such a way that it can coexist with IPv4 devices. Home users don't really need to worry about IPv6. It doesn't hurt to buy equipment that supports this new protocol, though; additionally, most, if not all, new home-networking devices now support Ipv6.

Power-line adapters Power-line adapters basically turn the electrical wiring of a home into network cables for a computer network. You need at least two power-line adapters to form the first power line connection. The first adapter is connected to the router and the second is connected to the Ethernet-ready device that needs help getting the signal. 

Buy equipment of the same standard. While all wireless devices are generally compatible regardless of brand or Wi-Fi standard, getting devices of the same standard helps optimize your network and saves money. For example, if you have just Wireless-N devices at home, it doesn't help to buy an expensive router that supports 802.11ac. Or if you have a Gigabit Ethernet router, you also want to have a Gigabit switch in case you want to add more wired devices to the network.


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