Wires plugging into router
Keeping the data flowing requires choosing the right wireless router. — Getting Image/kynny

Finding the right router for your business may seem overwhelmingly technical given all the options. This guide will help you find the best setup for your company without all of the confusing tech jargon, by:

  1. Providing a comprehensive introduction to how routers work
  2. Detailing the most important factors to consider when picking a router
  3. Discussing how to install a router and ensure its maximum efficiency

How do routers work?

Routers are the traffic stops of the internet. Every email you send and every web page you visit is shunted through a network of these devices. Internet service providers (ISPs) maintain the bandwidth — the proverbial highways — that allow messages and web pages to hop between routers. Just as your city needs traffic stops so that employees can arrive to work safely, your office needs a router for information to reach your devices.

A router can only handle as much traffic as its size allows. That’s why understanding your company’s needs is so important when picking a router. Purchase too small a device, and everyone will get caught in a traffic jam. Many business routers also come equipped with firewalls to protect sensitive data. Think about how often you send proprietary information to your employees and vice versa, and it’s easy to see why office routers bristle with many more security tools than home routers.

Keep in mind that a router is not the same as a modem. A modem is a device that allows internet connectivity to your router. Most ISPs furnish modems to their customers free of charge. A local Wi-Fi market is typically dominated by only one or two internet service providers — check their websites to see what prices best suit your budget. You should receive your modem once you’ve signed up with a provider.

What features should I look for in a router?

Now that you know how routers work, it’s time to discuss what you’re looking to get out of one. Do you need a router that can cover a small office or an entire floor? Can you get away with something “fast enough” or does it need to be a proverbial supercar? How about a router that features extra firewalls to protect your most sensitive data? Router needs vary from business to business, but there are a few factors that every manager needs to watch for.

Speed. A router’s speed is partially determined by its gigabits-per-second (or gbps) rate. Gigabits are commonly confused with gigabytes, but the two aren’t the same thing. In fact, eight gigabits make up a single gigabyte. Most small offices can get by on a router that shuttles anywhere from three to five gbps, though much faster devices exist.

Number of users. A speedy router isn’t very useful if it can’t support multiple users, which is where bandwidth comes into play. Bandwidth is not dissimilar to the width of a highway—the more bandwidth a router provides, the more employees can connect their devices to it without gumming up its speed. Bandwidth is measured in gigahertz (GHz), and most routers come equipped with several distinct “bands” that vary in speed and signal strength. A 2.4 GHz band, for example, has slower speed but a strong signal. Conversely, a 5 Ghz band has much faster speed, but a weaker signal. Most routers come with multiple bands so that managers like you can pick the best configuration for your office environment. A few routers even allow multiple bands to run simultaneously.

Range. How large is your office? Can it fit into a tenant space or does it take up an entire floor? Either way, you’ll want to consider your router’s range very carefully. A router’s range can be measured by both bandwidth and the number of antennas on its chassis. The more antennas a router has, the more distance its signal can cover. To keep things simple, most router manufacturers list their devices’ ranges in square feet rather than by the number of antennas they have, making it easy to determine what range will work best for you. You can also increase your router’s range with mesh networking, by installing multiple nodes around your office that relay Wi-Fi signals from room to room. This setup is advantageous for large office spaces.

Security. How sensitive is your company’s data? Do you find that you rarely pass proprietary info around the office, or does hardly a day go by without something critical in the email chain? If it’s the latter, you’ll want a router that packs lots of firewalls and perhaps a virtual private network, or VPN. Firewalls are programs that act like border checkpoints, inspecting all internet traffic that passes through your router. A VPN, though, takes things a step further by encrypting all of that traffic even as it’s passing through firewalls. VPNs are much harder for malware to crack than a firewall is, so keep an eye out for one or both of these features (depending on your security needs, of course).

Routers have a wide variety of other features, but the four listed above are the most important by far. When choosing a router consider your ideal internet speed, the amount of users, office size and the security needs. Most router manufacturers display all of these features prominently on their online store pages or their products’ packaging, making it simple to match those capabilities to your needs.

When choosing a router, consider the ideal internet speed, amount of users, office size and security needs.

How do I install and maintain a router?

The idea of installing a router can be even more intimidating than trying to understand one. Fortunately, like everything else pertaining to routers, installing one is pretty straightforward.

Some assembly required. A few routers ship without their antennas attached. You or your IT specialist may have to manually attach those antennas to your router. Remember that the antennas aren’t just for looks — they’re for range. Pay close attention to any assembly documentation.

Connect to modem. As previously mentioned, your ISP should send you a complimentary modem. Most modems come with AC cords that ferry both electricity and connectivity to your router, making for an easy setup. Most routers feature color-coded ports to simplify figuring out which cable goes where.

Set up interface. Setting up your router is a quick and painless process. Once the router is attached to the modem and thereby connected to your network, you should see an option to create a username and password for that network on your computer or mobile device. Once you give that network a name, your employees will be able to see and connect to it on their own devices. Keep in mind that, though a router’s listed internet speed is important, only a high bandwidth will allow all of your employees to enjoy that speed together.

Remember to take care of your router after installation. Make sure that the router is installed in a place where its signal can reach all areas of the office. Keep your router’s chassis clean and its field of view unobstructed. Finally, keep tabs on how many people work in your office. If you’re hiring lots of new arrivals, it may be better to invest in a more powerful router sooner rather than later.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019