A big part of the questions galore I get daily includes those asking for a Wi-Fi router or mesh recommendation for a specific situation.
Some readers even sent me a detailed sketch of their home or even personal information — you know who you are! Everyone wants to pick up that perfect broadcaster.
I hate ignoring people and used to entertain many of those requests. And that generally worked out. Sometimes it didn’t — I’d gotten hate messages from frustrated (and clearly self-entitled) readers, whose situation didn’t improve or meet their expectations after following friendly (and gratis) recommendations/suggestions I gave based on the given information. In mid-2021, I decided to stop giving out advice or suggestion for any specific situation.
This post will lay out the details, sets the right expectations, and offers tips on picking the best Wi-Fi solution — all based on the questions I’ve received.
Looking for a router is somewhat like looking for love. After all, both are networking. And to succeed, you need to know two things: yourself (your situation and what you need, etc.) and what you can afford. The former is entirely on you since nobody knows you better than yourself. If you’re not aware of that, not being able to get a perfect router (or a partner) is the least of your problems.
There’s no guarantee, but when you’re through, you will likely be able to choose the right one, by yourself, on the first try. Or you’d know who to blame.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on May 17, 2020, and updated it on February 14, 2022, to add relevant information based on additional questions and requests.
Table of Contents
A closer look at a home Wi-Fi router
To pick the right Wi-Fi router, you first need to understand its capabilities and its limitation. Most importantly, you need to use it as a router.
When a router is a router
Sometimes, a router is not a router. If you don’t already know that, click the button below to learn more.
Extra: Possible roles of a home Wi-Fi router
Below is the breakdown of four typical roles of a router. Not all hardware supports all of these, but most will have at least the first one plus another.
Some routers have even more roles — those from Asus, for example, also feature the proprietary AiMesh node role.
1. Wireless Router
This role is the default — the hardware will work as such unless you actively change that.
The hardware works as a Wi-Fi router that gets the Internet connection then distributes that to the rest of the network via wired and Wi-Fi connections.
In this role, you must use the router’s WAN port for the Internet source. It’s also the only role in which the router’s routing and networking features (QoS, Parental Control, Dynamic DNS, VPN server, port-forwarding, etc.) are available.
Essentially, the hardware is now a standard routing box with a built-in managed switch and Wi-Fi access point(s).
2. Access Point (AP)
Important note: Certain vendors call this role “Bridge.”
In this mode, the hardware now works as an access point. It connects to an existing router via a network cable and extends the network farther, both wired and wireless.
In this role, none of the routing and features are available. All of the device’s network ports function as LAN ports. Essentially, the router is now a network switch with built-in Wi-Fi broadcaster(s).
By the way, if you have a Wi-Fi 6 router with a Multi-Gig WAN port, using it as an AP is the only way you can take advantage of this port’s high speed locally — without a Gig+ Internet connection, that is — assuming you have a Multi-Gig switch.
The router now works as a Wi-Fi extender.
Specially, you use one of its bands (2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz) to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network — this is the backhaul band. After that, you can configure one or all of its bands (including the backhaul band) with separate SSID(s) to serve clients.
In this mode, all of the router’s network ports will work as LAN ports of the existing network.
4. Bridge or Media Bridge
Important note: Certain vendors — those that use “Bridge” to call the “Access Point” role as mentioned above — name this mode “Wireless Bridge.” There might be other arbitrary names for this role.
In this mode, the router works essentially as a Wi-Fi-to-Ethernet adapter.
Specifically, you use one of its bands to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network. Now, you can connect wired devices to the router’s LAN ports to make them part of the network. (In most cases, you should leave the WAN port alone, but some routers turn this port into another LAN.)
In the Media Bridge mode, the rest of the router’s Wi-Fi bands are unavailable.
Extra: Bridge mode in a gateway unit
In a gateway unit, which is a router + modem combo box, the Bridge mode is a bit different.
That’s when the gateway will work solely as a modem and no longer has any router-related function.
You can read more on this in the post about how to get the most out of ISP-supplied equipment.
Clearly, for this post, we’re talking about the default router role. In this case, all routers have in common: Each creates a local network for multiple devices to work together. How many exactly?
The total devices a home Wi-Fi router supports: It’s mostly wired vs Wi-Fi bandwidth
Technically this depends, but generally, you can expect a home router to host 254 devices, including itself.
That’s because IPv4‘s default subnet max out at 255, with one address being used for a special purpose. There are ways to change that, but that’d be a bit too many unnecessary technical details.
So generally, you can expect to connect up to 253 devices to a home router (or mesh system) — that’s more than most homes would need. Realistically, this number is significantly lower since a router’s processing power (CPU and RAM) plays a role.
But overall, especially when you don’t use features like QoS or special routing, the number of active clients a router can handle depends primarily on its bandwidth.
A home router tends to have just a few (usually four) LAN ports. This number of ports translates into the total number of wired devices the router can handle concurrently.
You add more devices to the network via a switch. But in this case, the switch itself adds more bandwidth. Two devices connecting directly to a switch will use that switch’s resources and speed grade. Other than providing the IP addresses, the router doesn’t do much more.
(Clearly, we’re talking about devices talking to each other locally. In a home network, chances are all connected devices access the Internet. In this case, the router and your broadband connection are always, selectively, the bottleneck — a switch wouldn’t help.)
That said, if you choose to run network cables and are willing to add a couple of switches, your network can indeed host all 253 wired parties simultaneously. And each will connect at its max possible speed — each network port on a switch has its own bandwidth that’s not shared with others.
The wiring inside a cable is in a somewhat controlled environment, separate from the elements. As a result, a network cable can almost always deliver the speed of the connection standard in full, with maximum efficiency.
Here’s a rough analogy: If your data is water, using network cables is like hooking a garden hose to a faucet to get water directly to an inflatable pool. You know for sure that 100 percent of water coming out from the source will get to the destination.
The thing is, we don’t have that many wired devices. A home Wi-Fi router nowadays primarily serves as a Wi-Fi broadcaster.
You can read more on Wi-Fi bandwidth in this post about dual-band vs. tri-band. However, the gist is that each Wi-Fi frequency band’s ceiling speed is its total bandwidth, shared between connected clients. And Wi-Fi has terrible efficiency.
Wi-Fi suffers significantly from the elements.
Re-using the inflatable pool example above, it’s now like you hook a spray nozzle into the hose and pump water into your pool through the air from a distance.
In this case, even when you use the most focused setting, chances are you’ll lose some water due to wind, splash, and evaporation. But in return, you can use this technique to fill a few pools simultaneously, albeit inefficiently.
As a result, a Wi-Fi band can handle only so many active wireless clients at a time — more in the 5GHz or 6GHz band than in the 2.4GHz band. And generally, you cannot add more wireless bandwidth to it — more below.
For this reason, it’s always a good idea to get a high-end router, even when you only have low-end clients. That’s especially true when you have fast Internet. More Wi-Fi bandwidth means you can have more concurrent clients.
But generally, a single home Wi-Fi router can handle no more than 100 active clients — most vendors recommend 50 or fewer. Note that only active devices use up the router’s wireless bandwidth, and not all connected devices are active at all times.
Nonetheless, there is no concrete max number of clients a router can support. It’s all about the bandwidth (mainly) and its processing power.
- If for some reason you have a single client that needs all of a router’s Wi-Fi bandwidth at all times, then ONE is the max number of Wi-Fi clients the router can support.
- On the other hand, if you just want to connect a bunch of really low-bandwidth or idle clients to a network then you sure can use all 253 (or even more).
In reality, your case is always somewhere in between. Use your judgment. The suggested max number of clients, if any, is always an estimate. And there’s no hard number on how many you can connect to a particular router.
Does a mesh system have more bandwidth and client support than a single router?
No. Or at least, not necessarily.
You can find out more in this detailed post about mesh systems, but generally, the acceptable total number of active devices depends on the mesh’s hardware and how you set it up.
Similar to a switch, each mesh hub does have Wi-Fi bandwidth of its own. However, all devices connected to a mesh point share the same single backhaul link, which connects the hub to the network.
Assuming we’re using hardware of the same Wi-Fi grade, and your clients are spread out equally in between the mesh points, then your mesh network sure can handle more concurrent clients than when you use a single router.
However, keep in mind in this case, all clients still have the total bandwidth of the router unit which connects the entire network to the Internet.
That said, when Linksys claims that the Velop MX10600 can deliver up to 10600Mbps of total bandwidth because it includes two AX5300 tri-band Wi-Fi routers, that’s a gross exaggeration.
Most importantly a mesh system — which is essentially a router with a few extenders — still has a cap of 253 devices. And how many devices you can use concurrently depends on many different factors, including what you use them for and how fast your Internet is.
How can I limit the number of clients in a local network?
Each Wi-Fi router comes with a fixed IP address pool that determines the number of clients connected to the network. By default, some routers set this at 50, others at 100, or even all 253.
But you can change this value via the router’s DHCP server setting, making the IP pool larger or smaller account to your need. (Generally, it’s a good idea to make it much larger than the number of devices you have.)
Just log in to the router’s web interface (or use its mobile app), navigate to the LAN section, and change the value of the IP Pool Starting Address and IP Pool Ending Address accordingly. Note that the wording of these two might vary slightly between networking vendors.
These values are the last group of digits in the router’s IP address pool, ranging between 2 and 254. Subtracting the starting number from the ending number, then adding 1 to the result will give you the number of total clients that can connect to the router.
So, pick the number that works for your situation. It’s generally a good idea to have a significantly larger pool size than the total amount of clients — sometimes, a client might use two IP addresses for a short time.
Just make sure the starting address is lower than the ending one, and the range of the two must not include the router’s address — referred to as the Default Gateway IP.
IP address assignment: Dynamic vs. manual
Note, though, that this address pool is not super strict and only applies to clients that get an IP address dynamically via the router’s DHCP server function, which happens right after you plug a cable into a device or enter the Wi-Fi password. It doesn’t affect manually assigned addresses.
For example, if you set the IP pool in the 192.168.2.100 and 192.168.2.200 range, you can manually set an IP of a client to be 192.168.2.99. That client will still connect to the router successfully, as long as there’s no other device already with that IP address.
Unless there’s a specific reason, it’s a good idea not to assign an IP manually, which is quite a pain to do anyway. If you need to ensure a device always gets the same IP address, you can use the router’s IP reservation feature instead.
What if I want to provide the Internet to more than 253 devices?
While you can generally use only 253 devices in a local home network, you sure can share a single Internet connection with unlimited parties.
There are many ways to do this, but the simplest way is to add more Wi-Fi routers to the network, using double NAT setups. You can connect multiple routers to the existing one or daisy-chain them. Either way, each additional router can host another 253 devices.
While members of a local network hosted by one router can’t talk to those belonging to the network of another router, they all can share Internet access from the very first router.
Keep this trick in mind in case you need to provide Internet access to a large party. Just make sure your broadband connection is fast enough for everyone.
Dual-band vs tri-band: If I combine two dual-band routers, via a network cable, would that be the same as having a tri-band router?
While this seems to make sense, unfortunately, no, it wouldn’t. In fact, you shouldn’t do that in most cases. That’s because the same Wi-Fi band uses the same channels.
This post explains in detail the differences between Dual-band vs Tri-band, but the button below will explain the gist of it.
Extra: The details of the 5GHz frequency
Of existing Wi-Fi bands, namely 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and the new 6GHz, the 5GHz is the most popular and also most complicated as shown below.
Note: This block of extra content was originally published in the post on Dual-band vs Tri-band vs Quad-band.
5GHz band: Channels allocation, DFS vs Non-DFS
Generally, a Dual-band Wi-Fi broadcaster (2.4GHz + 5GHz) has two distinctive sets of channels. One belongs to the 2.4GHz band and the other to the 5GHz band.
Depending on your locale and hardware, the number of available channels on each band will vary.
In the US, the 2.4 GHz band includes 11 usable channels (from 1 to 11) and has been that way since the birth of Wi-Fi. Things are simple in this band.
On the 5GHz frequency, things are complex — we have DFS and regular (non-DFS) channels. On top of that, the last portion of the band — the 5.9GHz section — is generally reserved for other applications.
(DFS channels can be problematic and are the main reason we now have Wi-Fi 6E.)
Here is the breakdown of the channels on the 5GHz frequency band at their narrowest form (20MHz):
- The lower part of the spectrum includes channels: 36, 40, 44, and 48.
- The upper part includes channels: 149, 153, 161, and 165.
- In between the two, we have the following DFS channels: 52, 56, 60, 64, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140, and 144. (Channels from 68 to 96 are generally reserved exclusively for Doppler RADAR.)
In a dual-band (2.4GHz + 5GHz) broadcaster, the 5GHz band gets all the channels above (#1, #2). It’ll also get #3 if the broadcaster supports DFS.
In a traditional Tri-band broadcaster (2.4GHz + 5GHz + 5GHz), the first 5GHz band (5GHz-1) will get the lower channels (#1), and the 2nd 5GHz band (5GHz-2) gets the upper channels (#2).
If the broadcaster support DFS then the 5GHz-1 gets up to channel 64, and the rest (100 and up) goes to 5GHz-2. If it supports the new 5.9GHz portion of the 5GHz spectrum generally has three additional channels to its upper part, including 169, 173, and 177.
The splitting of the 5GHz spectrum ensures that the two narrower bands (5GHz-1 and 5GHz-2) do not overlap each other.
As a result, while the total bandwidth of the 5GHz spectrum remains the same in a traditional Tri-band broadcaster, we have the option of using two portions of this band simultaneously.
In return, each portion (5GHz-1 or 5GHz-2) has fewer channels to choose from, especially if you want to use the 80MHz or 160MHz channel widths. Consequently, your options might actually be more limited than when the entire 5GHz spectrum is used as a single band.
That said, putting two dual-band broadcasters close together is like putting one freeway right on top of another.
You can’t do that with an actual freeway, but that often happens in the world of radio frequencies, like when there are many routers or access points in a small area. The result is always more interference and congestion — devices have fewer options in having a clean channel to operate in.
So having multiple Wi-Fi broadcasters clumped up at a spot is something we generally want to avoid.
The only time when it’s OK is when you can make sure they use different channels at any given time, which is not an easy task. In fact, that’s only possible if you use narrow channels — as mentioned above, the entire 5GHz spectrum is only enough space for two 160MHz channels.
Do I need to care about Wi-Fi routers’ antennas?
The short answer is no.
All Wi-Fi routers — any radio broadcasters or receivers, for that matter — have antennas. If you don’t see them, that’s because they are hidden inside or blended in with the device’s other hardware parts.
The antennas convert data signals into radio waves and vice versa. Without them, there’s no Wi-Fi. Generally, you only need to keep these little poles in the vertical position.
And that’s likely all you need to know about them. If you want to know more about this topic, check out my Wi-Fi dBi and high-gain antennas post.
I want to pick a router with the best range, what should I do?
The range doesn’t mean anything if you can’t connect a device to a router or connect at an unusable speed.
So, in the end, it’s always how fast a router is that matters, not how far from it you can detect its signal. I talk about the range in detail in the piece on Wi-Fi as a whole, but the button below will give you a quick idea.
Extra: Wi-Fi range
This block of extra content is originally published in the post on Wi-Fi standards.
Wi-Fi range in theory
The way radio waves work, a broadcaster emits signals outward as a sphere around itself.
The lower the frequency, the longer the wave can travel. AM and FM radios use frequency measured in Megahertz — you can listen to the same station in a vast area, like an entire region or a city.
Wi-Fi uses 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6GHz frequencies — all are incredibly high. As a result, they have much shorter ranges compared to radios. That’s not to mention a home Wi-Fi broadcaster has limited power.
But these bands have the following in common: The higher frequencies (in Hz), the higher the bandwidth (speeds), and the shorter the ranges and the more bandwidth you lose as you move farther away from the broadcaster.
It’s impossible to accurately determine the actual range of each because it fluctuates a great deal and depends heavily on the environment.
That said, below are my range estimates of home Wi-Fi broadcasters, via personal experiences, in the best-case scenario, i.e., open outdoor space on a sunny day.
Note: Wi-Fi ranges don’t die abruptly. They degrade gradually as you get farther away from the broadcaster. The distances mentioned below are when a client still has a signal strong enough for a meaningful connection.
- 2.4GHz: This band has the best range, up to 200ft (61m). However, this is the most popular band, which is also used by non-Wi-Fi devices like cordless phones or TV remotes. Its real-world speeds suffer severely from interference and other things. As a result, this band now works mostly as a backup, where the range is more important than speed.
- 5GHz: This band has much faster speeds than the 2.4GHz band but shorter ranges that max out at around 175ft (50m).
- 6GHz: This is the latest band, available with Wi-Fi 6E. It has the same ceiling speed as the 5GHz band but with less interference and overheads. As a result, its actual real-world speed is faster. In return, due to the higher frequency, it has just about 70% of the range, which maxes out at about 130ft (40m).
Some might consider these numbers generous, others will argue their router can do more, but you can use them as the base to calculate the coverage for your situation.
Wi-Fi range in real-life
In real-world usage, chances are your router’s Wi-Fi range is a lot shorter than you’d like. That’s because Wi-Fi signals are sensitive to interferences and obstacles.
The new 6GHz band generally doesn’t suffer from interference other than when you use multiple broadcasters nearby. On the other hand, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz have a long list of things that can harm their ranges.
Also, note that similarly-specced Wi-Fi broadcasters generally deliver the same coverage. They differentiate mostly in sustained speeds and signal stability.
Common 2.4 GHz interference sources
- Other 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi broadcasters in the vicinity
- 2.4GHz cordless phones
- Fluorescent bulbs
- Bluetooth radios (minimal)
- Microwave ovens
Common 5 GHz interference sources
- Other nearby 5GHz Wi-Fi broadcasters
- 5GHz cordless phones
- Digital satellites
Obstacles and signal blockage
As for obstacles, walls are the most problematic since they are everywhere. Different types of walls block Wi-Fi signals differently, but no wall is good for Wi-Fi. Large objects, like big appliances, or elevators, are bad, too.
Here are my rough estimations of how much a wall blocks Wi-Fi signals — generally use the low number for the 2.4GHz and the high one for the 5GHz, add another 10%-15% to the 5GHz’s if you use the 6GHz band:
- A thin porous (wood, sheetrock, drywall, etc.) wall: It’ll block between 5% to 30% of Wi-Fi signals — a router’s range will be that much shorter when you place it next to the wall.
- A thick porous wall: 20% to 40%
- A thin nonporous (concrete, metal, ceramic tile, brick with mortar, etc.) wall: 30% to 50%
- A thick nonporous wall: 50% to 90%.
Again, these numbers are just ballpark, but you can use them to have an idea of how far the signal will reach when you place a Wi-Fi broadcaster at a specific spot in your home. A simple rule is that more walls equal worse coverage.
That said, a router’s range depends on its power, antennas, and mostly its Wi-Fi bands. As a rule, larger hardware tends to deliver a better range. But in the end, this is always case by case, and you have to read the reviews to find out.
My friend told me that I need a new router because my current one doesn’t support WP3, is that true?
That’s about as true as you need a new car because your current one doesn’t have a wireless keyfob or the support for satellite radio — it’s up to you.
While WP3 is more secure than WPA2 or WPA, chances are you’d have no problem using the older standards, including the legacy WEP. In fact, you’re probably still OK leaving your network open as long as you know how to secure each device individually.
Security is a matter of degree, and WP3 doesn’t make your network absolutely secure, either. It shouldn’t be the sole reason to get a new router.
How to pick the best wi-fi router for your home
Now that we’re clear on Wi-Fi routers let’s move on to how to figure out precisely what you need.
Set your priorities straight
The first thing you should do is understand that your Wi-Fi router is one of the most, if not the most, essential tech gadgets in your home.
Without a well-functioning one, all other fancy and expensive toys — TVs, tablets, laptops, etc. — are useless.
That’s not to mention a good router can also keep you safe from hackers, malware, phishing, etc., 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (And bad/cheap ones might even have back doors for bad guys to come in.)
Having a good router means you will not need to tend to it regularly. So it’s a good idea to pay good attention upfront. Think of the router as running water or the foundation of your home.
In short, don’t be cheap! Invest where it matters! Considering your Wi-Fi equipment’s essential (and often underrated) role, however much you pay for it, it’s already really affordable.
Don’t expect magic!
I mean it. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about which router will “solve the dead zone issues” or “cover my entire place.” Some of you watch too many commercials.
Getting your home blanketed with Wi-Fi is not easy. Here’re a couple of things to keep in mind when getting a new or replacement router.
A new or different router is not necessarily better in terms of Wi-Fi coverage
As mentioned above, the Wi-Fi range has more to do with the frequency band (5 GHz vs 2.4 GHz vs 6GHz). So, broadcasters of different router tiers or standards only differ slightly in coverage.
In other words, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6, in and of itself, won’t bring about a considerable change in coverage. In fact, a mid-tier Wi-Fi 6 router might have a shorter range than a top-tier Wi-Fi 5 one.
On the flip side, if your existing (old) router is working out to some extent, getting a newer one (of a higher standard or tier) sure will make things better.
Better Wi-Fi won’t make your Internet better
Internet and Wi-Fi are two different things.
If you have a super-fast broadband connection like Gigabit-class one, faster Wi-Fi will help.
But if you have a modest plan, something of 100 Mbps or slower, chances are upgrading your Wi-Fi won’t bring about any difference in your online experience.
A wireless connection takes two
That’s right. You need devices of the same standard to enjoy a new router’s performance grade. Keep in mind that when talking about a Wi-Fi standard, the vendor always assumes all devices involved are of the same Wi-Fi tier.
That said, if you use a bunch of old Wi-Fi 4 clients, a brand-new top-notch Wi-Fi 6 router won’t make things better. In fact, it might make things a bit worse.
Key to pick a Wi-Fi Router: Figuring out what you need
This part is critical in getting the right Wi-Fi equipment.
One reader wrote:
“We don’t need a super-duper one. We’re basic users. We just surf the web, stream movies, kids play games, and make video calls once in a while. The usual stuff, nothing special.”
Well, hello, that’s almost all there is to home networking needs.
The point is, you might need a better router than you think you do. That said, there are three things to consider when getting a Wi-Fi router: Coverage, speed, and features.
Picking a Wi-Fi router with the right coverage: How big is your place?
The bigger your shindig, the broader coverage you’ll need.
Suppose you live in a small home of 1000 ft² (93 m²) or so, well, congratulations! Your situation is super easy since almost any router will be able to blanket it. You likely won’t need to worry about where to place it, either.
Things start to get complicated with a home twice the size of around 2000 ft² (186 m²). If there are not many walls and the house is somewhat round or square, a single router placed in the center will likely do.
But if there are thick walls, or you have to place the router at one side of the home, perhaps it’s time to think of additional hardware units. Walls are hugely problematic for wireless signals.
If your home is of 3000 ft² (279 m²) or larger, a Wi-Fi system is necessary. It’s now a question of which system or how fast you want the network to be.
Also, in this situation, running network cables is by far the best way to extend your network. It gives you a lot of options in terms of hardware and costs.
The shape and content of your home
Again, if a home is somewhat round or square, a single Wi-Fi broadcast placed in the middle can likely deliver signals to every corner.
But if the place is sprawling, has an L shape, or with a few floors, chances are you’ll need multiple hardware units.
Apart from walls, large objects are problematic, too. Generally, more walls and large objects equal reduced coverage, meaning you’ll need more broadcasters.
By the way, again, there’s no or little difference in Wi-Fi coverage between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 when you use a single router. As a mesh system, however, the latter is far superior.
Picking the Wi-Fi router with the right Wi-Fi speed: How fast is our Internet?
The next item is speed once you’ve got the coverage down. More specifically, the rate you can afford because faster is always better.
Since most of us use Wi-Fi as a convenient way to access the Internet, it makes sense to use the broadband connection as the base requirement of this speed.
A couple of years ago, with a typical residential internet connection averaging around 30 Mbps or slower, you didn’t have to worry much about Wi-Fi rates.
Nowadays, with broadband connections being available at hundreds of Mbps, or even Gigabit (1000 Mbps), finding a Wi-Fi solution capable of delivering that can be a challenge.
Here’s the truth, you have to pick a top-notch Wi-Fi 6 router with a Wi-Fi 6 client to get a sustained Wi-Fi speed of more than 1 Gbps. The majority of existing hardware can achieve real-world Wi-Fi speeds of 800 Mbps at most. Again, that’s the total bandwidth of a Wi-Fi band.
How to figure out the Wi-Fi speed you need
So here’s the rough calculation: I’d give each person a base required speed of 30 Mbps — that’s the rate needed to stream a 4K movie smoothly.
In this case, assume that you have unlimited Internet bandwidth; your Wi-Fi needs to deliver 30 Mbps to everyone in the house simultaneously.
That said, if you have five people in the house, you’ll need 150 Mbps Wi-Fi; 10 people, you now need 300 Mbps, and so on.
Of course, you can adjust the base speed, making it higher or lower than 30 Mbps, depending on your situation.
Now compare that needed Wi-Fi speed against a router’s real-world Wi-Fi performance.
By the way, the performance rating of all reviews on this website is based on the hardware’s real-world sustained speeds. Each review will give you an idea of what you can expect from a Wi-Fi solution in terms of its bandwidth.
Things to note in picking Wi-Fi routers’ features: What do you want from your network?
The final item is the features of Wi-Fi routers. Geeks like me probably like one with tons of features, while some home users want something they can plug in and forget about it. The rest is somewhere in between.
Here’s the thing, you can get a feature-rich router and use it with the simple default settings. But if you get a spartan one, there’s no way to add more features or settings to it when need be.
At the minimum, all Wi-Fi solutions allow you to change the Wi-Fi network’s name and password. After that, the following are popular features and settings to consider. They are not all you can collectively find in Wi-Fi routers but relevant to most homes’ needs.
Wi-Fi routers’ basic and necessary features and settings
These are settings that will come in handy in all home networks. Most, though not all, routers have these.
- A web user interface: A web page that allows access to the router’s in-depth settings and features. Any routers that use a mobile app and without a web interface will be lacking in features and settings.
- User-accessible DHCP server: All routers have the DHCP function, but only on those allowing users to access it you can customize the IP address, as well as the address pool, as mentioned above.
- IP reservation: This allows a connected device always to get the same IP address. Some clients and applications need this to work correctly.
- In-depth Wi-Fi customization: Users have the option to customize the router’s Wi-Fi network to their liking.
- Guest network: A type of virtual Wi-Fi network that has access to the Internet but not your local resources.
- Quality of Service (QoS): This is a handy feature that allows users to prioritize Internet bandwidth.
Wi-Fi routers’ advanced and desirable features
These features are generally available in high-end routers.
- Dynamic DNS: A necessary tool for any remote access applications.
- Port forwarding: This allows users to open specific ports for individual clients or applications. It’s a must if you run any server in your home network, including certain types of IoT devices.
- Mesh-ready: This allows turning the router into a mesh system. The most prominent example is the AiMesh of Asus, Synology Mesh, or TP-Link’s limited OneMesh.
- VPN server: The ability to work as a VPN server. When coupled with Dynamic DNS, this feature is a boon for frequent travelers who want to dial home or just want to keep their device safe when using a public network.
- Web-filtering: Commonly known as Parental Controls, this feature allows users to filter certain (types of) websites for a (group of) computers. Most routers have some flavor of web-filtering, but the level of robustness can vary a great deal from one to another.
- Online protection: The ability to detect and filter out online threats (malware, phishing, virus, etc.). Typical examples are the free Network Protection (part of AiProtection, available in all Asus routers). Others brands also have premium options, such as Antivirus (part of HomeSheild found in TP-Link routers), or Armor (available in Netgear products).
- USB-related features: Available in routers with a USB port, these features include the ability to turn the router into a mini NAS server.
- Game-related features: You can play the game with any router, especially one with QoS. However, some routers have even more to give pro-gamers an edge.
What you should avoid in a Wi-Fi routers
Not all features and settings are helpful. The following are those I’d think twice before using.
Vendor-assisted remote management
This feature requires you to register an account with the vendor and attach your router to that account. In return, you can manage our home network when you’re out and about.
This type of remote access is getting popular among mainstream networking vendors. For example, TP-Link, Linksys, and Netgear have it as an option.
These devices are by far the worst in terms of features. They have very few of those listed above, if at all.
What makes them even less attractive is that you have to have an account with the vendor, and you also have to sign in before you can control the router.
In other words, both your mobile device and your home network are connected to the vendor at all times, and you manage your home network through the vendor.
Privacy risks aside, this type of management means you do not truly own your router. When there’s no Internet connection, you can’t make changes to your home network. Or, if the vendor decides to stop supporting the device for some reason, you’ll lose access to it.
Best Wi-Fi solutions to consider
The box below includes links to the regularly updated lists of best Wi-Fi routers and mesh systems I’ve reviewed.
Check them out against what you’ve learned here, especially the performance numbers. Chances are you’ll find one that makes you happy.
How to pick the best Wi-Fi router: The takeaway
There you go. Again, this post includes the answers to all the popular questions I’ve gotten so far about picking the right Wi-Fi router.
Hopefully, I won’t need to make that exciting yet often challenging decision for anyone from now on. Keep in mind that, just like looking for a life partner, some of us might end up with a couple of wrong choices before getting lucky.
One thing is for sure: it’s OK to take chances. That’s especially true in Wi-Fi routers since this type of networking incurs relatively painless consequences if you need to make a complete replacement.