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What is a Wi-Fi Router?

Read this guide to learn how a router connects you to the Internet and how to decide which router is right for your wireless networking needs.

A wireless network is a virtual necessity for today's homes and small businesses. It is so convenient to use your computer, tablet, smartphone or other device from anywhere in your house or office without having to worry about your cellular plan's data limits. You can connect printers, scanners, copiers and more to your devices without cables clogging your space and becoming a potential fire hazard. Even desktop computers can be connected to a wireless network.

Simply, a wireless network is just what its name implies — it allows devices to connect to the Internet untethered by any wires or Ethernet cables. With continual enhancements to wireless network technology and Wi-Fi networking standards, quite often there is no noticeable difference in speed and security between wired and wireless networks. Read on to see how you can create the ideal wireless network for your needs.

What is a Wireless Router?    

The wireless router is the centerpiece of any home or small business computer network. You may have heard it called a WLAN, or wireless local area network device or a Wi-Fi router. These terms refer to your standard, necessary, must-have wireless router.

A wireless router is the device that shares your internet service across your wireless network, allowing multiple devices to access the Internet via your connection. The router allows cable modem and DSL internet connections to be shared, and they often feature a built-in firewall to protect against security breaches.

A wireless router is not to be confused with a modem. While a wireless router allows multiple devices to join the same network, a modem provides access to the internet. The modem connects to your internet service provider (ISP) via a coaxial connection or RJ-11 jack. Then, by connecting your modem to your router via Ethernet ports, instead of directly to a computer, all devices connected to the router are connected to the modem, and therefore, the internet.

NETGEAR N300 Wi-Fi router
Which Wireless Router is Right for Me?

There are several different types of wireless routers. It is important to understand their differences before setting up your wireless network.  

Mobile Hotspot

This common feature on smartphones can be used to share your phone's wireless network connection with other devices so they can access the internet, too. Your cellular company will charge for any data used by other devices connected to your mobile hotspot. 

Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot 

This type of mobile hotspot is a small device that broadcasts a cellular carrier's 3G or 4G signal so that multiple devices can share a wireless connection. There is a monthly cost for the hotspot based on the data plan you select. 

Desktop Wi-Fi Router 

Aesthetically, this is the Wi-Fi router that you picture when you think of a wireless router. It is usually square or rectangular and features LED lights across the front and connection ports on the sides or back to insert cables, along with short antennas to broadcast the signal. 

If you are setting up a home or small business wireless network, your best bet for convenience, signal and cost is a traditional wireless router. This will send out your traditional cable or DSL Internet signal throughout your home or office for easy access by all devices.

If you want something that can be used on the go, using your smartphone as a mobile hotspot or purchasing a separate portable Wi-Fi hotspot might be ideal for you. If your smartphone plan features unlimited data, it would be easy to enable a mobile hotspot and then link up your laptop to work in a café, at a client's office or anywhere. It does usually drain a phone's battery life quickly, though. This would save you an additional monthly cost compared to a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. 


A wireless router can't make your internet speed faster. If your internet service reaches a maximum of 54Mbps, a router with a max of 300Mbps will still only provide a speed of 54Mbps. So just remember that a router with a higher speed rating isn't always necessary for your network.    


Most routers support standard WEP securities as well as WPA and WPA2. If you want to set additional security protocols, there are routers that offer access controls, such as settings that limit internet use based on time of day, among other things.    

Single Band vs. Dual Band

Both work competently to transmit your wireless signal across your home or business. However, the dual band can also transmit in 5GHz mode, where it won't be on the same frequency as other devices in your space, such as microwaves and cordless phones. This could provide better performance and coverage, especially in a large home or office space.      


How much square footage does your router need to cover? Different devices provide different ranges, but also remember that the type of building you are in matters a great deal, as well as the router's placement (concrete walls, HVAC equipment and metal objects block signal). 

With desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, e-book devices, gaming systems and so much more relying on internet connectivity these days, it is important to consider expanding your internet service's range by implementing a wireless network in your home or business. Not all routers are created equal, and some, like gaming routers, are designed for specific applications in mind. But with just a few pieces of equipment and some initial set-up, you can enjoy stress-free internet connectivity in any room in your house or office.

Ready to find the right Wi-Fi router?

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