The Wi-Fi router is a staple in many households today and the device which is ensuring that devices such as our smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops and smart TVs have access to the fast, high-speed internet. But the Wi-Fi router is a complex device that not just gets you internet without cables, but also secures your connection.
In today’s edition of Tech InDepth, we will look at how Wi-Fi Routers work and how they make our lives much easier.
What is a Wi-Fi router?
A Wi-Fi router, also known as a wireless router or a WLAN, is a physical device that facilitates the connection between the internet and your gadgets at home. The most common Wi-Fi routers have a wired input socket, some LAN output sockets, a few antennas and buttons. Designs of a router may vary from brand to brand and will also depend on how powerful the router itself is.
Just like phones, you also have different segments of Wi-Fi routers, including basic ones that are great for small apartments, larger ones more suited for offices and cafes, as well as more powerful ones for gaming, among others.
How does a Wi-Fi router work?
A Wi-Fi router works by creating a wireless network bubble around the router itself. Any device in this bubble, as long as it is in range, will be able to detect this router and if it has the right credentials, connect to it as well. Once you have multiple devices connected to the Wi-Fi router, you have established a WLAN (Wireless LAN, or Wireless Local Area Network) between them via radio waves. This network enables you to do a number of things, even without an internet connection.
This allows all of these devices to connect to each other. For instance, you can setup your smartphone to have access to the files on your PC, and the other way round, as long as they’re both connected on the same WLAN. You can also connect multiple PCs together for a multiplayer gaming session.
Once you plug in an active internet connection to the router, however, you can now access the same connection on all your connected devices. This internet connection will often be a wired connection going into the router via a cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection.
With most routers, once you have set them up with an internet connection going into it, you can either connect devices using the wireless network or even the LAN ports. The wireless connection will often have a speed limit for data and file transfers, but the LAN connection which will go straight into the RJ45 port (Ethernet port) will usually allow the fastest connection possible. This wired connection is also useful for desktop computers, many of which do not have wireless receivers. Using a Wi-Fi router for your internet connection also opens up many advantages, one of which is to switch between the two popular frequency bands, if your router supports it.
What are 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands?
Wi-Fi operates through radio waves which are traveling at a particular frequency. There are two types of frequency bands commonly used today. These are the more common 2.4Ghz and the newer 5Ghz. Wi-Fi routers that support only one support the 2.4Ghz frequency only and are called single-band routers. Meanwhile, routers which support both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands are called dual-band routers.
If you have Wi-Fi at home, but aren’t aware of these two bands, chances are you’re on the 2.4Ghz band. While this band is good enough for most people and devices, the problem is that it is also the frequency used by other gadgets like Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, etc. So many devices using the same frequency leads to overcrowding of the signal, often causing a lot of interference and affecting the Wi-Fi network’s speeds.
This is why 5Ghz is growing in popularity. The newer band is used by fewer devices and hence, interference is at a minimum. While 2.4Ghz has slower speeds, it does have more range than 5Ghz, which because of the higher frequency cannot travel as far.
Your Wi-Fi router isn’t just a wireless facilitator between the internet and your devices, but also a middleman. Being a middleman allows the router to do a lot of things that can enhance your experience. Here are some of them.
Block users: You can check what devices are connected to your Wi-Fi router at any given time and block unwanted users like a neighbor that somehow managed to get your password.
Allot bandwidth: You can even use your router to allot set speeds to each device or user. For instance, if you want your work laptop to use the maximum speed while all smartphones in the house should be capped at 1Mbps, you can do that within the router’s settings.
Use the USB port: Some high-end Wi-Fi routers will also come with a USB port and this allows for a multitude of use cases. For instance, you can plug in an external hard drive into this port and use it wirelessly from all your devices in the network. You can also configure some wired printers to connect via this USB port and work wirelessly with multiple devices.
Parental controls: As the name suggests, your Wi-Fi router can control not just the bandwidth allotted to all devices but also what websites they can and cannot visit.