A: Most people know they need a router to connect to the Internet. Few understand what a router is or does.
The primary purpose of a router is to connect one network with another. In most cases, this is to connect the network of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) (cable, DSL, microwave, etc.) with your home or office Local Area Network (LAN).
But a router can provide more services and features, including:
- Firewall, to help prevent criminal hackers and bots from accessing your LAN and devices.
- Wi-Fi, to allow wireless devices to connect with your LAN and other devices such as printers or file sharing.
- Guest Wi-Fi, to allow devices that have not passed a security audit and those belonging to visitors internet access without joining the main network and putting your devices at risk of malware.
- Greater bandwidth. As a general rule, the router provided by your ISP is like driving a single lane street with a 25mph limit. 3rd-party routers may have much greater bandwidth, more like a 8 lane highway with a 75mph limit.
There are over a hundred different router products available, making the decision difficult for the consumer. It doesn't help any that most vendors speak technobabble when describing feature sets. Although we haven't tested all available units, we have found a couple that are clear leaders in the pack.
Up until a year ago I recommended the ASUS RT-AC5300 for both home and business. I still recommend this unit for small homes, but for larger homes and for business, and homes that require greater security, I now have another option. The ASUS beats almost all competitors with a router + Wi-Fi combo:
- Massive bandwidth. There is almost no competition to the tri-band, 5,300mbs this beast brings to the table.
- Multiple simultaneous connections. Most routers will accept a maximum of 10-20 simultaneous connections. A few will go as high as 50. I've had up to 200 devices connected at one time to the ASUS.
- Practical reach. The industry standard for Wi-Fi is up to 100m line of sight reach between the router and the device. I've seen better reach with the ASUS than most of the competition.
- Security. The ASUS includes Trend Micro Intrusion Protection Service, actively blocking intruders to your network. It also blocks malware from jumping from an infected device to another device on the network.
- Extenders. Should your location need greater reach, ASUS has the AC1900 Extender. Using up to 100m ethernet between the router and extender, you can cover even the largest of homes with full Wi-Fi.
For business and homes that require greater coverage or security, I now recommend the OpenMesh line of products, including routers, switches, and Wi-Fi access points. I'm fond of OpenMesh because:
- Each of their products can be accessed, managed, and updated from anywhere on the internet through a single portal window. This typically pays for itself the very first time used, as a technician can remote in and resolve the problem while you are on the phone with them, instead of waiting for an on-site visit.
- Each of their products checks for firmware updates daily. Few products in this price range do this, instead the competitors opt for manual updates (which simply are never done). Without updates, a network device offers an open door to criminal hackers, bots, malware, etc. This feature pays for itself after just a few months, as the technician isn't needed to perform updates.
- Security. OpenMesh products are built with enterprise-level security, as opposed to consumer-level security.
- Wi-Fi access points can have up to 4 different SSID's (network names). This allows easy segmenting of the network for multiple departments, guests, etc.
- Power Over Ethernet (PoE). The Wi-Fi access points don't require a power cord - power is supplied over the ethernet cable from the router or switch. This allows far more flexible installation (don't need to be near a power outlet) and less expensive installation (no need to install a power outlet).
- Unlimited expansion. Not only can a network be built to provide full coverage for the largest of homes or offices, but an unlimited number of networks can be connected together via built-in VPN so that a world-wide network of locations appears and functions as one network.
If I had to pick just one router, I would always go for the OpenMesh. Although a bit more expensive than consumer-level products, it will easily pay for itself in less than a year, provide greater security, and the ability to remotely monitor, configure, and upgrade is unbeatable.