Networking Buying Guide

Understand the world of networking

If you want to better understand and improve your internet connection, our networking buying guide covers all the important questions to consider when upgrading your connectivity. The below sections explain all the products you might need to solve a variety of problems, ensuring you pick the right product for your home. Choose from powerlines and network adapters, as well as switches and range extenders, to optimise your home networking.

Routers

For a quick and easy way to get better performance from your internet, an upgraded router is a great way to achieve improved range, as well as faster and more stable connections. There are several types of router available, with many offering improved performance over the router supplied by your service provider.

Why should I upgrade my router?

Most homes used to be able to survive with a single-band, N-speed router to keep with a small number of devices. But if you have multiple connected devices like smartphones, tablets, computers and smart TVs, then you might need to upgrade your router. An improved router can reduce wait times on loading web pages, make sure you aren’t held back by lag and ensure your signal is improved.

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Do I need a Cable or Modern router?

There are two different types of router that either plug directly into your phone socket or connect via a modem. If you have an ADSL modem like BT Standard then you will need a Modem router while cable routers are suited for cable and fibre optic connections such as BT Infinity and TalkTalk fibre.

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What is the difference between N and AC speed?

N speed routers are sufficient for staying connected if you don’t have many devices that require internet connections. However, if your home has multiple smartphones, laptops, tablets and smart TVs, AC routers offer access to the high-speed connections that you need. AC routers are able to support over ten devices at once – perfect for well-connected homes.

To enhance the quality of your wireless signal, AC routers also feature beamforming, a technology that directs the signal within your home for a more secure connection to wireless devices. With the majority of new and upcoming wireless devices supporting AC connectivity, choosing an AC router is a great way to future-proof your home.

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How many bands do I need?

Although speed is a major factor to consider, range is just as important. You can choose from three different bands depending on your connectivity needs – single, dual and tri.

Single band is often congested and can only handle a few wireless devices, resulting in dropped connections if it becomes overloaded. Dual band routers provide two signals at the same time; a normal broadband signal for everyday browsing as well as a fast connection for high speed internet. Tri-band routers can handle a number of gaming and streaming devices without dropping the quality of high-speed broadband.

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Powerlines

Easily connect non-wireless devices to the internet without having to plug in an Ethernet cable with a powerline. Powerlines work by sending your internet signal through your electrical mains system, effectively turning any plug socket into an internet access point.

What is a powerline kit and when do I need one?

If you need a wired internet connection in any part of your home that’s far away from your router, powerlines are ideal. Powerlines work by sending your internet signal through the main electrical circuit of your home, turning any plug into an internet access point with the use of a receiver unit.

There is no limit to the number of receivers you can add to a single powerline network, and because you can buy powerline kits or individual adapters, it’s easy to expand your home network as and when you need to.

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How do powerlines work?

Made up of two important connectors, powerline kits include a sender unit and at least one receiver. The sender unit requires a mains connection as well as an Ethernet connection to your router. The receiver is then plugged into a mains socket near the device you want to connect, with an Ethernet connection between the receiver and the device to complete the stable, wired connection.

What speed do I need?

Rated in the same way as routers, powerline kit speeds vary from 500 to 1200 megabits per second (Mbps). 500 Mbps is fine for infrequent and basic internet use, while 1200 Mbps provides high-speed access for smart TV and game console requirements. Match your powerline kit with your router rating for optimal speeds and stability.

What is a pass-through?

If you want to continue using the plug sockets even while you have a powerline kit set up, make sure you keep an eye out for kits that support pass-through. Pass-through is a useful feature that allows you continued use of the plug socket, despite it containing a powerline plug.

Please note: If you have multiple electrical ring circuits in your home, a powerline kit will not work as the signal cannot pass between them.

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Range Extenders

Range extenders, sometimes called signal boosters, offer a solution for homes or buildings that lack complete internet coverage. By placing a range extender in the direction of poor reception but within the reach of your network, you can relay the wireless signal further for a better connection. This works well in homes with thick walls where your device can see the network but can’t connect.

A range extender can also be used to send your wireless signal into an open space or outside – perfect for lazy summer afternoons in the garden.

Why do I need a range extender?

Designed to increase the reach of your WiFi throughout your home and even into your garden, range extenders are perfect if you suffer inconsistent network speed and stability. Like routers, there are different ratings that offer varying speeds and ranges to make it easy to find the right one for your network. As they require no network configuration, range extenders are ideal for use with Sky routers and offer an instant solution for weak WiFi signal.

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How do they work?

By placing a range extender in the direction of poor reception but within the reach of your network, you can relay the wireless signal further, giving you a better connection. This works well in homes with thick walls or for your garden or terrace, as you can send the signal outside.

What speed do I need?

Range extenders are rated like routers, from N300 to AC, making it easy to choose an extender that matches your router’s speed. You can find the rating on the bottom or side of your router, but if it’s rated N300 or less it’s worth considering an upgrade router instead. An upgraded router offers faster speeds and a more stable connection, along with improved range.

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Wireless Adapters

Wireless adapters fit easily into any USB port on your PC and laptop, letting you connect to the wireless network where you are. Perfect for older laptops that might not be compatible with AC WiFi speeds, wireless adapters let you access high speed internet without having to upgrade your laptop.

What is a wireless adapter?

A wireless adapter fits into a USB port on any PC/laptop and allows you to connect to the wireless network in your home or a public place.

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Why should I buy a wireless adapter?

This is helpful for anyone using laptops without integrated network adapters, or anyone who wants faster WiFi without having to upgrade their PC or laptop.

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Which speed should I opt for?

Wireless adapters are rated like routers, ranging from N150 to AC1200, making it easy to choose an adapter that matches your router’s speed. If you are looking for optimum speeds, AC is the best option.

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Network Switches

A network switch provides a wired internet connection to several individual devices or networks over a single phone line. While they lack the wireless capabilities and built-in security of a router, they often deliver faster speeds and are ideal as the basis of a small to medium-sized business network.

How does a network switch work?

A network switch provides a wired internet connection to several individual devices or networks over a single phone line. Connect your devices to the switch and you are ready to go.

When would I need a network switch?

Unlike a router, which creates a local network and then connects that to the internet, a network switch connects multiple devices to a single network via Ethernet cables. Typically faster than routers, they’re perfect for enthusiast and business use and are the ideal basis for expansive wired and wireless networks.

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Why shouldn’t I purchase a router instead?

Network switches can often achieve faster speeds than a standard router, with the capability to connect a number of Ethernet cables for several non-wireless devices. Network switches are perfect for homes with no wireless devices, or small offices that want to hard-wire multiple PCs to the same network.

What about speed?

Capable of supporting Gigabit Ethernet for speeds of up to 1000 Mpbs, network switches can achieve great speeds, although the speed cannot exceed the maximum amount given by your network provider.

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