Broadband Router Standards Explained

Gaming and streaming video benefit from fast home routers

Young woman working with wireless technology
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Broadband routers are designed for convenience in setting up home networks, particularly for homes with high-speed internet service. Besides making it possible for all the electronic devices in the home to share an internet connection, broadband routers also enable sharing of files, printers, and other resources among home computers and other electronic devices.

A broadband router uses the Ethernet standard for wired connections.

Traditional broadband routers required Ethernet cables that ran between the router, the broadband modem, and each computer on the home network. Newer broadband routers have a wired connection to the internet modem. They connect with the devices in the home wirelessly using the Wi-Fi standards.

Many different types of routers are available, and each one meets a specific standard. The routers that use the most current standard are available at a higher cost than those on older standards, but they include better features. The current standard is 802.11ac. It was preceded by 802.11n and—even earlier—802.11g. All these standards are still available in routers, although the older ones have limitations.

802.11ac Routers

802.11ac is the newest Wi-Fi standard. All 802.11ac routers have newer hardware and software than previous implementations and are perfect for medium to large homes where speed and reliability are important.

An 802.11ac router utilizes dual-band wireless technology and operates on the 5 GHz band, allowing up to 1 Gb/s throughput, or a single-link throughput of at least 500 Mb/s on 2.4 GHz. This speed is ideal for gaming, HD media streaming, and other heavy bandwidth requirements.

This standard adopted the technologies in 802.11n but extend the capabilities by allowing for RF bandwidth as wide as 160 MHz and supporting up to eight multiple input multiple output (MIMO) streams and up to four downlink multiuser MIMO clients.

The 802.11ac technology is backward compatible with 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n hardware, meaning that while an 802.11ac router works with hardware devices that support the 802.11ac standard, it also provides network access to devices that only support 802.11b/g/n.

802.11n Routers

IEEE 802.11n, usually referred to as 802.11n or Wireless N), replaces the older 802.11a/b/g technologies and increases data rates over those standards by using multiple antennas, achieving rates from 54 Mb/s up to 600 Mb/s, depending on the number of radios in the device.

802.11n routers use four spatial streams on the 40 MHz channel and can be used on either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency band.

These routers are backward compatible with 802.11g/b/a routers.

802.11g Routers

The 802.11g standard is older Wi-Fi technology, so these routers are usually inexpensive. An 802.11g router is ideal for homes where the fastest speeds are not important.

An 802.11g router operates on the 2.4 GHz band and supports a maximum bit rate of 54 Mb/s, but usually has about a 22 Mb/s average throughput. These speeds are just fine for basic internet browsing and standard-definition media streaming.

This standard is fully compatible with the older 802.11b hardware, but because of this legacy support, the throughput is reduced by about 20 percent when compared to 802.11a.