Why-fi – which wifi router is best for me?

Wireless Networks are a very common thing nowadays and there is an expectation of connection everywhere you go. Large networks, in terms of either number of users or the physical scope of the network, can become quite complex to satisfy everyone’s needs – users as well as administrators. If you are need to deploy or upgrade your wireless network, you really need to know ‘which wifi router is best for me’.

At Lansalot we deal with a number of customer-sectors and are able to fit a solution to each perfectly. Here’s a comparison of some of the equipment we might recommend depending on your size, budget and requirements. Each item is explained below.

Customer Size / Feature Free with ISP Small Medium Larger
Solution EG Technicolor, Netgear etc TP-Link ZyXEL Aerohive
Management None None Co-operative up to 24 APs Co-Operative, Cloud Based, or On-Premise
WiFi Radios 1 1 2 2
Wifi Band 2.4Ghz 2.4Ghz or 2.4Ghz+5Ghz Simultaneously 2.4Ghz + 5Ghz 2.4Ghz + 5 Ghz
Maximum Client Connection Speed 150Mbps 300Mbps 300Mbps 300-450Mbps
LAN connection Speed 100Mbps 100Mbps or 1Gbps 1Gbps 1-2Gbps
Reliability Fair Fair Better Enterprise-class
Extra Features None May include 4-port 1Gbps switch PoE, Multi-SSID and VLAN support, CWP PoE, Multi-SSID and VLAN support, CWP, PPSK, Client Location
Approx. price per AP None-£10 £100 £200 £500-800

Management

In a larger Wifi network, centralised management is crucial. A simple change such as changing the Pass-key (the WPA-PSK or WPA2-PSK) can take a long time if it must be updated on a number of access points. Being able to make the change in one place and push the configuration out to multiple access points saves an awful lot of time. The central management platform also provides a single place to start troubleshooting when difficulties occur. The cloud-based system offered by Aerohive Networks allows monitoring and management of multiple units and unit types (including Aerohive routers) at multiple sites.

WiFi Radios

The number of radios in a Wifi point makes a difference in higher-use networks. Having 2 radios was until recently the only way to concurrently support 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz clients from the same unit, although technologies have now allowed for band-switching of the same radio. The radio is the point of interface between the wireless client and the wired access point, so doubling up means support for more clients simultaneously and/or higher aggregate speed across multiple clients. Think of it like a petrol station – the more pumps there are the more people can fill-up simultaneously, allowing a higher throughput of people.

Wifi Band

Not rock-and-roll, but the frequency at which the wireless communication is happening. The 2.4Ghz band was the original, and so remains the most commonly used and compatible. 5Ghz was originally introduced to assist with increasing the possible speed, it now assists with moving clients off the congested 2.4Ghz band and into ‘clearer skies’. Imagine 2.4Ghz like flying around an airport at 10,000 feet – very heavy traffic. 5Ghz is more like flying over the ocean at 30,000 – far less traffic, far more space for you to work in. The issue can be that not all clients support 5Ghz; specifications may say “wifi b/g/n” or similar – this means 2.4Ghz only. A wifi-spec of “a/b/g/n” means both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz are supported by the device.

Maximum Client Connection Speed

On a system where wifi is used only for connection to the internet, the Wifi speed usually exceeds the internet speed by some order of magnitude; typically Wifi at 54Mbps is capable of transmission some 9 times that of an average ADSL connection. However, when connecting to a server or other local device, the wifi speed can become a bottleneck, especially when compared to the 100Mbps or more commonly 1Gbps speed of the hard-wired desktop computers. Again using the petrol anaolgy, the faster you can get the fuel in your tank, the faster you can be on your way; the same with wireless. The shorter air-time required by a client, the more air-time there is for everyone else.

LAN connection Speed

The speed at which your information is exchange with the wired network. A wireless point essentiall acts as a convertor between wireless and wired technology, so the speed at which data can be exchange on the wired network is important as the speed and usage of the wireless network increases.

Reliability

The reliability of your wifi network may or may not be important to you. If you are charging for guests to use it, you could be losing revenue if it is not working. If your sales team rely on it to research potential customers, you could also be losing money. If you have to pay someone to hire a scissor-lift each time you need to reboot a Wifi point, you are spending hard cash on a simple solution.

Extra Features

There are some features that are useful to larger businesses wishing to make the most out of their hardware, or with specific requirements. Some of these include;

  • PoE – Power over Ethernet, which allows you to send the power for the device down the Cat5 ethernet cable, instead of needing to install a power-socket near to your wireless unit
  • Multi-SSID – This allows a very easy separation of clients as well as the ability to offer multiple classes of service. For example, from the same hardware you might need to support in-house devices with access to servers and equipment, guest devices with access only to the internet in certain conditions (time, location, destination website, etc)
  • VLAN support – coupled with Multi-SSID you can separate clients into another virtual network, separating them completely from affecting your corporate network
  • CWP – Captive Web Portal – this allows you to capture the initial request to get online by a visitor, have them redirected to a web-page which requires them to accept some usage policy, enter their billing details etc before they can connect to the rest of the internet. This can sometimes be coupled with a ‘walled-garden’ setup, allowing some websites to be access freely (eg your own homepage, local restaurant etc)
  • PPSK – Private Pre-Shared Key, allows you allocate one-time passkeys to access the network, which can be set to expire at a certain time, allow only 1 connection at a time, and generally control things for the user.

 Which WIFI router is best for me?

The answer to this will depend on a number of factors including;

  • The layout/construction of your building
  • The criticality of your wifi network
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • What is your budget?