Routers are one of those things that most of us don’t think too much about. Right up until something goes wrong and we can’t access the internet. Then we think a lot about routers. Right now, you’re thinking on whether you should upgrade your current router (Your reading this article gave me the hint). That little box deserves your consideration.
Without a router, we don’t have a smart home and quite a bit of our AV equipment won’t work as expected. With a weak router, our devices start bumping into each other, creating headache-inducing bottlenecks. Here are five reasons to upgrade your current router.
Older routers only have 10/100 Mbps capacity (Mbps is short for Megabits Per Second).
If you think about it, we are using more and more bandwidth every day. When was the last time you rented a DVD to watch? We stream them online now. Right? (A moment of silence to honor Blockbuster) Have you looked at a movie, TV show, or video on your computer lately? Who hasn’t? Pretty much anything we do today takes a lot of bandwidth. Bandwidth is the amount of data your router can read and write. Think of a hose. A Firehose can carry a LOT more water than a garden hose. However, the firehose can only carry as much water as the valve controlling the flow will allow to pass. Cat5 cables are similar to the hose and the router is like the valve that you open to allow the water to pass through. The router controls the volume of data, or bandwidth.
Many routers that are only a couple of years old do not have the capacity to pass high bandwidth through. Older routers only have 10/100 Mbps capacity (Mbps is short for Megabits Per Second). 10/100 Mbps means the router will pass 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps, depending on software and the ability of the computer to process the data. In general, newer computers, and most new electronic components can handle much higher bandwidth. Even some newer routers, if they were lower-end routers may not be able to pass the quantities of data you might expect. Take a look at the model number of your router and do a quick google search for the specifications.
An older router that is not capable of passing high levels of data is like having a nice, fat firehose running from a little tiny water valve. Only a trickle of water will come out the far end. Even if your internet service provider (ISP) is providing you with a ton of bandwidth, your router may not be able to pass all of that data capacity to or from your devices. I checked into the bandwidth supplied by Xfinity in the San Francisco bay area. The basic packages are up to 150 Mbps. A pretty common upgrade in packages will get you 250 Mbps! Pretty cool — if your router will handle it!
2. Wi-Fi Bandwidth
Along with the ability to handle the total amount of data that is streaming through, there is also the ability to handle the bandwidth that is being sent through Wi-Fi. There is a difference between wired internet access and Wi-Fi. If you are wirelessly streaming Netflix in one room, chances are good that you are using a large portion of the router’s Wi-Fi capacity. Other users of that bandwidth may need to wait their turn, run very sluggishly, or drop the web entirely. Newer routers have higher Wi-Fi bandwidth capacity which allows for more users to stream more data at the same time.
3. Wi-Fi strength
Along with the ability to handle Bandwidth, your router also determines your Wi-Fi signal strength. Under ideal conditions, Wi-Fi signals can reach over a hundred feet from the router – if the router generates a strong enough signal. However, few of us have ideal conditions in our homes. Walls, other electronics, appliances, fireplaces, people, etc. all interfere with Wi-Fi signals. Even the smallest interference can interrupt Wi-Fi signals. It can be as simple as someone walking between the router and the device that is streaming. If you are relying on the modem supplied by the cable company for your Wi-Fi, you should really consider upgrading!
We get calls all the time about streaming speakers (Heos, MusicCast, Sonos) dropping out or buffering. It can be really annoying to have your favorite tune cut out in the middle of that killer guitar solo! Like the example above, the culprit here is Wi-Fi strength. A simple upgrade to a higher end router will usually solve these issues.
4. Number of devices
Older routers may only accommodate a limited number of devices accessing the network at the same time. Keep in mind that we are talking about ALL devices that access the network. We usually only think about phones, tablets, and computers, but that’s not everything. Don’t forget Printers, smart lights, alarms, thermostats, TV’s, Blu-ray players, cable boxes, AV Receivers, security systems, etc. I did a quick count and I have almost two dozen devices that are accessing the network in my home. That’s not including when we have guests over. Consider a family of 4 with multiple computers, TV’s, DVD players, phones, etc. We routinely talk to clients with more than 50 devices accessing the network at any given time! Having a router that can handle the load is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity!
We have run across older routers that can only juggle 12 devices at a time. If you have ever sat on the couch with your phone spinning, waiting for a video to load, you get what I’m saying. You may need to upgrade either your router, your internet package, or both. A new, commercial grade, router can handle up to 512 devices (Luxul XWR-3150)! If you have more devices than that accessing the internet at once, you need to be talking to your IT team, or an integrator that knows network systems!
5. 2.4G and 5G
Newer routers have more than one channel over which you can stream WiFi. The standard for many years was 2.4G. Chances are good, if you have an older router, that 2.4G is your only option. Newer routers have a second channel that is identified as 5G. Most smart phones, most computers, and most new ‘smart’ electronics have 5G streaming capability. Older devices are limited to 2.4G. By using 2 channels, new routers can (you guessed it) handle twice as many devices and carry more bandwidth. This addresses two of the previously mentioned issues.
Conclusion on Whether to Upgrade Your Current Router
This issue is only going to get worse as more time passes. Technology is constantly changing, we are constantly upgrading and replacing our electronic devices, and manufacturers are adding smart features to their products. It’s an ever changing electronic landscape that we are all trying to navigate. Do yourself a favor and drop a few bucks on a new router. Not only do you deserve it, your electronics that stream content will be glad you did!