No one agonizes over the condition of their wi-fi router. But when your router isn't working as well as it should, you'll end up skipping meals until it's resolved. Its importance cannot be understated, which is why it's worth pointing out that because of significant strides in wi-fi technology within the last few years, upgrading your router could have some major benefits.
Your wi-fi router is literally the central hub for your home's wireless devices. iPads, iPhones, and computers use your router for connecting to each other and the outside world, but you might have other devices connected as well, such as an Apple TV, wireless printer, Kindle, or Nest thermostat. Shoot, you can even have a wi-fi equipped power outlet. It's not rare for a home with two kids to have around ten wireless devices. As you can imagine, your wi-fi router is a busy dude. Improving your wi-fi router is like driving on a newly paved and expanded highway -- your devices will have a faster and smoother experience.
Benefits of a new wifi router
Bradley Chambers, writing for The Sweet Setup, says that now is a great time to upgrade your router. We've noticed that many homes still use the same wi-fi router they had when signing up for internet several years ago. Without a modern router, your new iPhone or iPad isn't running at it's fullest potential. The reason is because most devices sold these days feature a new wireless protocol called 802.11ac. Those two little letters at the end of that protocol make a world of difference. It means that wireless speeds are three times faster than the previous protocol (which was 801.11n) and twelve times faster than the one prior to that (802.11g). You'll feel those speed improvements when streaming video, like YouTube, Netflix, or FaceTime. Faster internet means quicker loading times and less choppiness.
Of course, it should be noted that the biggest variable in your home internet performance is the plan you're buying from your internet provider. But many homes are unintentionally hampering their speeds with an outdated router.
A new router also improves the range of your network. 802.11ac is able to extend further, which means your basement or patio might finally be able to get coverage without the need of a performance draining wi-fi booster.
Three quick symptoms
If your router is older than five years or is only capable of 802.11g, we strongly suggest upgrading. From your Mac, there's an easy way to find out what kind of network your router creates. Hold down the "option" key, and click on the AirPort logo in your menu bar. (It's the logo that looks like a striped wedge.) You'll find a lot of light grey text under the name of your connected network, and somewhere, you'll see the PHY mode. There, you'll find 802.11 followed by some letter. If it's g, you need to upgrade. If it's n, know that there's room for improvement. If it's ac, then you have a fantastic router.
A second metric you can check is also under the AirPort logo when giving it an option-click. That's the Tx Rate. This number is essentially the power of your network. If you check that number with a Mac in the same room as your router, and it's below 200, then you'll definitely benefit from a newer router.
The last symptom is easier to diagnose. If your internet provider installed a wi-fi router that also functions as your modem, you want to consider getting a dedicated router. Modem/router combo devices from internet providers tend to be built from bottom-of-the-barrel parts and deliver sub-par performance. We often see these combo devices burn out and require replacement. Having a dedicated router alleviates your modem and also improves the network.
Find a router
As you might guess, we're strong advocates of Apple's AirPort Extreme. Apple builds strong and dependable routers for home use. If you're looking to also backup multiple Macs in your home, then Apple's Time Capsule could be a simple solution for you. The Time Capsule has its own storage which works with a Mac's backup software called Time machine, and is super easy to set up. These two routers from Apple are 802.11ac and are tuned especially for the best performance with Apple devices.
Lately, Scotty has installed a few wi-fi routers from Archer due to their slightly faster speeds and better pricing than Apple's devices. But, they are a bit more cumbersome to configure and aren't suggested for the faint of heart. If you're up for the challenge and want to save a few bucks, order an Archer.
Room for improvement
I want to be clear and reiterate that your home internet speeds are affected by many things, and a wi-fi router is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one. There's a difference between buying a new router to improve your network and buying a new router to fix a substantial internet problem. That distinction sometimes requires the diagnosis from a well trained technician. The three symptoms above are easy ways to know that upgrading your router will improve your network.
I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister; Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.