Nearly every small business with an established location for at least some of its operations will require a wired or wireless (Wi-Fi®) router. These devices connect a business network to a wide area network (WAN), which typically provides Internet service. Routers are available with varied options to satisfy diverse needs, so it is important to consider several factors that get updated as time goes by.
Speed: The first thing to establish is what speed you need to order from your Internet service provider (ISP). The number of users and their data needs will dictate this. Video and audio streaming will require more speed than e-mail and internet browsing. Generally, routers that can handle higher bandwidth needs are going to cost more. Be clear with your ISP what speed your service will need to be. Buy a router that will handle that speed or faster. Otherwise, you are wasting money on your monthly Internet service by paying for a higher speed than you are using. In addition, you need to consider how many users you need to support (both wired and wireless) and what types of data they will be.
WAN: Your ISP should also tell you what type of WAN port you will need to make the connection to their system in your facility. If having online access is critical to your business, you’ll want to have a second ISP for backup service and therefor will need a router that has two or more WAN ports.
LAN ports: The number of LAN Ethernet ports and their speed are important considerations in router selection. These ports are your network’s main connection to the Internet service. Most routers have up to four LAN ports, but you can always connect any of them to network switches to expand the number of connections for wired devices such as computers and printers. The most common LAN ports on routers run at 10/100 megabits per second (Mbps), but faster Internet connections are now making gigabit or 1000 Mbps Ethernet network speeds possible. Even if you do not have any devices running network speeds that fast right now, you likely will in the near future as you expand. So, consider the value of gigabit Ethernet ports.
Learn more: How-to Guide: Small Office Network Setup
VPN: If you anticipate the need to access your network from outside the location, you will need virtual private network capability in the router. Make sure the router you choose will support the protocol you intend to use for your VPN. Options may include IPsec, PPTP, L2TP, or other variants.
Learn more: Guide: Tools for Setting Up a VPN
Security: The router is typically your network’s first line of defense against attacks. A hardware firewall is built into most models and some higher-cost models include full unified threat management (UTM), which would be important if your business has compliance requirements such as PCI or HIPPA. UTM will require a subscription to keep all that security up to fend off the latest attacks.
IPv6: Make sure both your ISP and new router support IPv6. As more devices connect to the Internet, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices in your own business, IPv6 will be crucial since it allows each to obtain its own IP address and eliminates the need for network address translation (NAT).
USB ports: Higher-end routers Might even have a print spooler to better manage print jobs. USB can also be used for a USB hard disk or flash drive to share files. Business-grade routers won’t have a USB port and will require you to obtain a NAS device for network storage.
Unmanaged or managed: SMB networks don’t usually need to use managed routers, but special circumstances may dictate otherwise. For example, if the quality of service (QoS) needs to be managed to prioritize certain types of traffic (VoIP streams, for instance) configurability may become important and a managed router would be required. Unmanaged routers are typically preconfigured to handle common traffic routing circumstances and are typically acceptable in an SMB setting.
DMZ: If you have servers or other outbound services for access from the public network (other than VPN), you’ll need a router with demilitarized zone (DMZ) capability. Any computers placed in the DMZ are exposed to significant security risks which must be carefully managed.
Wired or wireless: Although wireless routers are over 12 times more popular here at Newegg’s e-commerce sites than wired-only routers, there are many circumstances in which the wireless version is not the best way to go. If the business location is less than about 2,000 square feet, a single wireless router may be able to provide Wi-Fi for the entire area, depending on interference conditions and number of users. However, multi-floor locations, router placement considerations, or larger buildings may require separate access points (AP) and wireless may not be needed on the router itself. Wireless router considerations include:
- Guest access: If you will be offering access to guest visitors to your business location, the router must be capable of hosting multiple SSIDs so you can separate gust traffic.
- Wireless security: Other common security features you should make sure are available on a router include WPS, WPA, WEP, and the currently preferred WPA2 protocol.
- Bands: The number of radio bands a router uses for wireless signals has become more important since the 2.4 GHz band is shared by many (both networking and non-networking) devices and therefore experiences increasing interference. Dual-band and tri-band routers can therefore improve the quality of your wireless network by using the 5 GHz band as well, which can be faster but over shorter distances. The second and third bands will only work with newer devices that can use the 5 GHz band as well. Learn more: How to Create Your Own Wi-Fi Heat Map
- Wireless data rate: Routers with higher data-rates generally cost more, so go with the fastest you can afford. Keep in mind that new devices are also being upgraded to the improved standards. For most businesses, we highly recommend obtaining a router compatible with the IEEE 802.11ac standard. Data rates are limited by the IEEE 802.11 standard used:
- IEEE 802.11b: up to 11 Mbps
- IEEE 802.11a/g: up to 54 Mbps
- IEEE 802.11n : up to 450 Mbps
- IEEE 802.11ac (5 GHz-1 and 5 GHz-2): up to 2.6 Gbps
Routers are complex devices that are continually being improved with new and faster standards and chipsets. Fortunately, many of the wired and wireless routers offered in 2016 can be appropriate for small businesses and locations of limited size and user base.