What is a router, and how does it work?
A router is a device that communicates between the internet and the devices in your home that connect to the internet. As its name implies, it “routes” traffic between the devices and the internet.
With the right kind of router in your home, you may be able to enjoy faster internet service, help protect your family from cyberthreats, and avoid those maddening Wi-Fi dead spots.
You don’t have to be a computer genius to know what a good router has to offer. All it takes is to know what you need it for. Understanding how routers work will help you choose the right equipment for your home.
How do routers work?
A typical home has a range of internet-connected devices — personal computers, tablets, smartphones, printers, thermostats, smart TVs, and more. With your router, these devices form a network. A router directs incoming and outgoing internet traffic on that network in the fastest and most efficient way.
The information traveling on your home network could be an email, a movie, or a live feed from your baby cam, each of which takes up varying amounts of bandwidth. Making sure that information is delivered quickly and correctly is a big task — and getting bigger. As you add more and more devices — think Internet of Things — you ask your router to do more.
How modems differ from routers
A router and your devices aren’t the only components on your home network. There’s also the modem. In fact, without the modem, all you’d have is your local network with no access to the internet.
The modem’s job is to bring the internet service from your provider into your home. It then connects to your router, delivering that internet connectivity to your home network.
When most internet service was delivered over telephone lines, modems enabled communication between the digital devices in your home and the analog signals used on telephone lines. With today’s internet connections, including cable and satellite, modems play a similar but different role.
What are the different types of routers?
When it comes to routers, there are only two types you’ll need to consider:
- Wireless routers. A wireless router connects directly to a modem by a cable. This allows it to receive information from — and transmit information to — the internet. The router then creates and communicates with your home Wi-Fi network using built-in antennas. As a result, all of the devices on your home network have internet access.
- Wired routers. A wired router connects directly to computers through wired connections. They usually have a port that connects to the modem to communicate with the internet. Another port — or ports — allows the wired router to connect to computers and other devices to distribute information.
What to look for in a router
Most internet service providers (ISPs) give you a router and a modem — or a combination of the two — for a subscription fee that can add up over time. These routers may not be the best fit for your usage, so you might consider purchasing one that better fits your needs. Before buying a router, here are a few things to look for.
Wi-Fi signals within a home largely depend on the size of the home and the barriers that prevent signals from reaching their destinations. Fireplaces, mirrors, and thick walls are just a few common obstacles that block Wi-Fi signals. Look for a router that has the capability to reach the far corners of your home. Also, look for one that has a mesh network to extend the Wi-Fi capabilities across the home.
Router technology has changed over time. Make sure you have a router that uses the latest technology and has updated firmware. MU-MIMO is one such new technology. It stands for multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology. It allows Wi-Fi routers to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously. This decreases the wait time and improves network speed.
Cybercriminals can penetrate your home network and install malware and viruses in your devices. They work with an arsenal of tools to gain access to your personal and financial information. Having a router that provides network level protection could help protect against cyberattacks at the port of entry. Look for a router that has built-in security features, like automatic updates, device quarantine, and signed firmware updates.
Routers have become a very important part of the connected home. Make sure you buy a router that you can control easily. The latest routers are easy to install and use. Some come with user-friendly apps that help you with guest networks, parental controls, user time limits, and network management.
Whether you are setting up a new router in your home or upgrading an existing one, make sure you get to know all the workings of your new router and if it is designed to meet your needs.
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