The chances are that you know about the uses of a wireless router. They allow you to connect all your family’s personal computers to the internet, video call your parents on your tablet and play video games with your far away friends from college.
But while these are all great and useful things, have you ever wondered what exactly a wireless router really does? Or even how it does it?
In this article, we aim to give you a quickfire lesson to answer the question “What does a router do?”.
Using this knowledge the next time you need to buy a wireless router you will be able to make an informed choice about the right router for you. This will allow you to get the most out of your wireless network.
What Is A Wireless Router, And How Does It Work?
Read on to find out what a wireless router does, how it works and what exactly you should be looking for when choosing a wireless router.
What Is A Wireless Router?
To put it simply a wireless router is a device that acts as a gateway to numerous other devices and allows them to connect to one computer network. Devices connected to this network are then able to communicate with each other without using wires.
The most common use of a wireless network is to allow the computers that are connected to the network to quickly and easily use a single Internet connection.
How Does A Wi-Fi Router Work?
Despite being called a wireless router, you do actually need to attach one wire if you want to use your wireless router to connect to the internet. Called an Ethernet cable it connects your internet to the wireless router and allows computers that are connected to this router to share the internet connection.
How to Share Wi-Fi to Ethernet-Only Devices
Once the router has been turned on and connected to the Ethernet cable, you can then start to connect devices to your network.
Your router will emit a signal that will usually travel between 90 and 300 meters. How far exactly will depend on things such as the model of your router and how many walls are in the way of the signal.
Any wifi connected device within reach of the router’s signal will then be able to connect to the wireless network, and as such the internet.
It is also possible to increase the signal distance with a signal extender.
Netgear EX6100 Range Extender
Of course for your devices to connect to a wireless router they will need to have wireless capability themselves.
While most new technology like smartphones, tablets and computers released in the last few years will have wireless capability built into it, it is also possible to add wireless connectivity to older models using a wireless network adapter connected via USB.
How Does Wifi Work On A Router?
Just like radios, cell phones and televisions before them, a wireless router uses radio waves to communicate wirelessly with other devices.
The router translates data into radio waves and transmits those waves using its antenna. A computer or other device with a wireless adapter then receives these wireless signals and decodes them back into the original data.
This allows data to be sent quickly and effectively between computers and other connected devices.
Network adapters transmit these radio waves at two different frequencies. These are 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. These frequencies are much higher than those used for TVs and phones which means they can carry much more data.
Which Wireless Standard Is The Best?
There are various different wireless standards you must take into consideration when choosing a router.
Wireless A vs B vs G vs N vs AC – Wireless Router Standards
Now that it is common for one household to have numerous devices connected to the internet, and the fact that these connected devices are frequently being used to download and stream videos, which can take up a lot of bandwidth, it is especially important to use an up to date wifi standard.
There are two fairly common standards for wifi routers available at the moment. These are 802.11n and 802.11ac.
802.11n - Wireless N
802.11n is the slightly older standard and as such is a little slower. While the standard was sufficient for the type of content and the speed of internet connections available when it was first released, if you are going to be playing games and watching videos in 4k it might not be ideal.
802.11n routers are however generally available at a cheaper price than 802.11ac routers.
802.11ac - Wireless AC
If speed is what you are after and you want to future proof your wireless router you should make sure it has 802.11ac support. This is because 802.11ac offers higher speeds that the older wifi standards such as the aforementioned 802.11n.
As well as being quicker, 802.11ac routers can also deal with more devices being connected at the same time. Basically, if your kids are playing Xbox and listening to music on Youtube, it won’t affect how quickly you can access your work presentations.
In the past, there have been other standards available such as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g etc. However, the release of first 802.11n and then 802.11ac has seen these standards become less and less popular.
Why Should You Get A Wireless Router?
There are many reasons for buying a wireless router, some you will likely know about, and some, such as the security features included in a wireless router, that you may not know about. Here are some of the main reasons.
Connect Multiple Devices To One Internet Connection
The main reason for buying a router is that if you have multiple devices that have features that require an internet connection, the easiest (and in some cases only) way to connect them to the internet is by buying a wireless router.
So many electrical devices these days come with features that require internet access that without a router you will not be able to take advantage of the technology that you have paid for.
It also gives you the freedom to connect new devices to your router, this means that every time you buy a new bit of tech, or a friend comes round and needs to connect to the internet, you don’t need to splash out on new wired connections. Instead, you can simply connect them to your wireless router.
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Allow Your Devices To Communicate With Each Other Without Wires
A wireless router doesn’t only connect your devices to the internet, it also connects all your devices to the same network. This means that you can do things such as share music between devices, print work documents without having to leave your living room and play games with other people on your network.
Increase Your Network’s Security
A router can also increase your network’s security. Routers generally have a built in firewall which can make sure that data being transferred in your network is all ok, as well as encryption that can stop people spying on your data. They also sometimes have other inbuilt security features such as parental locks.
While you will still certainly need firewalls and antivirus software on your computer, it is always good to have an extra layer of protection.
Be Wire Free!
The final thing a wireless router does is it completely removes the need for wires to connect your devices to the internet! While that is of course pretty obvious, it is still worth thinking about.
No unsightly wires ruining your decor, no chance of people tripping up and falling and of course the ability to surf the internet everywhere from the bedroom to the garden.
Option To Use An Ethernet Cable For Extra Speed
While it may seem unnecessary, if it is required wireless routers do give you the option of using an Ethernet cable to connect to your router.
The advantage of this is what while your movement will be limited to the length of the wire, it can increase the speed of your connection. This is especially useful for particularly heavy traffic such as transferring large amounts of data between computers in your network or streaming from NAS boxes.
And that is that for our rundown of what a wireless router is, how it works and why you need one.
After reading this article you will hopefully know exactly what to look for next time you need to buy a wireless router.
If you still have any questions about wireless routers please leave a comment below, or if you know someone who will find this article useful, please feel free to share it!
Hi! My name is Jay!…..I have a question about Wi-Fi routers!
I currently have a Asus tablet!….I do not have an internet connection at home right now, but there is a Wi-Fi signal which I can pickup from the other tenants who live in the same private home where I live, but the signal is very weak!
Do I have to purchase a Wi-Fi signal extender or is it best just to purchase my own router to obtain internet service?
What do you think I should do, since I’m just a novice?
Unless one of the other tenants give you permission to use their wifi (and therefore internet), and the credentials to connect to the wifi network, then you won’t be able to join the network. Even if you get a great signal.
If you do have permission/credentials, then a wifi extender will work, but maybe not very well – especially as you already have a weak signal. Extenders (or repeaters) need to have at least a medium signal in order to ‘extend’ well. Extending a weak signal will only extend that weak signal…poorly.
If you can, use a wireless bridge, which will let you ‘bridge’ to their wifi, and you can connect from there. This does take a little more expertise.
If you are located on the same powerboard, you could also consider powerline. Which utilizes the electrical wiring as a data transit. You plug ethernet cables into either end (one to router, the pother into wifi access point or into Ethernet port of device). If you are not on the same board, it won’t work, so investigate this before buying.
I hope that all makes sense?
If not, there are individual articles around our site that will help (use the search function).
Alternatively, you can download our free guide on setting up a wireless router (and home network) which goes into a lot more detail. You can get it here