Sometimes your Wi-Fi works perfectly, other times it doesn’t. So you fiddle with your router but can’t figure it out.
This is often referred to as “Wi-Fi headache,” an ailment that many can relate to. The condition stems from routers, the networking devices that people install in their homes to connect to Wi-Fi. Many routers are hard to configure for anyone who never chose a career in information technology. Complex terms like dual-band or 802.11 multiply the confusion when individuals upgrade their router or are deciding which one to choose.
In order to heal Wi-Fi headache, it is best to upgrade to a new router that supports the newest Wi-Fi standards. However, one should be careful not to buy a cheap router that’s no good, or getting on that’s way too expensive for your needs.
Wi-Fi headaches begin with how the technology has evolved. For many years, router makers like Cisco, Linksys and Netgear concentrated on making Wi-Fi technology transmit data over longer distances and at higher speeds.
That did not do much to prepare people for the eruption of internet-connected mobile devices. In places packed with computers, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, the signals from the devices are now battling for room on the same radio channels. And routers are giving out energy for longer distances that might be colliding with neighbours’ signals.
Recently, router manufacturers have improved Wi-Fi technology, keeping mobile devices in mind. They are now equipped with smarter antennas which do a better job of gathering signals and beaming energy in the direction of devices that are moving around.
Newer routers also have features that help reduced signal interference. Typically, they can transmit data over two radio frequencies – 2.4GHz and 5GHz – as well as give you the option to divide them into two different Wi-Fi networks. Generally speaking, the 2.4 GHz band transmits data over longer distances and is more congested because many varieties of devices like microwaves and cordless phones use that frequency. The 5 GHz band is less crowded but generally travels a shorter distance.
Also to blame for Wi-Fi headaches is consumer behavior. People may postpone buying a new router for many years, resulting in their devices being more up-to-date than their infrastructure. Routers that are outdated become bottlenecks that constrict the speeds of file transfers between connected devices and web downloads.
Other people never upgrade their router. Many still use the router lent to them by their internet service provider many years ago. Often doubling up as modems, those routers are short-ranged and slow. That means the time has come to buy a faster, newer router.
If the router you currently use is more than three years old, you should upgrade to a newer one. Not only will a new router improve range and speed for users, the routers have upgraded strong external antennas and internal components. A lot of them also support the newest Wi-Fi standard – 802.11ac – whose top speeds are almost three times faster than the one before – 802.11n – for the fastest wireless devices available for purchase today.
Many tablets, laptops and smartphones released since 2013 support 802.11ac. But that does not mean older devices that support 802.11n cannot also enjoy faster speeds at a longer range with the 802.11ac router – because they can.
It is generally recommended that you upgrade your router every three to four years. This time periods also accounts for how often people generally upgrade their devices like computers (every three to four years) and smartphones (every two years).
Even if your computers, laptops and smartphones are one to five years old, now is a great time to buy a new router if you haven’t upgraded in the past three years. Newer devices are mostly likely using the 802.11ac standard, so you will enjoy faster speeds over longer distances with an 802.11ac router. These benefits will be even clearer if you remain on a 5 GHz Wi-Fi network for as long as possible.
You could invest in a Wi-Fi extender if your house is so huge that a new router won’t be able to cover the entire house with great Wi-Fi signal.