Wireless Access Point Buying Guide

Wireless access points, also known as WAPs and commonly called routers, are used to help you connect to the Internet without a wire. You are likely connected to one right now with your desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet. Buying a good wireless access point allows you to get the best range and speed, so it's very important if you're reliant on the Internet for work or entertainment.

Types of Wireless Access Points

There are three different types of WAPs in the broadest sense and they are classified based on how they emit a signal. Anything within the signal gets access to the Internet while anything outside will either get a spotty connection or nothing at all.

Perhaps the most popular is the omnidirectional router. This sends a signal in all directions and is the best for obtaining access. The problem with this type of router is that the connection tends to be somewhat slower than the others and it's easier for people outside your home or office to piggyback on the signal if you don't use a password. At the same time, they excel at covering large areas.

The second and middle type of WAP is the sector router. These emit arc-shaped waves that cover a limited area. The connection is often somewhat stronger than omnidirectional access points, but it's easy to fall out of range if the router isn't positioned correctly. You have to be careful about how you point these units, but they can be quite useful if you need a strong connection in a limited area.

Focused wireless access points must be used very strategically because they can be either great or useless. This unit emits a focused beam that only covers a small area. If the WAP is positioned correctly, then you can get a very strong signal. If you fall outside that small area, then the Internet will quickly disappear. These routers are best with desktops and any devices that won't be moved around very much.

Pay Attention to

Channel

Channel refers to the type of Internet Protocol being used to send the Internet signal. There are numerous types, but only a few are used by commercial wireless access points. The most common ones right now are A, B, G, N and AC. The other types are often stronger, but aren't commonly used in households or businesses.

Each channel has a different data rate and frequency, and it's important to get one that matches your Internet provider. You can typically find one that does all of these channels without having to spend a lot of money. The majority of routers now use A, B, G and N channels. The AC one is considered a premium channel with higher data rates.

Range

This is always something that you should check before buying a router. If you have a computer 200 feet away from the router, then you don't want to buy a unit that only covers a 100 feet. The range should always be at least a little more than what you really need to ensure a consistent connection even on bad days.

Using the example about, if 200 feet is the maximum that you need, then you should get a router that covers about 225 to 250 feet just to make sure that you always have a good wireless signal. Getting anything less will just lead to frustration and dropped signals. While there are ways to boost the range, they cost money are require additional installation.

Environment

The vast majority of WAPs are meant for indoor use, but there is a market for outdoor units that can function anywhere. The indoor ones tend to be more reliable, cheaper and provide a better signal, but the outdoor ones are incredibly convenient and you'll usually get good reception since it's likely that the unit will be right next to you.

There is a huge difference between these two units and you have to make sure that you get the right one. Indoor units can't be moved and must be connected to a wall outlet while outdoor units use batteries and offer shorter ranges. When choosing an outdoor router, just make sure that it works with your current service provider. Some might require you to buy a plan specifically for the outdoor router.

Maximum Data Rate

The type of channel being used makes a huge difference in regards to maximum data rate, but there are other factors at play. For example, the range, power and type of router all affect this calculation. The data rate refers to how quickly data can be downloaded and uploaded while being connected to the router. You want to get the best that you can without going overboard. This can make a huge difference in the cost, so it's important to only get what you need.

You'll commonly find that the data rate is rated as bits per second, or bps. It's common to find wireless access points at around 200Mbps to 500Mbps. The best routers are closer to 1Gbps and 1.5Gbps. Most home and office users will be fine with the former, but large businesses and power users might require the latter.

Antenna Type

There are external and internal antennas to choose from. Internal antennas are kept free from harm since they are located within the unit and they are more convenient and easier to position since you don't have to worry about the antenna getting in the way. External antennas poke out from the unit and often provide a stronger signal.

Both are good for different purposes. Indoor routers typically have external antennas and outdoor ones usually have internal ones.

Top Brands and Product Lines

ASUS

This brand creates a wide array of WAPs that are perfect for homes and offices. From affordable models to powerful workhorses, you'll find it all with ASUS.

Linksys

A hugely popular brand that has been around for decades. Specializes in affordable units, but they also have a line of premium routers.

Netgear

You'll find a happy medium of price and power with Netgear models.

Conclusion

Wireless access points have become a common product since everyone needs the Internet. Knowing what to look for will ensure that you find the best unit with a strong signal and good features. Be sure to consider your needs and preferences and you'll have no problem finding the best router for your home or office.