Wi-Fi Router Buying Guide

Richard Elstob By Richard Elstob - updated October 13th, 2022
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A router is the hub of your network – it connects us and our devices to each other and the internet. With so much of our lives taking place online, a Wi-Fi router is more crucial than most of us give it credit for. There are numerous routers to choose from, all with different features and advantages. With the right router plugged in, you can enjoy optimal speeds and performance on your network. 

There is massive range of networking options for home and business with top brands such as Netgear, Ubiquiti, TP-Link, Asus, Synology, D-Link all striving to create products to meet the demands. To help you decide which model is best suited to your needs, we've put together a guide that offers some quick advice and information on key features to take note of when shopping for a Wi-Fi router.

The Difference Between a Modem and Router

First of all, it's important to understand that a modem and router provide different functions. A modem creates and maintains the connection with the internet provider's service and converts the signals from and to the router. The router forwards traffic destined for the internet to the modem, while preventing internal traffic from leaving the network. Using assigned numbers, the router keeps track of which computer made a request to the Internet in order to send responses back to that computer only. It is now common place for many Wi-Fi routers to also include built-in modems.

Features To Look For In A Router

While wired routers are still available for purchase, they require an ethernet cable to be plugged into your devices, which can be inconvenient. The good news is, Wi-Fi (wireless) router models are now the norm and they offer a much more flexible way of staying connected across various devices. There are numerous options available on the market today and with so many to choose from, it pays to know what you're looking for. Here are some of the key features to pay attention to when buying a new router. 

Bandwidth

When shopping for a router you’ll likely notice some numbers that follow the term N, AC, AX and so on, with titles looking like AC900, AC1200 and AX3000 - but what’s the difference between them?

These numbers refer to the max theoretical bandwidth the router can provide over all its wireless channels. This bandwidth is commonly referred to as Mbps, which means megabits per second - translating this further, 8 megabits per second = 1 megabyte per second. So a router with AC3200 can hypothetically transfer a total of 400 megabytes per second. Looking at this from a real world, end-user situation, it’s unlikely (at the moment) that a connected device could handle all this data at once and that’s OK. This number is a perfect world maximum (one with no walls or interference) and this is the total split through the various wireless networks the router is providing.

Looking specifically at the very popular AC3200 Tri-Band Routers, we can see how this bandwidth is split between the wireless networks it provides.

    • 2.4GHz @ 600Mbps (75 megabytes per second)
    • 5GHz @ 1300Mbps (162.5 megabytes per second)
    • + another 5GHz @ 1300Mbps
    • For a total of 3200, 400 megabytes per second.

Having this much potential bandwidth available allows for a better experience when you’re connecting multiple devices to your wireless network. D-Link summed it up pretty well saying, "When there’s traffic on the motorway and you’re crawling along at 10km/h, increasing the speed limit won’t help anyone get anywhere sooner. If you were to add another lane, traffic would clear faster and congestion would be less of a problem," and we love that! Splitting the traffic is a great way to ensure all Wi-Fi users in your home or office have an enjoyable experience. This means that you can have that new TV streaming HD videos on one wireless network, while the kids are happily gaming away on another!

Picture showing how to shop WiFi Routers by the number of devices in your house

Knowing this, you can opt to use the bandwidth to help find the right router based on how many devices you expect to connect. The image above will provide a general guide as to what you should be looking for. 

These bandwidth numbers, like AC1200 and AX11000, can be used directly in the PB Tech search bar to narrow down the range.

It's important to remember that your bandwidth will be shared between all the connected wireless clients, so having too many clients connected to a band will inevitably lead to slower internet access for everyone!

Think about where you need the WiFi

Take a moment and think about how many devices are going to be connected at once. It’s normally more than we think – a smart TV, laptop, desktop, tablet and smartphone already make up five! Something else you'll want to consider is the Wi-Fi range – how far does the signal need to reach? Are you planning on using a tablet in the garden hammock perhaps? We'll dive into this more below. 

Wi-Fi Standard

The Wi-Fi Standard refers to the generation of Wi-Fi the router is built for. They always begin with 802.11 and end with a letter or a set of letters. For example, 802.11n/ac/ax and so on. The main thing to take note of is the letters at the end, as this will tell you what generation of Wi-Fi the router supports. We recommend AC (Wi-Fi 5) as a minimum, though future-proofing with an AX router (Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E) is a great idea. 

  • AC supports up to the fifth generation of Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 5)
    • Operates only in the 5GHz band
  • AX supports up to the sixth generation of Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6)
    • Operates in the 5GHz + 2.4GHz band delivering increased speed, reduced congestion and better battery life
  • AXE expands on the existing sixth generation of Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6E)
    • Operates in the 6GHz + 5GHz + 2.4GHz band
    • Wi-Fi 6E routers will be listed as 802.11ax but have AXE in the name

AX (Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E) routers don't just offer increased speeds but they also offer greater capacity, performance, efficiency and security. You should keep in mind however, that to enjoy the full benefits of a Wi-Fi 6 or 6E router, your devices (such as your laptop and smartphone) will need to support these standards. The good news is, these standards are backwards compatible meaning they will work with your devices at a lower standard regardless, but will future-proof you for the wider shift to Wi-Fi 6 that's to come. In the mean time, you can get the AX Wireless adaptor for your PC to take advantage of all this new speed.

Using the PB Tech Website, in the Networking Category, you can use our handy "filter" menu on the left to show just the options you are looking for. You can even select multiple options, e.g. to show just "AD" and "AX" options.

Picture of how to filter types of Wireless at PB Tech


Wi-Fi Bands

Wi-Fi bands are the frequency ranges within the wireless spectrum that are designed to carry Wi-Fi. In the past, you may have seen single-band routers, but these days, dual-band and tri-band routers are what you'll commonly find in the market. This means that most routers broadcast over more than one band or frequency. The benefit of this is that your connection is less prone to interference from other devices which generally results in faster speeds.

Dual-band routers transmit over the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz band. 

Tri-band routers transmit over the 2.4GHz band and often two 5GHz bands. With the release of Wi-Fi 6E, we are starting to see tri-band routers that broadcast over a 2.4GHz band, a 5GHz band, and a 6GHz band.

The main advantage of multi-band routers is that they decrease the amount of congestion, even when more devices are added. If you have multiple Wi-Fi users in your home that all use multiple devices, you'll notice that the more bands that your router has, the faster and better your Wi-Fi connection is.

Wi-Fi Frequencies

You might be curious, what are the differences between the different frequencies? The main differences are the range (coverage) and speed (bandwidth) that each band provides. Our friends at NETGEAR have summed it up perfectly in the three points below.

  • The 2.4 GHz band provides the most coverage but transmits data at slower speeds.
  • The 5 GHz band provides less coverage but transmits data at faster speeds.
  • The 6 GHz band, introduced with the new WiFi 6E standard, provides the least coverage but transmits data at the fastest speeds of the three frequencies.

The range of your coverage will decrease with higher frequencies as they can't penetrate solid objects such as walls and floors very well. However, they can transmit data much faster than the lower frequencies. The good thing about modern day multi-band routers is that they will automatically switch your devices between the different bands based on what is best for your current usage.

Mesh Wi-Fi

If your home or property is large and/or has thick, dense walls and floors, you might want to consider a Mesh Wi-Fi router system. Mesh WiFi systems are designed to blanket your entire home in Wi-Fi, eliminating dead zones and providing uninterrupted lag-free Wi-Fi all throughout your home. While regular routers use a single device, mesh networks often contain a main router, along with two or more connected devices or 'antennas' placed throughout the home to offer more Wi-Fi signals. Unlike range extenders, mesh systems keep everything on the same seamless network, keeping you connected as it automatically switches you between the closest mesh node as you wander about your home.

Special Router Features

MIMO, wireless signals and beamforming technology

Multiple antennas and multiple inputs, multiple-output (MIMO) is a technology which many wireless routers use to broadcast. MIMO specifically refers to a technique for sending and receiving more than one data signal on the same radio channel by simultaneously using multiple antennas.

Beamforming technology is added to more advanced routers. This provides devices with improved performance and coverage. These beamforming routers identify and track devices on your network and direct Wi-Fi signals straight to the devices. As a result, this technology provides a more powerful signal, which is very favourable when using mobile devices.

Virtual Private Network 

A VPN creates an encrypted and secure connection between the device it's installed on and the internet. Once you've set up a router VPN, every device connected to that router will have its traffic sent through the encrypted tunnel so you don't need to install and run special software on each PC.

Cloud services

Routers with cloud services enable you to access and control your home network from any location. You may want to take into account an Asus AICloud router if achieving remote access is something you require. View and block devices which are connected to your network as well as view web browsing history from your smartphone or tablet with the easy to use, free mobile app.

4G LTE

These are great for when your regular cable internet isn't available. The 4G LTE Router lets you connect to your 3G/4G mobile connection giving you the speed you need for fast, responsive Internet access. Surf the web with ease and stream music and video over the Internet to your PCs and mobile devices.

We hope this Wi-Fi router buying guide made shopping for a new router easier! If you're ready to embark on your home wireless upgrade, head on over to check out the full range of Wi-Fi Routers today!


Written By

Richard Elstob

PC and audio nerd from waaay back… From building PCs and taming complicated smart home systems to owning more noise cancelling headphones than I care to admit, it’s fair to say I am a lover of all things tech!

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58 comments

YasuyukiM9

I am building a two story house right now. I will send you the drawings and would like to get your advice on what wifi network design would be best. It would be helpful if you could give me your email address so I can send you a personalized email.

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8 months ago Reply Report

Richard E (Head Office)

Hi there, I'd recommend contacting [email protected] in the first instance about this matter. Thank you

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8 months ago Reply Report

GeorgeD4

Hi, I purchased an Asustor NAS AS 5202T two months ago and set up network folders on my desktop and laptop. The NAS can be accessed through the 2.5Gbe ethernet cable connected to the router, a Huawei HG595b provided by ISP. But the NAS cannot be accessed through WiFi. The desktop is upstairs while the router and modern is downstairs. Is it possible for my desktop to access the NAS via WiFi by upgrading the network system? If possible, what is your recommendation? I am thinking that one method is to connect the NAS to a fast router and to upgrade the WiFi receiver of the desktop. Another method is to connect the NAS to a MESH unit downstairs and the desktop connects to another MESH unit upstairs through a 2.5Gbe ethernet cable. Thanks for your kind help. Cheers,

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi George, in the example you provided, in most cases you should be able to access your NAS with your current setup. It could be the settings of your network / router that is stopping your NAS from being found. Networking can be complicated, and it's not easy to diagnose issues online, it may be best to direct your question to forums such as https://forum.asustor.com/ or https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/forums/f/21/networking/ etc. All modern mesh systems support what you are trying to achieve but I'd hate to recommend something when your issue may be a configuration one. All the best.

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2 years ago Reply Report

GeorgeD4

Thank you do much! I will checked the setting of my network. Have a good weekend and take care!

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2 years ago Reply Report

BurtP

Hi, looking for a recommendation product that will work the best in a 2 level house (270 m2 house) with 4-5 people working from home, console gaming, tablets and phones. I have fibre 850. Cheers in advance for your help.

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi Burt, thanks for the question, happy to help! I would recommend a mesh router as it would provide full coverage throughout your home and avoid any dead zones. https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETNGR3000/NETGEAR-Orbi-RBK50-Mesh-Wi-Fi-System---2-Pack-RBR5 - This router is a very popular option and is ideal for a 2 storey house with a mesh router for each level. https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETHUA1300/Huawei-Q2-Pro-Hybrid-Mesh-Wi-Fi-System---3-Pack-3 & https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETTPL9005A/TP-Link-Deco-M5-Whole-Home-Mesh-Wi-Fi-System---3-P - both popular options that are both cheaper and come with 3 routers so you can easily spread them out throughout your home. All of these routers on special at the moment too! :) Thanks

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2 years ago Reply Report

BennC

Can you give a recommendation on what modem to pair with Netgear Nighthawk AX5 5-Stream AX4200 WiFi Router?

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2 years ago Reply Report

PennyP24

Hi, we have a two storey house and have spark fibre which was installed in a corner room on the upper level. We have 4-7 person household and majority of the 15+ devices are connected via wifi. The spark modem isn't the best and we have a few dead zones especially the following areas - downstairs living room, garage and backyard. Could you please recommend the best router or option that would be suitable for our situation. Cheers and thanks for your help

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi Penny, I have asked the Networking PM and they have recommended one of these mesh systems for your home - https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETHUA1300/Huawei-Q2-Pro-Hybrid-Mesh-Wi-Fi-System---3-Pack-3 or https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETTPL6553/TP-Link-Deco-X55-Wi-Fi-6-Whole-Home-Mesh-System They are amazing at removing dead zones from your home!

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2 years ago Reply Report

BrendonB8

We live rurally and currently have VDSL with a Draytek Vigor 130. Now I would like to convert our POTS connection to SIP but there is no built-in ATA on the Draytek (the output of the Draytek currently goes to a 24 port switch). I need a decent VDSL router with built-in ATA and no wireless (I have existing APs). What do you recommend please?

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2 years ago Reply Report

ArohaD9

Hi we have a house that has fiber and we currently have a trustpower router/modem. We have two rooms that the wifi signal drops in and out all the time that are about about 8m and 10m away from where the router is situated. Need something that can cater for 3x pc gaming wired cat 6, 2 x laptops, 3 x tvs wired, 3+ tablets, and phones. What are my options cheers

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi Aroha, since it sounds like your two rooms are close together you probably don't require a mesh system. A powerful Wi-Fi 6 Gaming Router will easily be able to provide speedy connections to all your devices. A popular one we sell is https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETNGR605400/NETGEAR-NightHawk-Pro-Gaming-XR1000-Wi-Fi-6-Gaming or https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETAS6000/ASUS-RT-AX88U-Wi-Fi-6-Gigabit-Gaming-Router-Dual-B Thanks!

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2 years ago Reply Report

ArohaD9

Thanks Jared I'm liking the look of the Asus router, does it have any parental controls capabilities and or guest login capabilities. Cheers

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Yes, it has both of these :) Thanks

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2 years ago Reply Report

DavidM516

Hi! I have a house with difficult access for laying cable so would like advice, please, on the equipment to purchase. 1. I am told that there is no likelihood of fibre in the foreseeable future, however a number of providers claim to be able to provide VDSL. I understand that VDSL performance is compromised as distance from the local cabinet or exchange approaches 1000m, but don't know where the nearest such point is. Let's figure that we'll get VDSL, but design for fibre-ready. 2. Internet capability required in the home will be 2x TVs streaming and potentially up to 6 or 7 other devices. I expect devices in the home will generally be WiFi capable, but wonder if I should provision for wired connection. 3. Cat 6 has been laid but not yet connected from the comms post at the street to the garage - 20 metres distance. 4. From the garage I want to provide WiFi internet connection to the house another 25 metres away up the hill where most of the device load will be. I figure 802.11ax multiband is probably the way to go, and figure that I should buy a better modem than the telco will provide. Would appreciate your guidance on what equipment I need to set this up. Thanks in advance!

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi David, thanks for reaching out. For the best advice, can you please email us at [email protected] and our team will be able to help. Thanks

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2 years ago Reply Report

DavidM516

Done, thanks

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2 years ago Reply Report

DavidM516

Hi Jared, its been a month and no reply. Also tried to get info in store on the weekend but store not set up for anything but basic sales across the table at the door. Please give this a nudge. Thanks.

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2 years ago Reply Report

DavidM516

(I have re-sent the enquiry to websales)

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi David, sorry to hear about the delay. Can you please let me know your email address and I can follow this up with our websales team. You can email us at [email protected] with these details if you like. Thanks

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2 years ago Reply Report

TristanH89

Hi there I need some advice on updating our router/modem? We have Fibre from Trustpower, there are 4 people in the house and at least 20 devices some LAN connected but mostly WiFi at present we use the standard Trustpower router and it seems to be struggling, we run Google home products and I believe that multiple routers can be a problem with that? We run Vodafone TV, gaming consoles and with lock down we are working and schooling from home so there is allot of demand. What would you recommend?

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi Tristan, I have asked our product manager to recommend something and they have said the Huawei Q2 Pro Hybrid Mesh Router is a very popular option. With a 3 pack your whole home will be blanketed in Wi-Fi :) Hope this helps, thanks!

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2 years ago Reply Report

Chas_Gardner

With 20 wifi devices in the house you should consider the Tri-Band AX11000 https://www.pbtech.co.nz/product/NETNGR611000/NETGEAR-NightHawk-RAX200-AX1212-Stream-Wi-Fi-Route

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2 years ago Reply Report

AndrewC819

Hi there. Our internet keeps dropping out. I have a Google Wifi Mesh. Do you have any recommendations on what modem / router would be good as a replacement for the ISP provided modem? Home use is mainly streaming and device use. No gaming. Thanks.

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2 years ago Reply Report

Jared G (Head Office)

Hi Andrew, can you please let us know what type of internet connection you have - ADSL, VDSL or Fibre? And then we can recommend you the right product :) Thanks

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2 years ago Reply Report