What Should I Consider When Buying a Broadband Router?

R. Kayne

Broadband connectivity requires a modem and choosing one with a built-in router will allow you to share Internet access with more than one computer. A router juggles requests from multiple machines, routing traffic to the appropriate computer.

An Ethernet cable, which can be used to connect a computer to a router.
An Ethernet cable, which can be used to connect a computer to a router.

Prior to shopping for a router you’ll need to know which kind of broadband connection you’ll be using. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable, and fiber optics each requires its own class of modem. For example, a device made for DSL will not work with cable Internet service, unless manufactured to handle both types of services. These models are more expensive but also more flexible.

An ADSL router, a type of broadband router.
An ADSL router, a type of broadband router.

Once you know what type of broadband router you’ll need, the next step is deciding between wired or wireless models. A wired router requires that all machines be physically connected to the router with Ethernet cabling, while a wireless router will allow you to roam untethered throughout a house or office building.

A wireless broadband router.
A wireless broadband router.

Wired networks are considered more secure because traffic flowing between the computers and the router isn’t being broadcast via radio waves. Wired networks are also faster for file sharing on the local network as compared to older wired protocols, but newer wireless protocols have countered this advantage. Disadvantages include the cost of Ethernet cabling, the hassle of laying the cable, and the inflexibility of being physically connected to the router.

A wireless broadband router does not require cabling, saving considerable time and expense. You can also roam the house or workplace while maintaining connectivity. For security, wireless networks should be encrypted with software that comes with the broadband router to keep local interlopers from eavesdropping on network traffic.

Wireless communication protocols maintain specific standards to accommodate hardware manufacturers so that wireless devices can be made interoperable. As of early 2009, the most widespread implemented standard is 802.11g, slowly being replaced by the newer 802.11n standard. The “n” standard is faster, competing with wired Ethernet speeds, and is more robust than the “g” standard.

Accordingly, a wireless broadband router comes in one of three flavors: the device will be compliant with either the “g” standard, with the “n” standard, or with both standards. The latter router will be more expensive because it will contain two radios, as “g” and “n” operate in different frequency bands, but it will also be more versatile and future-proof.

Each machine in the network will need to have its own wireless card to communicate with the wireless broadband router. Current computers come with a wireless card already installed, but some cards might only support one protocol or the other. Some cards support both. You can buy an external wireless adapter for a computer to support another protocol if necessary, but the wireless router and computer must share a common standard. A router that only supports the “n” network will not be able to communicate with a computer that only supports the “g” network, and visa-versa.

Many manufacturers of broadband modems guarantee their devices will work with specific Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This would include modems with built-in routers. A list of compatible ISPs is available at manufacturers’ websites, usually with configuration settings for each broadband service. Choosing such a manufacturer saves the hassle of looking for configurations settings elsewhere, and ensures compatibility.

Buying your own broadband router can save monthly fees charged by some ISPs for supplying this equipment. It will also save the hassle of having to ship the product back to the ISP should you terminate your contract. If you switch ISPs you can probably use your broadband router with the new provider, assuming you don’t switch to a new type of connection, such as from DSL to cable, or from cable to fiber optics.

A broadband router can be left running 24/7, but might need to be reset occasionally if connectivity is lost. Turning the device off for 30 seconds then turning it back on is normally all that’s required.

A wired router can be used to set up a broadband network, and it may be more secure than a wireless router.
A wired router can be used to set up a broadband network, and it may be more secure than a wireless router.

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