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What is a Wi-Fi Router? Everything You Need to Know About A Wi-Fi Router

What is a Wi-Fi Router?

A Wi-Fi router is a device that makes it possible for all of your other devices — including smart thermostats, laptops, gaming consoles, streaming TVs and more — to connect to the internet without any cables, wires or cords.

Without a Wi-Fi router, your devices would need to be tethered to a cord to connect to the internet.

What are the Features of a Wi-Fi Router?

While there are many different Wi-Fi routers available, most come with the following router features to keep your devices connected.

1. Ethernet Ports: Wi-Fi routers do a great job of delivering wireless internet connectivity, but most also have Ethernet ports that support a fast Ethernet connection. Since Ethernet cables are capable of delivering faster internet speeds than Wi-Fi, it may be helpful to plug Ethernet cables into any devices you own that stay in one place and benefit more from a faster connection.

what is a wifi router

Many people find it beneficial to connect the following types of stationary, bandwidth-intensive devices to their Wi-Fi router using Ethernet cables:

Gaming computers and consoles (gaming benefits from the fastest possible internet connection with the lowest ping, so many gamers opt for Ethernet cables instead of Wi-Fi)

  • Desktop computer towers
  • Printers
  • Older devices that don't have Wi-Fi
  • Network phones
  • Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices that backup large amounts of data
  • Access points for mesh networks (also known as "backhaul" connections)

2. Network Interface Controllers (NIC): A NIC is a piece of hardware that lets your computer connect to your network. NICs can be wireless or wired and they work together with other networking hardware within your Wi-Fi router to give you internet access.

Wi-Fi routers have one or more NICs that support fast Ethernet or Gig-speed Ethernet ports. When you plug your Ethernet cable into your computer and your Wi-Fi router, the NIC keeps your computer connected to the network.

3. Wireless Network Interface Controllers (WINs): Wi-Fi routers also have one or more WINs — a type of NIC — with different wireless "bands" that provide a farther-reaching signal but less speed (2.4 GHz band) or faster speeds with shorter range (5 GHz band).

If you have a dual-band router, it can provide both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi at the same time. If you open the Wi-Fi menu on your device and see two networks labeled 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz, you can pick which one to use based on your connectivity needs.

For example, if you're scrolling through Instagram in a room that gets a bad Wi-Fi signal, try connecting to the 2.5 GHz band. If you're streaming on a smart TV that's located in the same room as your router, connect to the 5 GHz band.

4. USB Ports: Some routers come with one or two USB ports that you can use for devices that you want to share with others on your home network. For example, you can plug in an external hard drive, flash drive or printer via USB that your whole household can access and use.

How Does A Wi-Fi Router Operate?

If you have fiber optics or cable internet, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses a series of cables to bring the internet to your home. These internet cables are usually plugged into a box located on an exterior wall of your home. A primary internet cable is then fed through your walls to a convenient location in one of your interior rooms — your ISP installer should help you select the perfect interior location for your primary internet connection.

Inside, the internet cable plugs directly into your home router (unless your ISP also uses a modem), which acts as a wireless access point and uses radio signals to send and receive data to and from your Wi-Fi-enabled devices. (Source: What is Wi-Fi Router?)

all about wifi routers

Your Wi-Fi router functions by listening for signals created by clicks and other actions you take on your devices. It then converts these signals into data packets and sends the packets to other devices all over the world. It also does the reverse of this by listening for outside signals that arrive at your home's network, converting them into data packets that your devices can understand and sending them to your devices over radio waves.

Wi-Fi routers use sophisticated operating systems (also known as firmware) to control your network. Firmware lets you change advanced Wi-Fi router settings and configurations that keep your network secure and operating efficiently.

The most common operating system (OS) used in Wi-Fi routers is Linux, a free and open-source OS that is highly customizable and commonly used on servers, mainframe computers, routers, smart home devices, video game consoles, smart TVs, automobiles, spacecrafts and more. Android smartphones are also Linux-based.

VxWorks is another OS that is commonly used in Wi-Fi routers. VxWorks is a vendor-neutral, open system that supports third-party software and hardware. In addition to Wi-Fi routers, VxWorks has been used in Mars spacecrafts, telescopes including the James Webb and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescopes, automobiles, medical devices and more.

Both Linux and VxWorks control your Wi-Fi, manage your network and help you change configurations, such as security settings. You should always follow the instructions in your router's manual to keep the operating system, or firmware, up-to-date. This will help your network perform better and provide some protection against new cyber threats.

Two Major Functions of a Wi-Fi Router

Your Wi-Fi router's main job is to manage incoming and outgoing traffic between networks. It may help to imagine your router as an air traffic controller that is helping to route the data in and out of the network.

When you do anything online, such as making a video call on Teams, clicking a link or sending a Facebook message, your actions are turned into data packets that your device sends to your Wi-Fi router through radio signals.

everything about wifi routers

These data packets are like little airplanes that travel along a unique flight path to get to their destination airport — and your Wi-Fi router is like an air traffic controller that guides them there as efficiently and safely as possible. Your Wi-Fi router also has an internal routing table that it uses as a map or reference sheet to help it find the most efficient route, sort of like a list of flight paths and destination airports.

Your Wi-Fi router's second function is to divide your home internet connection among all of your devices. On average, American households have 22 connected devices, according to a study by Deloitte. Your Wi-Fi router keeps all of these devices connected to the internet and prioritizes their bandwidth usage.

Everything You Need to Know About Wi-Fi Routers

Now you have learned the basics of Wi-Fi routers, but there’s more to learn.

Here are some other important things you should know about Wi-Fi routers:

  • Wi-Fi routers provide internet access to your home's connected devices.
  • They are connected to the internet through cables provided by your ISP installer.
  • Anytime you do something online, whether it's clicking a link on your tablet or using ability in an online game, your wireless devices send signals to your Wi-Fi router over radio waves.
  • These signals tell your Wi-Fi router what your actions were and what you're trying to accomplish.
  • Actions you take on devices that are connected by Ethernet cable do the same thing, but the signals are sent extremely fast through the Ethernet cable rather than over radio waves.
  • Once your Wi-Fi router receives the signals that contain your clicks and other actions, it converts the signal into packets that can be sent to other networks.
  • Your Wi-Fi router then determines the most efficient path to send the information where it needs to go outside of your network. This is called "routing."
  • It then sends the data through the internet cable connected to the outside of your home.
  • Once your data reaches its destination, the server or network sends new signals back to your network, and the Wi-Fi router sends the incoming data to your devices.
  • Your Wi-Fi router is a complex device that uses a combination of Ethernet ports, network interface controllers, wireless network interface controllers, USB ports, operating systems, and other advanced technology to manage, send and receive incoming and outgoing internet traffic.
  • Your Wi-Fi router not only listens for signals and sends them where they need to go — it also manages and prioritizes traffic, sort of like an air traffic controller.

Get the Best Wi-Fi Experience with EPB Smart Net Plus

Since many of our online activities are done wirelessly over Wi-Fi, your internet performance relies heavily on the quality of your Wi-Fi router and its configuration. In other words, your internet is only as good as your Wi-Fi.

At EPB, we've introduced a new service that's changing the game when it comes to home Wi-Fi networks. If you're an EPB Fi-Speed Internet subscriber, you may want to consider adding the new Smart Net Plus to unleash maximum Wi-Fi speeds and a stable internet connection in every room of your home.

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For just $17.99 per month, you can power all your devices flawlessly with an intelligent, warp-speed Wi-Fi router and enjoy added benefits, including:

  • AI-powered, real-time, network-wide data and privacy protection
  • Warp-speed Wi-Fi 6 technology
  • Easy to use mobile app that lets you see and manage devices on your network
  • Set parental controls and schedule internet freezes from the app
  • FREE professional installation and award-winning local support

See if Smart Net Plus is right for you

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