Upgrade or go bust

Wacky Tech

AS 2019 starts rolling in, it might be a good idea to upgrade your home Wi-Fi router. If you’re still using that all-in-one device provided by your internet service provider, I recommend that you start looking into alternatives. The need becomes more immediate if there are more than five devices in your home that you connect to that modem-and-router device.

If you’ve been experiencing constant slowing down of your internet connection, that’s already a symptom of the problem. The problem may not even be with the connection itself because, for all we know, it’s actually delivering that right speed to your home. It’s more than likely that the problem with the routing of internet traffic in your home. The more devices you have connected to that built-in Wi-Fi router, the more work that device needs to do. The more work it needs to do, the more processes to go through. You get the drift. The end result is a perceived slowness of your internet speed.

So, why the additional expense for a dedicated wireless router?

Well, primarily because those all-in-one devices your ISP provides for you is not really designed and built to become a Wi-Fi router. It’s there more as convenience for customers. If you ask me, it’s primary function really is to be your conduit to your ISP. If you just upgraded your connection to a fiber-to-home service, you’ll notice that your hardline is totally different. It’s not your regular phone line anymore just like what you had with your previous DSL or, God forbid, dial up connection.

Basically, what’s provided for you is a fiber-to-home modem or an "optical network unit.” That’s the “onu” (pronounced as “o-nu”) that you hear your service technician say to you when they come in an install the service. That device is what allows you to communicate to the provider’s side so you can get internet service. If you want to dig more into the tech behind our fiber-to-home services, you can do a Google search for "fiber to home technology.”

Anyway, going back. Upgrade your home Wi-Fi router because you need to have a dedicated device to handle all of your wireless devices at home. That’s the whole point why they’re called routers because that’s what they are primarily designed for -- routing traffic.

So here are two of my recommendations. I’ve used both. These are in no particular order.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

I am currently using this and, so far, this has not disappointed me at all. At one point, we used this as the main Wi-Fi router for a coffee shop. At a given time, it handles anywhere between 25-60 wireless devices. Wireless connection is stable and drops are rare in between. Router configuration is pretty easy and straightforward. You can even use Linksys’ app for it and control the router remotely. Even if you’re away on a vacation, and you have internet connection, you can just fire up the app and manage the router from where you are vacationing.

If you’re the tinkering kind, the router’s ready to be installed with any open source firmware like DD-WRT or OpenWRT. Both have its own pros and cons so read up on reviews before deciding which to install. Also, install only if you have a high confidence level with your tech skills. It can get hairy and scary along the way.

You can check out more of its specs here.

TP-LINK AC750 (Archer C20)

This was our router before we got the Linksys. If your home has no more than 10 devices going online at any given time, this will do its job well. As far as my experience went, wireless connection was pretty stable as well. Connection drops were also rare in between. What I noticed though is that connecting to the router is slower than with the Linksys. I’m not sure why that is. Most likely something to do with their internal software or operating system.

The router, as far as my research goes, works with OpenWRT but with limited features. According to their Table of Hardware here, “as of mid-2018, OpenWrt works on it with most features, except for the 5GHz radio. The open-source driver for wireless (MT76) is significantly unstable, causing disconnects and (infrequent) lock-ups.”

You can check out more of its specs here.

If you have deeper pockets, the list of Wi-Fi routers to get gets longer. You can even install a mesh Wi-Fi system at your home. Before you go shopping, I recommend that you audit your current Wi-Fi needs and add some room for improvement. From there, you should be able to work out which router will best suit your needs.

Once you have your brand new, dedicated Wi-Fi router with you, it’s time to set it up.

But before you do, I’ll recommend you to call your service provider first and ask if they can switch your current ONU to “bridge mode”. They’ll know what it is. If they ask why, just explain to them that you want to use a better Wi-Fi router than the one built-in. If all goes well and if your provider isn’t such a stickler, they’ll switch your ONU remotely to bridge mode.

If your service provider won’t let you switch your ONU to bridge mode, that’s fine. If this is your situation, connect to your ONU via a wired connection (connect your laptop using an ethernet cable to your ONU) and logon to the admin page of your ONU. Once logged in, just turn off all the Wi-Fi radios and disable any wireless networks that your ONU is broadcasting.

Once you’ve done that, just follow the Quick Start guide of the router of your choice and that should get you online in a jiffy.

That’s it!


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