Unless you plan to simultaneously use a dozen or more 5GHz devices, a cutting-edge, tri-band router probably isn't worth the money. Most of today's mobile devices can only use one band at a time, so it may be a better idea to buy a second Wi-Fi router, or roll out a business-grade Wi-Fi system to better support large numbers of Wi-Fi devices.
To make the whole thing even more confusing, the manufacturers of some Wi-Fi routers combine the maximum theoretical speeds of the two or three bands their products support to come up with highly misleading performance numbers, such as AC1200, AC1750 and AC3200. A Wi-Fi router that offers AC1750, for instance, really supports just 450Mbps on 2.5GHz and 1,300Mbps on 5GHz (450 + 1,300 = 1,750). You may never actually be able to get 1,750Mbps on a single stream from such a router.
Wi-Fi management features and functionality
Finding the right Wi-Fi router for you is about more than a simple performance evaluation. A good, easy-to-configure user interface can make a big difference, as well.
For instance, features that let you share Wi-Fi access with visiting friends or relatives without having to reveal a security passphrase can be very convenient. You might also want to check to see if the router can set its guest network to either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band, isolate guest devices from the rest of the gadgets on the same network, and limit the number of guests or the bandwidth they can use.
TheLinksys WRT1900AC lets users prioritize specific apps with drag-and-drop functionality.
Quality of Service (QoS) settings, which let you prioritize latency-sensitive applications such as VoIP calls or streaming media, can be very important in a home or small office setting. They help ensure that the router knows how to prioritize specific types of traffic, so video or audio playback is as smooth as possible when the network is stressed.
Wi-Fi router performance and limitations
Different Wi-Fi routers funnel data from broadband Internet connections out at different speeds. The specialized chipsets that make Wi-Fi routers work come from a handful of suppliers, but a lot of the chips that process and route data packets come from additional vendors.
The hardware specifications can vary significantly and have a real impact on Internet speeds. This might be less of an issue if you have a slow broadband connection, but users with broadband speeds in excess of 50Mbps could see performance degradation over Wi-Fi. Sites such as SmallNetBuilder.com offer extensive Wi-Fi benchmarking results that can provide insight on hardware limitations.
People who have gigabit Internet will unfortunately find Wi-Fi to be a bottleneck, because even the fastest Wi-Fi routers used in optimal environments cannot compare to the speed of wired gigabit connections.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.