Someone recently contacted me for advice about replacing her old wireless router. After
receiving a follow-up request, I realized this might be a good topic for an article. As usual,
this information should not be considered specific advice to your particular situation, and
you should consider the services of a paid consultant before acting on any of the information
FULL DISCLOSURE: As of the date of this article, I am not a compensated affiliate
regarding any of the products discussed.
Here is the discussion, in chronological order:
First, what router would you suggest?
...there are a number of quality routers that will do the job... I personally prefer
Linksys, and currently use an EA4500
-- you may also be able to buy quality refurbished units from Cisco). Here's the thing
though: you may already have a router built into your...modem, so check that first...
If not, then let me discuss my Linksys. The EA4500 is a Gigabit, dual-band router
(short translation: it's fast, as long as your other equipment has the same capability.
If not, your speed may be limited by your other equipment). The router adheres to
IPv6 standards (short translation: you'll need this capability in order to surf the web
as the Internet moves away from IPv4 standards). As an N-class router, it has better signal
strength and range than G-class routers -- but be aware that G-class routers may actually
deliver better signal strength in some cases because of transmission differences
(short translation: G-class routers may transmit better through walls than N-class routers).
This diatribe is not meant to be an all-encompassing treatise on the subject, but I hope it helps.
Second, which has the better range, the Linksys EA4500 or the Linksys EA6500?
The range of wireless N routers is about 300 feet; however, there are a number of factors that
can affect the wireless router's range and signal strength, and its speed of communication with your
Obstructions such as walls and metal objects, and interference from neighboring networks or other
electronic devices (microwave ovens, some wireless telephone sets, etc), can all affect the
performance of your wireless network. Also, an older wireless card in your computer can dramatically
impact network speed -- and since your network is only as strong as its weakest link, a computer
with an older wireless card can slow down the speed of all network communications since the router
will ramp down to accomodate the older technology.
When comparing the features of the Linksys EA4500 and the EA6500, be aware that both support Gigabit
communications speeds, so that's good for multimedia devices. While the EA4500 uses the Wireless N
standard for communication, the EA6500 uses the new draft AC technology. Both are backwardly
compatible with b/g/n standards, and both are built to handle multimedia and streaming
requirements. The "draft" designation means standards are not finalized. While that can mean
a few headaches for the consumer initially, realize that wireless N specs were only finalized a
short while ago. We've been using draft N standards for several years. All things being equal
(and based on my own particular situation), I would choose the EA6500 if I were making a
purchasing decision today involving the two routers in question.
If range is your primary consideration, there are additional options. For instance, you can buy
a wireless range extender. This equipment connects wirelessly to your router and rebroadcasts
the signal, effectively acting as a repeater to extend the router's range. Equipment compatibility
can be a downside to this option.
If the router has omnidirectional antennas (as is the case for both of the routers mentioned),
it may be possible to replace them with directional ones. This can extend the range and strength
of the router signal. The downside to this option is that you may need professional help to
accomplish the replacement.
Another option is to run Ethernet cable to access points placed strategically throughout
your location. Similar to the wireless range extender, these access points broadcast the
router's signal to help overcome weak spots in coverage or extend overall range. The upside
to this option is that there may be less equipment compatibility problems, since each access
point is hard-wired to the router (or to other access points) via the Ethernet cable (be
sure to use CAT5e or CAT6 cable at a minimum in order to communicate at Gigabit speeds) --
it is even possible to repurpose an older router for use as an access point. The
downside to this option is that there is more than one way to set up and configure the
equipment. You should consider hiring a knowledgeable professional to help you if necessary.
A LinkedIn reader just pointed out that I touched, but did not elaborate, on the advantages
of allowing clients to access your Wi-Fi signal as a guest under dual-band with no access to your
office network, and having a 5GHz band. The reader also mentioned the potential need for
more than four LAN ports on the router. Here is the response I posted:
Good points. I would suggest concerning the port issue, however, that the use of LAN ports
should be reviewed to determine if wireless connections are an acceptable alternative. I have
found that often a mix of wired and wireless connections may be an optimal solution.
For instance, a networked LAN printer can provide easy access for multiple users without
relying on an ad hoc (peer to peer) connection with a PC. (Assigning a static port to the
networked printer outside DHCP auto assignments helps ensure stable and reliable printer
access.) A wireless networked printer with cloud printing capability can extend that usefulness
and eliminate the use of a LAN port.
A wireless router normally provides 96 wireless and 4 wired connections. You can, of course,
provide more wired connections by daisy-chaining access points off the router or, as you
indicate, purchasing a hub with more ports -- but this may become more complicated (and expensive)
than desired (or necessary) for some small and micro-business owners.
Now let me elaborate a bit on the two areas mentioned by the reader. First, concerning the issue of
"guest access," the guest actually is
accessing your network, but their access rights,
or privileges, are extremely limited so that they cannot access any of your other networked
drives, folders, files, etc. Second, the 5GHz band is a real plus. For one thing, it helps avoid
congestion normally faced by routers operating on the 2.4GHz band. Second, the dual-band router
is able to separate tasks such as media streaming from tasks as web browsing. This can result
in faster simultaneous responses for both tasks.