Routing Customers Through Wireless Options

Tips for providing the right Wi-Fi Solution

Setting up a wireless Wi-Fi router is about as much fun as chewing tin foil. But, like it or not, these devices are essential to a home entertainment system and customers need to understand how they work—and how they don’t work—in certain scenarios.

Not just for computers any longer, wireless routers connect everything from the family iPad to game consoles and smart TVs to the Web. Consumers expect to access online services like Netflix, Hulu and Pandora from every room in the house. Routers are responsible for handling the traffic. But if they aren’t set up properly, video streams will stall and neighbors may take a free ride on a customer’s network. Or worse.
Customers need to understand what they are buying and sales associates need to set expectations by educating buyers.

Router Lowdown
Most routers that comply with the current full Wi-Fi specification are so-called dual-band models. In other words, they use the older 2.4 GHz bandwidth and more recent 5 GHz band. Recommended models should meet the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard so that they can accommodate 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi devices that use the 2.4 GHz band, as well as newer 802.11n devices that can use either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band.

Dual-band routers are needed now because models that only use the 2.4 GHz band are susceptible to more interference, and thus poorer performance. The 2.4 GHz space is jammed with a variety devices vying for this wireless space, including baby monitors and cordless phones. A dual-band 802.11n router will improve performance and operate in “mixed mode,” ensuring that older Wi-Fi devices will still be able to connect to the network.

One point of confusion for many shoppers is the network speeds touted by manufacturers. Labels often boast 450 Mbps (megabits per second) or even 900 Mbps speeds. In theory, it means that each band can stream data at up to 450 Mbps, for a total of 900 Mbps. But in practice these numbers represent ideal peak performance. Actual throughput is about half the advertised speed, and that’s still assuming the environment is ideal for wireless communications and free of interference.

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  • Adam Lenio

    Great summation/overview John. I agree that the touted speed ratings of most Wi-Fi products are not what a user experiences in the real world — I’d think it would be helpful to also show a few samples of those true speeds. Though to your point, the real bottle neck is the ISP’s bandwidth, not the Router.

    Separately, I’d like to add a point of information though that most readers aren’t aware of — the fact that Wi-Fi communication needs to be bi-directional. That is to say that the device needs to be able to communicate back to the access point, and that if it does not, the performance and experience suffers tremendously. Kind of like throwing a football — just because I can throw the ball 40 yards to my kid doesn’t mean he can throw it all the way back. A laptop, tablet or smart phone are going to perform the same way.

    Adam Lenio
    Director of Marketing, Wi3

  • alc

    Why aren’t apple products included? I have found them to be the most stable in terms of wireless routers.

  • Bryan Blumberg

    A couple of big issues for me is scalability and reliability. In the "old days" home users were just concerned with getting all of the family’s computers online. However, today a household may have a satellite TV system, Blu-ray player, home-theater amplifier, HD television set, MagicJack Plus, WiFi capable smartphones, game consoles and a set-top box such as an Apple TV. Today’s home routers have to be able to withstand having 20 or 30 devices in use simultaneously. I have had trouble with routers locking up and having to be rebooted frequently. Recently, I’ve switched my house, my brother’s house and my sister’s house from older Netgear hardware to new Cisco/Linksys routers. I’m not sure if the Netgear routers in the three homes just got old and became unreliable simultaneously or not, but switching to the Cisco equipment solved the problem at all three locations. We no longer need to reboot the routers each day in order to get online.

  • http://TonyW Tony W

    This article is undeservedly kind to D-Link, whose products have long been poor in areas of platform support for installation, readability of documentation, and customer support. Given the other strong options, there’s really no reason to choose D-Link.