Handling your WiFi bandwidth: is it time to upgrade your router?

When’s the last time you updated your router? If it has been more than a few years, or even longer than that, it may be time to update the main piece of hardware used to get your devices online.

Not sure if you need to upgrade? If you don’t say yes to all of the questions below, it’s probably time:

  • Is your router at least dual-band (supports the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency)?
  • Does your router provide you with the speeds you pay for (run a speed test here)?
  • Does your router sufficiently cover your entire home with WiFi?

What’s Wrong with Single-Band Routers?

Single-band routers only broadcast 2.4GHz signals. If you’re still using one (think of it as a one-station router), it’s time to look into a router that supports both the 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies.

Not only is 2.4GHz known to be more vulnerable to external interference, but it also has a maximum bandwidth of 240 Mbps vs 600 Mbps over 5GHz. Basically—you’ll get faster WiFi speeds and avoid interference.

Most importantly, if you have devices that support the 5GHz frequency—like most modern laptops, tablets, and phones—you’ll want to take advantage of the higher speeds.

What are the Benefits of Upgrading to a Dual-Band Router?

If anything, upgrading to a dual-band router will ensure that your network is capable of supporting all the devices you have. There are still certain devices that only work on the 2.4 GHz frequency, but for those devices that are optimized to use 5GHz, you’ll absolutely want to take advantage of the higher speeds and lower chances of experiencing network interference.

Dual-band routers ensure you can have a single network that supports all your devices. Also, by using both bands, essentially broadcasting separate signals at different frequencies, it can alleviate congestion, noticeably speed up your WiFi connection, and exploit the advantages of both bands.

Most importantly, rather than instantly rendering your older devices obsolete or requiring two routers to accommodate the complexity of connection needs in our homes, dual-band routers broadcast signals at both a 5GHz signal and the slower 2.4GHz signal. Your older devices will connect to the 2.4GHz signal and the ones that support 5GHz WiFi will connect to the faster signal.

What’s Tri-Band? Do I need it?

One would think that if dual-band broadcasts on two channels and naturally increases speeds, that tri-band broadcasts on three channels. You’d be forgiven for guessing that a tri-band transmits in 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and (!!) 10GHz!  

Alas, 5 GHz remains the state-of-the-art speed for current devices and though a tri-band router broadcasts three signals, it’s one 2.4GHz signal and TWO 5GHz signals. How is that helpful? And is it worth the upgrade? Well, that depends.

A tri-band router broadcasts signals that work with a variety of devices and helps manage the traffic on the 5GHz channel, by automatically routing your device signals between the two faster signals. Plus, because it has also used the 2.4GHz band, it retains the ability to broadcast farther.

So, for instance, if you’re streaming television and someone else in the household are uploading massive files or even playing a video game via the internet, the tri-band router will is capable of placing each of those devices – say your Fire TV Stick and their PlayStation – on separate signals.

This happens automatically and can make a noticeable difference in a home with a collection of connections, for example, an iPad, two laptops, three smartphones, two TVs, a handful of Echos, and an XBOX. Certainly, if your home isn’t like that, you’ve witnessed a home with those kinds of broadband needs!

By automatically moving the bandwidth-hogging devices to one of the faster WiFi signals, a tri-band router manages the load at the times when the internet usage is the highest and keeps things like Bluetooth, car alarms, and baby monitors from slowing down your access.

What to Choose? Dual-Band or Tri-Band?

The main questions to consider: How do you use your WiFi? And how fast is the connection coming into your router from your ISP?

If you don’t have multiple devices connecting and demanding fast speeds at the same time, you may not notice an improvement with tri-band over dual-band. Though it seems that many households have multiple priority connections at once, especially in the evenings, there are still households for which a tri-band would just be overkill.

Yet, in homes with kids gaming and watching videos or homes with multiple adults, the speed increase and reduction in buffering and other frustrations may be noticeable and make an upgrade worthwhile.

And, if you’re paying for and receiving lightning-fast internet speeds, you probably do want to maximize your in-home hardware. Should your current internet speeds entering the home be lackluster, you may be just as happy with a dual-band router, since having a much faster router can’t overcome slow flow from your ISP.

Why not explore ways to make all your home WiFi experiences more painless? Finding a solution for slow WiFi speeds at home can be instantly satisfying. It’s safe to assume that in the coming months and years your home will be even more connected than it is today and you’ll be relying on and enjoying, even more, devices than ever. It makes sense to have a router that works best for your situation.