Most modern homes have broadband , tablets, smartphones, laptops and PCs. Naturally, Wi-Fi has become the hallmark in connectivity. The technology lets you break away from the burden of wires and it also allows different users to share an internet connection. It has other uses also, such as the ability to transfer files between devices, wirelessly print documents and much more.
What is Wi-Fi ?
Wi-Fi or Wireless-LAN (WLAN) is a standard that allows devices to communicate with each other using a Wi-Fi router as the central hub. All devices with Wi-Fi connect to the router via which data exchange takes place.
Depending on the router used and the surrounding conditions — such as walls, physical obstructions and other wireless networks in the vicinity — Wi-Fi networks can have a range of around 20-25 feet indoors.
2.4GHz or 5GHz : which is preferable?
Every wireless network (including cell towers, cordless phones) uses radio waves to communicate and transmit data. Devices that use radio waves are tuned to a particular frequency . This allows them to communicate freely with each other, without any kind of interference from another wireless device.
The 2.4GHz sticker that you see on the router means that it transmits data at that frequency. Most gadgets use this 2.4GHz frequency to transmit, which leads to network congestion and interference. Due to this, newer Wi-Fi routers use the less-crowded 5GHz frequency band, which provides better transfers when compared to a 2.4GHz one.
However, higher the frequency of a wireless signal, the shorter its range. So a 2.4GHz router may cover a larger area than a 5GHz device. Besides, 5GHz signals do not penetrate solid objects as well as 2.4GHz signals, thus limiting their reach.
What does Wi-Fi a/b/g/n mean?
While the technology was released to the public in 1997, with time, Wi-Fi has been updated with new standards to meet the increasing bandwidth demands of the latest devices. Wi-Fi standards ‘a’ and ‘b’ are now nearly non-existent . Both of these standards provide very low bandwidth to transfer data, making them quite impractical to use in today’s world.
Wi-Fi standard ‘g’ , which uses the 2.4GHz frequency to transmit data, is the most common standard in use currently. It has a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 54Mbps, and is more tolerant to signal interference than the previous standards.
Wi-Fi ‘n’ is the latest standard that features a much higher theoretical speed of 300Mbps. The latest laptops, smartphones, and tablets support the ‘n’ standard. Wi-Fi ‘n’ can use either the 2.4GHz or the 5GHz frequency to transmit data. It also provides better signal strength due to improved signal intensity, but is more prone to signal interference.
Single band or dual band?
There are three kinds of routers: Single band, dual band and simultaneous dual band. Single band routers operate at the 2.4GHz frequency, and do not support the 5GHz band at all.
Dual band routers support both bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz), but can work with only one band at a time. If a router is working at the 5GHz ‘n’ mode, older devices that don’t support ‘n’ won’t be able to connect to it. The user will then have to set up another router at 2.4GHz, or change the setting of the router to use the 2.4GHz band. Simultaneous dual-band routers can work with both bands at the same time, thus providing for more flexibility and speed.
ADSL/DSL + Wi-Fi routers
ADSL or DSL technology is used to provide broadband connections to many households. Commonly, a phone line wire is inserted into a DSL or ADSL modem , via which your broadband connection works.
Wi-Fi routers with built-in ADSL or DSL modems can be purchased, thus eliminating the need for a separate modem and router. It is, however, recommended that you use a separate modem and Wi-Fi router, since it turns out to be cheaper and better. Most budget Wi-Fi routers with built-in modem lack several features, and can get unstable under heavy load due to the heat generated.
All about security
If left unprotected, your Wi-Fi connection can allow your neighbours to use your broadband for free, even without your knowledge. Besides, the Indian government has made it mandatory that every Wi-Fi network has to be password-protected so as to prevent terrorists from using it.
A simple and effective way of protecting a Wi-Fi network is by hiding its name, known as SSID (Server Set Identifier) – that is, the router will not show up when someone seeks a connection . Because if no one can see it, they can’t access it. However, this will require you to manually enter the Wi-Fi name every time you want to connect to it, which can be cumbersome.
While a Wi-Fi router comes with tons of security modes to protect the network, the most common are the WEP, WPA, WPA2. Of this, WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) is the most advanced, secure and common protocol out there, and is mandatory on all routers after 2005.
WPA2 has two modes: PSK or Personal mode and Enterprise mode. The Personal mode is meant for home and small office users, where data is encrypted using a 256-bit key and then sent. It allows users to set any password ranging from 8 to 63 characters.
If none is specified, the default one  is automatically used. The WPA2-Enterprise mode has advanced security standards and is not really recommended for home or small office use.
Which router to buy?
When stepping out to buy a router, there are certain things one must keep in mind. These include what purpose (video streaming, gaming) the Wi-Fi router will be used for, how many devices will be connected to it, what kind of range you would want, whether all the gadgets you use support Wi-Fi ‘g’ or ‘n’, and so on.
If you just want a simple basic router, the Netgear WGR614 for Rs1,500 will get the job done. The cheapest ADSL2+ and Wi-Fi router combo is the TP-Link TD-W 8951ND for Rs 1,800, which can fulfil your basic wireless needs if you need a built-in modem.
Router with USB support for external hard drives/dongles
If you extend your budget to Rs 3,000, then you can get the ASUS RT-N 13U Wi-Fi router that comes with a USB port. Connect an external hard disk to the USB port of the router, and you will be able to access the contents of the HDD from any device that is connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
The USB port of the router also supports wireless dongles from MTS, Tata, etc, making the router a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.
The ‘workhorse’ router
Connecting a lot of devices to the router — or streaming videos or music via wireless — is going to put quite a load on it. A basic router will simply restart or hang under heavy load like this. If you are looking to connect more than 10 devices to your network, you need to buy a dual-band router. If you will be streaming standard-definition quality videos, a decent 2.4GHz Wi-Fi router like the Netgear N300 for Rs 2,000 should get the job done. Since streaming HD videos or gaming requires a lot of bandwidth and speed, you will need to buy a simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi router like the Linksys E2500 ( Rs 8,000) or E3000 ( Rs 10,000).
Surrounded by Wi-Fi signals?
If you live in a building or your house is surrounded by Wi-Fi networks, buying a 2.4GHz router makes no sense due to the interference from surrounding networks. In such a case, buy a Wi-Fi router that supports the 5GHz frequency.
This will make sure that there is no interference from other Wi-Fi networks, and ensures optimum performance. But do make sure that all your devices support the 5GHz band, before switching exclusively to it. The Linksys E2000 Advanced Wireless-N Router ( Rs 7,000) is one of the cheapest 5GHz Wi-Fi router and provides the most bang for the buck.