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Routers are getting a makeover. The tried-and-tested “box with two aerials” approach has served internet users well for more than 20 years, but companies are finally starting to drag Wi-Fi devices into the 21st century. New features, new designs, and new interfaces are all the rage.
But is it worth upgrading? Why spend money on something your ISP gives you for free? In this article, I’m going to introduce you to a handful of newer wireless router features that’ll make you want to open your wallet.
1. Router Apps
In an age where most tech companies are simplifying their products to make them as user-friendly as possible, it’s a mystery why traditional router interfaces are still so complicated.
Logging into a router’s admin panel is a tortuous experience. Even something as simple as changing your network’s name and password requires endless menu searching. And unless you’re tech-savvy, you can forget about trying to manage individual devices or modifying the device’s security settings.
The new breed of routers are changing all that. Accompanying apps are becoming commonplace. Now, with a few quick taps, you can manage your network on a granular level right from a smartphone or tablet. The newest routers from Linksys are a fantastic example of this.
2. Parental Controls
The growth of router apps has opened a world of new easy-to-use features. For parents, one of the most important is parental controls.
As more and more devices become internet-enabled online, it’s increasingly difficult to implement effective parental controls. Kids have smartphones, Xboxes, laptops, smart televisions, iPads, handheld gaming devices, Kindles. Setting up individual parental controls for every user on all those devices is akin to taking on another job.
New routers are making the task much easier. For example, the Luma Router has an app that lets you set a maturity rating for each individual user on the network. It works like movie ratings: you can choose from U, R, PG-13, PG, and G. If one of your kids tries to access a blocked site, you’ll get an alert on your phone. If you wish, you can then grant access on a case-by-case basis.
If you want to introduce parental controls into your network but don’t want the hassle of setting up a new router, there are alternatives available. Check out Circle, a $99 device that connects to your existing Wi-Fi network and allows you to set individual controls for more than 50 services, including YouTube, Twitter, SnapChat, Reddit, and Netflix.
3. Enable/Disable Network on Command
While we’re on the theme of kids, wouldn’t it be great if you could simply pause the entire network whenever you need their undivided attention?
Some routers with associated apps let you do exactly that. A tap on your smartphone will turn off the web for everyone in the house. It’s the perfect way to stop your kids from being distracted while doing their homework or to ensure the conversation keeps flowing at the family dinner table.
You can even set up predetermined online allowances. Once someone has used up their quota, they’ll be blocked until the following day. The aforementioned Luma also has the feature, as does the recently-released Torch Router.
4. Eradicate “Dead Zones”
There are ways to improve the Wi-Fi coverage around your home, but if you’re using a traditional router with two aerials, you’re always going encounter some dead zones. With so many gadgets in every room now needing a stable connection, router manufacturers have started to address the problem.
Most of the devices use one of two solutions.
More Intelligent Aerial Design — Google’s famous OnHub Router deploys 13 out-of-sight antennas. They’re arranged in a circular fashion around the router itself. As such, the device emits a more powerful, multi-direction signal. Google claims it covers 2,500 square feet.
Also consider the newly-released Norton Core. Unveiled at CES 2o17, it uses “beamforming” to automatically focus its Wi-Fi signal into dead zones around your property.
Mesh Network — Owners of Sonos speakers will already be familiar with mesh networks. The system uses the technology (branded “SonosNet”) to ensure every speaker in your home has a reliable connection, regardless of how far away from your router the speakers are.
Mesh networks use a series of small devices spaced out around your home. They all connect to each other create one large, continuous network. Eero’s solution is arguably the most elegant — it’s easy to set up and requires no specialized networking knowledge. You can buy them in packs of three on Amazon. Each device covers 1,000 square feet.
5. Faster Wi-Fi Speeds
Wi-Fi speed and internet speed are two different things. Your ISP determines your maximum internet speed, but your router can significantly impact your Wi-Fi network’s speed.
Remember, the internet speed you’ll see when connected over Wi-Fi will never match the speeds you can achieve if you use an Ethernet cable, but a new router can help you narrow the gap. For example, the Google OnHub supports speeds up to 1,900 Mbps, whereas the Belkin N300 can only reach speeds of 300 Mbps.
And don’t think just because your ISP isn’t offering those speeds that it doesn’t matter. If you stream a lot of locally-saved content from Plex to your TV, or if you often transfer large files between different devices on your network, it can have a significant impact on that too.
6. Improved Security
We all know the importance of having an antivirus suite installed on our computers, but what about your fridge? Your television? Your home security system? How safe are these devices? And more importantly, how confident are you in the manufacturer’s ability to keep them secure in the long-term?
According to HP’s research, more than 70 percent of internet-connected devices in our homes are vulnerable. It’s more important than ever to have an easy-to-manage security suite included with your router. It’ll stop hackers getting anywhere near your gadgets.
Chime is one option. It comes with AVG antivirus built-in. The router can analyze all the traffic in and out of your home, keeping every device protected even if it doesn’t have its own security suite.
Even routers that don’t have a built-in antivirus have improved their security offering compared to the traditional products. For example, all of Netgear’s latest products have anti-phishing software while the new BitDefender Box continuously monitors for unsecured ports, weak passwords, and unencrypted traffic.
Norton’s Core router also has some innovative security features. It automatically discovers new smart devices on your network, secures them, and quarantines any malicious traffic. It’ll even give you a “security score” for your entire network, allowing you to easily identify any weak points.
What Features Will Make You Buy a New Router?
I hope I’ve given you a small flavor of the latest features you can expect to find in the newest routers on the market.
Now it’s time for you to share your thoughts. Are the features I’ve discussed important enough to make your part with your cash? What features would you like the manufacturers to include before you become convinced about a new router’s value?
If you don’t have the money for the new router, you can try upgrading your current model with alternative router firmware.