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Router Basics

Article ID: 16
Last updated: 19 Oct, 2015
Revision: 7
Views: 9863

Why do we want a router?  What will it do for us? A home networking router is used to connect multiple computers or devices to a single Internet connection, whether it is a direct connection from a wall jack or through a DSL or Cable modem.. A router is different than a modem: your modem connects you to the internet via your ISP, while your router connects your computers to one another. These days people have computers, tablets, cell phones, gaming consoles, smart Tv's, even washing machines and kitchen appliances that can use an internet connection. A router can connect all these devices, supply each of them with its own unique IP address, and provide a level of security by hiding the IP address from the outside world while providing extra firewall protection.

A few basic terms we should define before we go any further.

  • A router, whether wired or wireless, connects to the Ethernet jack provided from your ISP to route data to and from different devices. A router always includes wired Ethernet ports.
  • An Access Point is a wireless only router with no wired Ethernet ports.
  • A wireless bridge can be used to connect wireless to devices that do not have a wireless connection. The bridge communicates with your wireless router or access point to provide 1 or more wired Ethernet ports to connect a device to your network, without having to run long cables or install in-wall wiring for the connection. (See Providing an Ethernet Connection in Wireless Only Environments)

There are many types of network routers available on the market today, in various price ranges from $15 to several hundred dollars. Which router you choose will depend on many factors. Consider the following before deciding to purchase a router:

  • Do you want wired connections, wireless, or both?
  • How fast a connection do you need?
  • Will you be using the router to just to connect to the internet, or do you want to network multiple computers together for file sharing?
  • What devices do you currently have that need to be connected to your network?
  • What new/upgraded devices do you plan to connect in the future?
  • What is your current ISP connection speed?
  • How much are you willing to spend?

Once you know the answers to the above questions, you can research the type and brand/model of router to purchase. Normally you would not want to purchase more capability than you need unless you are planning  for future expansion.

Throughput is the speed at which a router can transfer data. The transfer speed of your wireless connection is dependent on the wireless standard it uses. The most common standards today are 802.11g and 802.11n (also known as "wireless G" and "wireless N", respectively). Wireless N is capable of several hundred Mbps transfer speed and is faster than wireless G at 54 Mbps, though routers that support wireless N are also more expensive. Most new devices—like smartphones and laptops—support the faster wireless N. The 802.11g standards works at 2.4 GHZ and 802.11n works at both 2.4 and 5 GHz.

A new standard known as 802.11AC is just coming to the market that some media outlets are calling Gigabit Wireless. This standard uses the 5 GHz frequency band exclusively and incorporated using wider RF channel by combining several channels together and using MIMO (Multiple Input/Multiple Output) techniques to allow for higher speeds.

A word about wireless speed You see a lot of numbers put out by the manufacturers of wireless routers that are more than somewhat misleading. Some of the new AC style routers claim speeds of 1.3 Gbps or more.  This is only inside a closed room Faraday cage under absolutely perfect conditions; between two identical modems; no other radio signals present (no iPhone, tablet, laptop, etc. in the room).  This is NOT real-world conditions. And no matter how fast you can transfer data between devices within your network, you Internet speed will never exceed the assigned speed provided by your ISP.

Your router isn't the only thing that determines wireless speed: you also need the correct kind of wireless card in your computer. If you have an older laptop, it might have an older wireless G card inside, meaning it can't take advantage of wireless N speeds. If you have a mix of N- and G-capable computers, you can turn on a wireless N feature called "mixed mode", which will let you use both on the same network. You'll get faster speeds on the wireless N clients and slower speeds on the wireless G clients.

The wired half of your router will come in one of two speeds: 10/100 Mbps and 10/100/1000 Mbps (also known as "gigabit"). 10/100 routers are cheaper, but won't transfer data between computers as quickly as gigabit routers will. If you're only using your router to connect to the internet, 10/100 is fine, since your internet connection is probably slower than 100Mbps, meaning you wouldn't be able to actually take advantage of the router's full speed. If you're transferring data between computers, a gigabit router would be the better choice, since it'll transfer that data much faster than a 10/100 model. This also depends on the computers you are connecting and their NIC capabilities. Until recently only 10/100 was available. In the last few years, computers with 10/100/1000 Mbps NIC cards have become the norm.  Remember, your network will only run as fast as the slowest component.

Routers have two types of ports in the back: LAN ports and WAN ports. Your WAN port hooks up to your modem or Ethernet jack provided by your ISP, while the LAN ports hook up to your computers and other clients. Most routers have one WAN port, but you'll need as many LAN ports as you have wired devices. You need to be very careful when connecting your router to your ISP.  If you make the mistake of connecting one of the LAN ports instead of the WAN port to your service provider, you may interfere with the ISPs network and they might shut off your connection.  If you have more wired devices than can fit on a router, you can plug them all in using a wired switch. A switch is like a power strip for your router: it lets you plug in more devices than the router originally allowed.For more information on connecting your router to Pavlov Media's network please see the article How to Connect a Personal Router.

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