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Wireless Routers Buying Guide
Table of contents
A wireless router connects your personal LAN (local area network) to the Internet (WAN, or Wide Area Network) and wireless-ready computers (desktops, notebooks and PDAs) to the network to enable sharing of the Internet, files or even printers in the local network.
What helps to set wireless routers apart from one another are the device form factors and the supported wireless network transfer standards (or the supported data transfer rates). Network transfer standards regulate the speed at which computers in the network can communicate and share information with each other. For wired networks, the most common transfer standards adopted are 100Mbps and 1000Mbps; while for wireless networks 11Mbps and 54Mbps are the most popular.
Different wireless network standards support different maximum network speeds:
The maximum wireless data transfer rate of a wireless router will only be realized with the support of the client network device (wireless network adapter). This means that a transfer rate of 54Mbps (for example) will be realized only if both the router and the network adapter support the 802.11g standard. For more information about wireless network adapters, please see our Wireless Adapters Buying Guide.
Security is a vital concern for wireless network users. Wireless network security protocols may be capable of safeguarding data and preventing it from being used without authorization when it is transferred across a wireless network. Here are the most popular security protocols:
Like data transfer rates, wireless security protocols require the support of both the wireless network adapter and the wireless network AP/router, meaning that protection via the wireless security protocol will not take effect if either of the two does not support it.
Like any wireless device, the wireless router requires the help of an antenna to communicate with a wireless network. There are two types of antennas applied to wireless routers: external and internal. A wireless router with an external antenna sends and receives wireless signals at a higher level of signal performance than a wireless router that does not. Internal antennas have broad applications in ultra-slim/portable wireless routers, some of which also provide external antenna ports that allow users to install external antennas for improved signal performance.
A router has at least one WAN port and one LAN port. The WAN port is used to connect the router to the WAN (in most cases the Internet) via a Cable/DSL modem (or other Internet connection method), and the LAN port is used to provide computers with access to the Internet and the local area network.
Generally a 10/100Mbps WAN port is sufficient for most home and business users. Only if a router needs to be connected to a high-level 1000Mbps network is a 10/100/1000Mbps WAN port needed. Like the WAN port, a 10/100Mbps LAN port is typically sufficient for most home use.
Most wireless routers come with a 4-port switch (4 LAN ports) allowing you to connect 4 wired network clients. To increase the number of computers that will be able to access the network, simply connect a switch to the one of the router’s LAN ports.
VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. It is used to secure the actual transmission of data from one specific location to location over the network (in most cases the Internet). Only authorized users are able to access the network so that the data cannot be intercepted.
Most wireless routers support the VPN pass-through function allowing VPN clients to connect to the VPN server/network via the LAN setup through the wireless router. Only a few enterprise wireless routers support the VPN dial-in service (serves as the VPN server), and are generally known as VPN wireless routers.
Wireless Router and Adapter Combos
Some retail packages contain both a wireless adapter and a wireless router that support the same wireless transfer standard. These combination models are generally less costly than purchasing a wireless router and a wireless adapter separately.