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A wireless router is a simple device that shares Internet access to your home without the need for cables. For the most part, it just works. Once you’ve turned it on, you don’t really need to touch it ever again.

But if you do that, you’re likely missing out on a lot of extra features — ones that could make your network perform more smoothly, improve your gaming experience, and enable you to control who is on your network and when.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at ten extra features your router may offer to see what makes them useful and how you could benefit by using them.

1. Encryption

If you only use a single feature offered by your router, it should be the security feature. The moment you activate one of the router’s security modes, you are preventing anyone without the password from accessing your network, and you are also encrypting the data that travels between the network and the computer or device.

security

With no security in place, anyone within range could connect to your network and potentially eavesdrop on the data that is being transmitted across it. Most routers come with several security options. Check out our guide to router security WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? When setting up wireless encryption on your router, you'll come across a variety of confusing terms -- WPA2, WPA, WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. Read More to make sure you are using the best ones.

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2. MAC Address Filters

Every single device that can connect to a network is assigned its own unique identifier in the form of a 12-digit hexadecimal number called a MAC Address What Is a MAC Address & Can It Be Used To Secure Your Home Network? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is a MAC Address & Can It Be Used To Secure Your Home Network? [MakeUseOf Explains] Network structure and management have their own lingo. Some of the terms thrown around will likely already sound familiar to you. Ethernet and Wi-Fi are largely self-obvious concepts, although it may require a little bit... Read More . The MAC Address is hard-coded in the device itself at production and cannot be changed. This gives you the power to control which devices are able to (or aren’t able to) access your network.

mac addresses

Many routers offer a MAC Address filtering function. You can block specific devices from connecting to your network by filtering their MAC Address, or for even greater security, create a list of only those devices that are allowed to connect.

It’s a good way of maintaining control of your network, but you shouldn’t overdo it. You don’t really want to have to log in to your router’s configuration panel every time a friend wants to connect to the Internet in your house just because you’ve blocked all non-approved devices.

3. Port Forwarding

Every data packet that passes through a network finds its way to the correct application through a series of ports What Is Port Forwarding & How Can It Help Me? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Port Forwarding & How Can It Help Me? [MakeUseOf Explains] Do you cry a little inside when someone tells you there’s a port forwarding problem and that’s why your shiny new app won’t work? Your Xbox won’t let you play games, your torrent downloads refuse... Read More . The router uses ports to filter the traffic into different types – for example, http commonly uses port 80, outgoing email over smtp uses port 25, and so on — to then ensure that it reaches the right device.

There are 65,536 ports in total, and for security reasons most of them are blocked by default. If software or services use non-standard port ranges, the router might not know which device the data should go to.

portforwarding

If you have this problem, then you need to start using the port forwarding feature. Port forwarding explicitly tells the router to direct traffic on a range of ports to a specific device attached to your network. Fortunately, you won’t need to worry about port forwarding for most applications.

Examples of when you might need it, however, include gaming consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 — and even some specific games such as Call of Duty or Star Wars: Battlefront can benefit can benefit from port forwarding — as well as Bittorrent clients.

4. Quality of Service

Quality of Service (QoS) is a way of optimizing the performance on your network 10 Ways To Improve The Speed of Your Current Router 10 Ways To Improve The Speed of Your Current Router Here are a few simple router tweaks that could make a world of difference on your home Wi-Fi network. Read More by giving certain types of traffic priority over others.

When your bandwidth is being maxed out by multiple applications and devices, applications that need a lot of bandwidth — like video calls or online gaming — can experience massively downgraded performance.

qos

With QoS, you can simply instruct your router to prioritize the traffic to these applications at the expense of those that need less bandwidth or are less important, such as cloud backups happening in the background.

Some routers also offer Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) support, which is a specialized kind of QoS. When activated, it automatically prioritizes voice, audio, and video data in an attempt to improve multimedia performance.

5. Channels

Wi-Fi routers transmit data on one of several different “channels”. If there are lots of routers in the vicinity and they’re all set to use the same channel, their signals will likely interfere and cause slowed performance across all of the affected routers.

channel

A lot of routers work around this by automatically selecting the best channel When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router Wired ethernet will always be better than wireless connections, but sometimes you don’t have a choice - all manner of mobile devices need wifi. There is however one very basic step you can take which... Read More . But if yours doesn’t, or if you encounter slower than expected performance anyway, it’s worth manually switching to a different channel to see if that improves things.

You can identify the best channel to use with the WiFi Analyzer app for Android, WiFiInfoView for Windows, or by using the built-in Wireless Diagnostics tool on OS X (hold the Alt key and click the Wi-Fi icon to access it).

6. The 5 GHz Band

If your router supports the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, then it supports the 5 GHz frequency 8 Key Questions You Must Ask When Buying A New Wireless Router 8 Key Questions You Must Ask When Buying A New Wireless Router Here are eight questions you should ask when buying a new wireless router. Read More  on top of the 2.4 GHz frequency used by older routers.

netgear

There are pros and cons to using either frequency, but if we really boil it down: 5 GHz has less interference, is more stable, and is potentially faster, while 2.4 GHz has greater range. The lack of interference is what makes 5 GHz preferable 10 Ways To Improve The Speed of Your Current Router 10 Ways To Improve The Speed of Your Current Router Here are a few simple router tweaks that could make a world of difference on your home Wi-Fi network. Read More as devices like microwave ovens and baby monitors share the 2.4 GHz band.

But before you make the switch, you should know that in order to use the 5 GHz band, all of your connected devices will also need to support it (whereas every device is guaranteed to support 2.4 GHz). Some routers can use both bands simultaneously, but if your does not, you will need to stick with the frequency that all your hardware can work with.

7. Shared File Access

Lots of modern routers come with a USB port hidden away around the back. You might not even have noticed it on your own device.

The best use for that USB port is a little bit of ad-hoc file sharing. Plug in an external hard drive, or a USB flash drive Are USB Flash Drives Still Worth It In 2015? Are USB Flash Drives Still Worth It In 2015? USB flash drives are great for storage, but they have so many other uses. Here's how they're worth their weight in gold. Read More , and you can access its contents on any computer attached to the network. It can effectively function as a basic network-attached storage system NAS vs the Cloud: Which Remote Storage Is Right for You? NAS vs the Cloud: Which Remote Storage Is Right for You? Network Attached Storage (NAS) straddles the line between a local hard drive and cloud storage, and gives you the benefits of both. Read More .

usb

The way the USB port works will vary from one router to the next. Some will only allow one computer to access the drive at a time, while others offer additional functionality like getting the drive to work as a media server, which allows you to stream content to connected devices.

It’s also often possible to attach other USB devices, including printers. (Although many printers these days come with built-in Wi-Fi, so this possibility may be of less use.)

8. Guest Access

It’s pretty much a given that anyone who visits your house will be asking for the Wi-Fi password How to Find & Change Your WiFi Password How to Find & Change Your WiFi Password Once your WiFi is set up, you feel no reason to remember the password. Until you need to connect another device. What's the password again? Fortunately, it's easy to find out! Read More within about five minutes. If you want to retain some kind of control over who gets access without simply refusing to allow people to connect, make use of the guest access feature that your router may offer.

guest

Guest mode sets up a kind of sub-network with its own SSID and its own password, meaning it will appear to be a separate network to people trying to connect. Connected users get access to the Internet and nothing else, and you can restrict the number of people that can connect at any one time.

9. Parental Controls

Along similar lines to the guest mode, many modern routers also offer parental control features How To Use Windows’ Parental Controls To Restrict Your Child's Use Of The PC How To Use Windows’ Parental Controls To Restrict Your Child's Use Of The PC Computers can be intimidating to parents. Allowing children the opportunity to understand computers is important, but a PC can be used to explore curiosities that are inappropriate. They also can turn into massive time sinks... Read More .

The exact features can range from content filtering to the ability to restrict the hours during which certain sites can be accessed. You can even shut Internet access down entirely according to a preset schedule.

Parental controls tend to work either on a device-by-device basis, such as by using the MAC address of your child’s iPad or laptop, or by creating “bypass” accounts that the adults in the household can use to bypass the parental control limits and gain unrestricted access.

10. Mobile Management Apps

Many of the features listed above are configured through the router’s control panel, which is typically accessed through a Web browser. But some of the more consumer-oriented routers are now increasingly able to be controlled via smartphone apps.

netgear app

Many manufacturers, including Linksys and Netgear, have iPhone and Android apps for some of their newer router models. With these apps, you can manage things like guest access and parental controls, quality of service settings, and perform basic diagnostic tasks like resetting the router if your Internet goes down.

It’s worth checking whether your current router has a companion app that you can use. If not, and you think this feature is one that you’d absolutely love using, then you may want to consider upgrading to a newer model.

Explore Your Router

Many of us buy routers with only one expectation, that they’ll provide us with Internet access and nothing more. Most routers are actually more powerful than we realize 10 Unbelievable Router Myths That Need To Be Debunked 10 Unbelievable Router Myths That Need To Be Debunked We're going to bring the hammer down on some of these myths and shatter some of the notions you held as truth about routers, connectivity, and security. Read More  and come with features that have immediate, noticeable effects on performance and convenience. Explore a bit and see what you’ve been missing!

What features do you use on your router? Do you have any other favorites we haven’t listed here, or is there you wish your router did? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credits: Netgear via netgear.com, USB via Sean MacEntee

  1. Kim Würtz
    September 17, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Can I link an old wireless Router with build in LAN cable switch to my new wireless Router so I could have an extra (Router) in another room and where the signal i a bit week?
    I would like to connect my Raspberry Pi 3 Multimedia via LAN cable in a room apart from the place where our family main Router is placed. The signal is week in this room and the Raspberry Pi 3 with its one Wi-Fi is not strong enough.
    It would be great to use the "old" Wi-Fi Router as an access point in this room and still get Internet and streaming channel to devises in other rooms via the "new" Router witch is connected to the Internet via coax cable outlet in the living room.

  2. R D Kenoitzer
    February 9, 2016 at 4:56 am

    The information seems very useful - except for one thing. How do I access these things? I can find nothing that indicates how I can talk to the router.

    R. D. Kenitzer
    rdkltr@wavecable.com

    • Tom
      March 3, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      This article makes the assumption that you have already connected to your router and the FIRST THING you did is to change the Administrator password. A Google search will show you have to connect to your router ie. Google "how to connect to my linksys router" (or whatever router you have).

      Tom

  3. Howard Blair
    January 24, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    "If your router supports the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, then it supports the 5 GHz frequency " 5GHz on 802.11n isn't required, but many routers (and adapters) do support it.
    Also, MAC address filtering has become all but useless, since many OSes (such as iOS 8 and higher) have built-in spoofing or randomizing features.

  4. Sonic
    January 22, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Vpn over the router is awesome. I use it alot

  5. fcd76218
    January 22, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    "5. Channels"
    What, no love for Linux? :-)

  6. Simon
    January 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    One clarification, you can easily change the MAC address of pretty much any device. All MAC address filtering does is make your life more difficult and provide an illusion of security.

    • Paul Werner
      January 22, 2016 at 6:40 pm

      #Truth

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