Probably no one has been so interested in how a router works until now. The pandemic, quarantine, teleworking, and school at home, have made us face a reality where our great ally is the Internet, and we need a good connection to achieve the objectives that we propose every day.
Routers have a basic function: to offer Internet by cable or over the air. But, although we probably don’t know it, its technology evolves very quickly, to the point that a new router incorporates functions that did not exist perhaps very recently.
Times have changed and so have our needs. Before at most, we connected our cell phones to the Internet, but now even the vacuum cleaner and the washing machine are connected to the Internet. More and more devices saturate our WiFi networks, so routers have had to evolve to manage many connections at the same time, in addition to adding new security measures, connection priorities, optimizations for streaming (Netflix), or online gaming, among other things.
What is a router?
A router is a device capable of transferring the signal to all the devices that you have at home and that you want to connect to the Internet. The router has no connection to the telephone line nor does it interpret the line as such (that is done by a modem) but what it does is expand the signal to send it to all the devices you have at home: the computer, the television, the telephone mobile, wireless speaker.
The formal definition tells us that a router is a network device that works at layer 3 of the OSI model, also called the network layer. That is a device that directs or, rather, routes the traffic based on the IP address to which it is directed. In this way, a router is able to connect subnets that can communicate without the need for other devices such as a switch to intervene. That is why routers normally have several ports in which we can connect different devices.
When we refer to subnets, we can perfectly understand it as our own network, the one we have at home with our computers and laptops. This would be an internal network or LAN to which we only have access from within it with the devices connected to our router. We can talk about another network, the network of networks that is the Internet, the router allows us to connect our network to the Internet to send or collect data from it through its ports.
The devices that we have at home that we know as routers, normally do not fit this definition quite well, since facing the internal part of the network they are simply switches (layer 2), and communication to the outside is done through NAT with minimal routing rules.
What happens is that, although the routers originally did not have the ability to translate the signal, modulate and demodulate, currently the most common thing is that we call router devices that work as a modem and a router at the same time. That is, they have a built-in modem that allows us to connect them to the telephone line and are capable of transmitting the signal to all devices, whether we do it by cable or if we use a Wi-Fi network for it. These options are the best since it will save us having two appliances at home and will cover all the needs.
But let’s get back to the simple. What is a router then? Essentially a “computer”. With its processor, its RAM, its hard disk (very small, usually about 4MB of flash memory in the cheap models that Internet providers give away, and about 128-256MB in high ranges), and input/output ports that happen to be network connections. Like computers they are, they can have USB ports and perform more management and configuration functions if their firmware allows it. Already practically all routers on the market allow this type of interaction.
Differences between modem and router
There are differences between a modem and a router, they do not fulfill the same function. As we explained in previous paragraphs, a modem is a device in charge of modulating and demodulating the Internet signal. It connects to the telephone line and converts the analog signal into a digital signal that will go to the device to which it is connected, be it the computer or another device. The problem with the modem is that it is only capable of carrying the signal to one device, but not to more. Usually to a router that is the one that expands it. That is why we need a router that is capable of expanding the translated signal so that it reaches all the devices that we have at home and that are connected to WiFi and there are more and more. Although, as we say, this modem is currently rare to see it as an independent device and it is usually incorporated into routers so you will not have to worry.
Other devices: mesh networks, repeaters, PLC
Beyond the router, you may have heard that there are other devices such as WiFi repeaters or network extenders. Is it enough to buy them instead of changing the router? In most cases, these repeaters or network extenders allow us to have better coverage throughout the house, but they are not substitutes for the functions that a good quality router does. As its name indicates, what network extenders or repeaters do is that the signal reaches places or areas of the house where it usually does not reach.
The repeaters make the WiFi signal expand thanks to the built-in antennas and easily connect to a socket. On the other hand, the network extenders fulfill the same function, but they do it through the home installation: they create a WiFi network to which you can connect thanks to its configuration through the wiring and as long as they are in the same box electrical outlets to which you are going to connect these network extenders or PLC.
On the other hand, WiFi Mesh networks or mesh networks require a specific and compatible router, so betting on them will first go through looking for a new one. What the mesh network achieves is that we install nodes throughout the house or room and these nodes communicate with each other so that the coverage reaches everywhere.
The hardware behind a router
I already mentioned that a router is practically a computer, it has similar hardware, respecting the distances of course.
CPU: The processor will be the core of the device, the one that processes the instructions of the operating system and the data that circulates through the network interfaces. In the case of the most powerful routers, we have different CPUs which can manage the different connections. For example, one processor for managing Wi-Fi and another for wired interfaces and the operating system. Some of the most used processors are:
- QSR10G-AX Quantenna: This processor is capable of supporting up to 8 5GHz streams and 4 2.4 GHz streams.
- Qualcomm IPQ8074: It is a quad-core Cortex-A53 processor that also supports 8 streams at 5 GHz and 4 at 2.4 GHz.
- Qualcomm QCA6290: This CPU supports two streams on each of the frequencies and is geared towards mobiles.
- Broadcom BCM43684: Supports 4 × 4 MU-MIMO and OFDMA connections with 1024-QAM modulation. The channel bandwidth is 160 MHz and it can reach a speed of 4.8 Gbps. This CPU is precisely the one that the Asus TR-AX88U mounts.
- Marvell 88W9068: Supports 8 × 8 5 GHz and 4 × 4 2.4 GHz connections.
- Qualcomm WCN3998: Processor for 802.11ax 2 × 2 for mobile devices.
RAM: Routers of course have RAM, which is used to load information from the firmware itself and the routing tables. Packet queues are also stored there. Normally we will have small amounts of RAM but it can go even 1 GB.
Flash memory: The operating system is stored in it, and performs the functions of a hard disk on a PC. The normal thing will be to find a flash memory of about 128 or 256 MB, in that space, all the firmware of the device will fit, some as detailed as the one implemented by the Asus routers.
2.4 and 5 Ghz WiFi networks
Networks, both Wi-Fi and wired, operate under certain protocols and we must know them if we want to correctly understand the capacity of our router. Wi-Fi protocols have traditionally been named by numerical codes by the IEEE standard. And, in addition, there are two wave frequencies that use the Wi-Fi connection, these are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. We all understand that a Wi-Fi connection does not use cables, but electromagnetic waves that will have their own frequency, period, phase, and modulation. Here we are only interested in its 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency.
The 2.4Ghz band has been accompanying us for many years as the most usual, by far, for wireless networks. In chronological order, we have the protocols 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and ultimately 802.11ax. Since the 802.11n protocol, the 5Ghz band has also been used together with the 2.4 GHz band. Specifically, the 802.11ac protocol does not use 2.4 GHz, only 5 GHz, but the most current of all the 802.11ax returns to be able to use both. We will talk at length about this protocol later. The first protocol implemented dates from 1999, and although there is a standard from the same time ( 802.11a ) that already used 5Ghz, they did not get to have hardly any diffusion.
The biggest problem with this 2.4 GHz band is that there are only 14 channels available (and not in all countries, due to their respective regulations), and to top it all, it is common to use several channels to make use of MIMO. In any block of flats in a large city, it is common to see more than a dozen connections, which of course affects the range, reliability, and especially the performance of our connection. To make matters worse, many other technologies use the 2.4Ghz band, for example, something very rare and that you have probably never used … Bluetooth in its older versions, and even wireless peripherals.
To solve this problem, a new standard called IEEE, 802.11ac was invented, which is supported by practically all current routers and network cards, it is used only on the 5Ghz network, with much better performance. Thus, we have 200 channels available (depending on the country, much less, again for legal reasons), and a much freer spectrum with a greater margin for long-term growth and also better MIMO performance.
The biggest disadvantage: backward compatibility. If a router only used the 5Ghz band, it would leave many old devices out, and even some low-end Chinese mobile. The other big downside is that the penetration of obstacles is worse than in the 2.4Ghz band, as are the losses due to distance, so it is common to see that, in many cases, if we move far away from the router, it works better. performance and the old 2.4Ghz network is more stable, even with its drawbacks than the new one of 5. This is because the higher the frequency, the more together the waves will go and it will be much more difficult for them to cross objects.
The solution that manufacturers of home routers have chosen is as simple as it is effective: If neither of the two networks gives us everything we need, or we put only the 2.4 (cheap models, performance does not matter too much) or we put both. By the way, they take the opportunity to add the speeds of both networks, even knowing that in real use that speed cannot be achieved without some type of load balancing and two clients.
The current routers that are dual-band (2.4 and 5 GHz) almost all implement Bend Steering technology, which is the possibility of automatically changing a device that we have connected to the frequency band. Thus, if we are for example 5 GHz and the band is very saturated, the router will automatically switch to the 2.4 GHz band if it is freer.
The 802.11ax protocol comes to the aid
We have already seen that there are a few protocols implemented for Wi-Fi, in fact, each of them has received a different name, to make them easier to use, for example, 802.11ac was also called Wi-Fi 5, and now the 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 call. This new communication standard for Wi-Fi networks will allow us to establish connections, for now, 4 × 4 (four antennas in parallel) of no less than 4805 Mbps for the 5 GHz band. And not only this, but it is also implemented for 2.4 GHz connections reaching up to 1142 Mbps.
With 802.11ax, we can simultaneously use MU-MIMO and OFDMA technology.
- MU-MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) is currently used in many network devices with previous protocols such as AC, to connect devices with multiple antennas and to achieve the highest possible bandwidth.
- For its part, the new OFDMA technology implements, in addition to the MU-MIMO capacity of devices with several antennas, also the possibility of executing multi-user transfers (several devices with multiple antennas).
The current problem with the 802.11ax protocol is that yes, you have several routers already on the market, but even today, there are no client network cards to communicate with them at such speeds. Intel, for its part, already has this type of laptop card in development, but there are no models available on the market yet.
The more antennas the better
Surely looking at characteristics of routers and analyses like ours, you will have noticed that the term 1 × 1, 2 × 2, or 4 × 4 is used very frequently. What are we referring to by these terms?
With these terms, we are referring to the number of network antennas that a device has for a wireless connection. It is also closely related to the term MU-MIMO, which we have seen above. Each antenna that a router has is used to send and receive data, it does not escape you that, the more antennas we have, the greater capacity to send and transmit data we will have. And not only will the routers have multiple antennas, but also the client network cards.
With the 802.11ax protocol, for example, a connection with four antennas connected simultaneously (4 × 4) gives us a speed of about 4804 Mbps theoretical, which is more or less about 1200 Mbps for each individual antenna in the 5 GHz band. Of course, as long as we have a client also with the same number of antennas.
Normally motherboards that have Wi-Fi connectivity or laptops have network cards with two antennas, leaving 4 × 4 clients for network cards connected via PCI-Express. With these 2 × 2 cards under the 802.11ac protocol, we can theoretically reach up to 1700 Mbps. If we had 802.11ax we would go up to 2400 Mbps for example.
If a laptop has only two antennas, why do we want a router with 8? Well, very simple, the more antennas, the more devices we can connect without the bandwidth being saturated. So for example we will have two antennas for a laptop, another two for the other, and so on. It is not as easy as we propose it, but it is better understood that way.
Mesh connection or Wi-Fi Mesh
Routers that are not owned by ISPs are better in terms of their Wi-Fi power, but they also allow us such interesting configurations as connecting several devices together to obtain an even greater Wi-Fi range. We call this Network Mesh or Mesh Network, and it is ideal for large houses, country houses, or multi-story buildings.
There is a big difference between Wi-Fi access points and a Mesh network. While the former offers a specific connection point and if we lose their range we disconnect, what a Mesh network does is generate a common mesh. In it, the devices will connect to the nearest router or point, always obtaining the maximum possible speed, without challenges, and without disconnections.
In addition, the main manufacturers allow us to create mesh Wi-Fi even with old routers that we have at home, and we do not need them to be models from the same manufacturer and more current, a great advantage we must say to give our old router a second life.
Much can be said about the Wi-Fi network of the routers, not in vain is the main advantage of the routers bought by ourselves compared to those of the ISPs that we “give away”. In this aspect, we must also consider the routers that implement fiber connections with their respective integrated ONT.
Let’s start with the normal, which will be the connector known as Ethernet by the name of the standard for internal LAN networks. It will be the most common connector in our routers and it is called RJ45, a cable with four pairs of twisted wires reaches it through a connector that, by normal methods, we could not place, unless we have a little machine called a crimper. Anyway, we have many cables of these available in the market already built.
The fact is that this RJ45 connector will be the one that we are going to use 100% to connect our desktop PC to the router using a cable, but also other devices that we have such as laptops. The more ports we have, the more devices we can connect to the router, and best of all, we can share files between the computers and build our own LAN network. The speeds that are handled in this connector are up to 10 Gigabits per second, which we know as 10 GbE, but it is not common for a router to have such speed.
That is why RJ45 almost always provides speeds of 1000 Mbps or 1 GbE, which is already more than a Wi-Fi AC 2 × 2 in practice since the promised 1.73 never arrives. Also, a wired network is ideal for gaming, because it eliminates connection latency, making it faster and lag-free.
This is easy, unless we have the traditional ADSL connection, the WAN connector will simply be an RJ45 connector like the previous ones.
This connector is the traditional one used for telephone connections. It has also been used for ADSL routers, especially those supplied by distribution companies. It is currently rare to find a standalone router that implements RJ11.
Although we have contracted fiber optic ( FTTH ), we do not necessarily need a router with a specific port for it. Fiber-optic connections are always made up of two elements, the ONT, that is, the modem, so to speak. It is a device that is responsible for giving us access to the internet through a fiber cable. Then we will have the router, a normal one, with an RJ45 WAN port that connects the ONT with the router itself.
Currently, there are routers (especially those provided by ISPs) that have the ONT built into them. It is not recommended, since we will be limited to using that router instead of the one we want.
For a few years, it has been quite rare not to find a USB connector on a router, in fact, practically all of them implement at least one of these serial ports to allow us to configure our router as a centralized storage station.
Thanks to this port, we can connect portable hard drives or flash drives so that, from the router itself, we have shared files throughout the network. Even many of them have USB 3.1 Gen1 high speeds. Thanks to the SMB and FTP protocol, we can have a personal cloud at home.
Reasons to buy a router
For many users, the router mounted by the ISP is more than enough, they have no drop problems, and they meet everything they need at a reasonable speed for them. In this case the solution is simple: It is not necessary to change . Unfortunately, the answer is usually different, and in this case there are four main reasons:
Reliability: This shouldn’t be a problem, but it still is. Sometimes “gifted” routers have such bad hardware that they suffer from overheating or software failures that cause micro-cuts or even hangs. The best thing at this point is to require the company to change the router, but it is always an option to cut your losses and use equipment that you know works well.
Extra functions: Although more and more manufacturers supply routers with USB connections, multimedia sharing features, etc. they are still far from what a quality neutral router allows. Users are becoming more demanding, and having a private cloud, or a torrent client on the router, for example, is perfectly possible today.
Performance: Probably the biggest reason for the change. Although some internet providers are finally starting to provide quality hardware, the opposite is usual, low-end equipment with internal and poorly positioned antennas that rarely give acceptable wireless performance. , especially if we only move away 1-2 rooms.
Security and control: Many free routers are true “black boxes”, in which the user can hardly modify any parameter. This problem would be minimal if it weren’t for the security problems of keeping WPS activated or simply having a router with outdated versions of some component of its software that would allow an attacker to take advantage of vulnerabilities to attack our network.
Other functionalities of the routers that improve the connection
It is clear that with a router purchased by us we will obtain better general performance, due to the better hardware they implement and the technologies found in them. It is also clear that the Wi-Fi bandwidth is much better, but there are other issues that are worth touching and knowing so that when we cite them we are familiar with them.
4G connectivity: surely many of you have heard of 4G routers or 4G modems. Some normal routers give us the possibility of inserting a SIM card inside to be able to connect through 4G LTE. This is very useful in sparsely populated areas and without any wired connectivity or in very unstable connections.
Beamforming for the Wi-Fi connection: this functionality of the routers allows them to detect the direction in which our connected device is located and thus increase the network power in that specific direction. Very useful for example when we are quite a distance from the access point and we do not want to suffer from too much LAG.
QoS (Quality of Service): it is something that is almost always there but we never stop to think about it, it is even more often we can configure it in the router at different levels or options. What QoS does is prioritize certain tasks that we are performing over the network, a clear example maybe when we are downloading something and at the same time we are playing online. Or also if we download something and we are streaming or watching it. The router has algorithms that allow it to prioritize the most critical tasks for the user at all times, this is called adaptive QoS.
Firmware management: this is one of the great advantages of the routers on this list or almost all of them. They will allow us to manage all aspects of the router in a very advanced way, not just redirect ports. Some of them implement options optimized for games or QoS for games.
Mobile applications: precisely related to the above is the possibility of managing the router through Android or iOS applications from our own Smartphone. An option increasingly used by all manufacturers.
Management from the Cloud: companies like Netgear give us the ability to connect our router to the cloud and be able to access it remotely and securely. It is another very interesting added value.
Being able to create a VPN server: the most advanced routers also allow us to create virtual private networks to be able to access our LAN from anywhere in the world. Not only through OpenVPN, but by creating a VPN directly on the router itself, doing the DHCP server functions, etc.
Best Wireless Routers
We are recommending some best routes here based on their functionality and performance. We are not considering the price or the popularity. So, don’t get confused if you see not many reviews on Amazon. Normally budget routers are popular among home users.
Best router under 200 – in this article we categorised routers in different price range under 200 dollar and based on popularity and the positive reviews they earned.
NETGEAR AX6000 WiFi 6 | 8 Streams
Some keywords that describe this model
|easy to install
|easy to use
|worth the money
NETGEAR Armor ™ : Advanced Cyber Threat Protection for Your Home and Connected Devices *
Lightning-fast wireless speeds : 8-stream WiFi with up to 1.2 + 4.8 Gbps †
More WiFi for more devices – Uplink and downlink OFDMA substantially improves network capacity and efficiency, especially when traffic is created simultaneously. –
Up to four simultaneous WiFi streams : 4-stream MU-MIMO allows streaming on up to four 1×1 devices at the same time.
160 MHz channel support * – Gigabit speeds for compatible mobile and portable devices.
Additional DFS channels : For an interference-free experience.
Powerful Processor : 1.8GHz 64-bit Quad Core Processor ensures smooth 4K UHD streaming and gaming.
Multi-Gig Internet Support – Add two Gigabit Ethernet ports for multi-Gig Internet speeds where supported.
Six Gigabit ports : Connect more devices with cables for faster file transfer and uninterrupted connections.
Compatible with all current WiFi devices : Backward compatible with 802.11a / b / g / n / ac client devices.
Dynamic QoS : Prioritizes internet traffic by app and device for smoother streaming.
Nighthawk App : Easily configure your router and get the most out of your Wi-Fi network. Includes remote access capabilities to manage your network when you are away from home.
Circle ® Parental Control : The smart way for families to manage content and time online, on any device ††
Automatic firmware updates : Provides the latest security patches to the router.
Works with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant : Control your WiFi using voice commands.