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A Guide to Essential Home Router Terminology: What You Need to Know

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So you’ve decided to purchase and set up your home router system. How much time could it possibly take? You’ve opted out of your internet provider’s offer to rent you equipment and set it up for you. You want to ensure that all security measures for your router are maintained by you and not your provider. You have a basic understanding of technology, so you feel like you’ve got this. 

However, as you look up router set-up instructions, you see phrases like “Know your LAN” and “802.11,” “20 MHz Channel” and “ethernet cable.” You wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into as you sit, lost and forlorn, among a web of cables and confusion. This was a lot more than a power cord and a USB cable. You ponder just using your mobile hotspot and throwing the router against the wall.

Where do you go from here?

We’ve got you covered. There are router and Wi-Fi terminology essentials that you should review before setting up your network, but once you’ve gotten those down, you’ll feel like a technology professional. 

We’ll break these terms down into non-tech speak to make comprehension easy. Use this list as a reference point and your 8-year-old nephew (who built his own website) might stop mocking you for your lack of computer know-how.

The Numbers and the Hertz

802.11

The Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) sets the standards for the numerical labeling of Wi-Fi channel frequencies. This numerical system ensures that channels fall under federal and international regulations. The IEEE designates certain numbers for home and local networks, each falling in a range of 802.11, and it’s important to know that this should be the number preset for your home router. A letter after 802.11 signifies different properties of the frequency. Here are a few examples:

  • 802.11a networks are the IEEE standard to operate basic Wi-Fi. 
  • 802.11ac allows networks of 5 GHz (gigahertz) to operate and utilize multiple channels to attain high throughput rates. 802.11ac offers great security and three times the bandwidth of the standard 802.11.
  • 802.11d is the standard to meet the Media Access Control layer in every country.
  • 802.11i  802.11i meets the IEEE standard for basic network security.

When setting up your home router, get to know the variants of the 802.11 designation to support your network. This information will help ease your stress and give you important Wi-Fi knowledge

The GHz and MHz breakdown

The GHz connection on your router signifies the speed at which Wi-Fi frequencies will transmit Internet data to your connected devices. Most routers come with either 2.4GHz (slower data rate, the majority of the routers in your area) or 5 GHz capabilities (higher data rate but smaller coverage area than 2.4GHz; now offered to home networks but used far less frequently). 

Then there are dual-band routers, which can utilize both 2.4GHz and 5 GHz. If you’re setting up a home network in an apartment complex or other small, focused area with multiple home Wi-Fi networks, being able to switch between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz may prove beneficial. When purchasing your router, it’s important to discern which speed will work best for your needs.

The MHz (megahertz) signifies the bandwidth of your network. A 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network defaults to a 20 MHz channel, while a 5.0 GHz network may use a 40 MHz channel. Understanding the difference between channels can help you as you select which your router will use.

Switching fabric isn’t just for your grandma’s sewing project

If you look over the instructions that come with your router, you may notice multiple references to “switching fabric.” It’s tough to discern the meaning of this standard router phrase — even within context. 

Simply put, the switching fabric is the internal component in your router that allows the input ports and output ports to connect. The internal network of your router allows you to hook up your home Wi-Fi network. You can put those sample swatches of argyle back in your cupboard.

So many buttons and ports, so little time

Depending on the make and model of your router, you may see as many as a dozen buttons on the front panel. All buttons will be clearly labeled, but what do they do? The power button is obvious, but the rest may take some guesswork. Other router buttons may include:

  • 2.4 GHz option
  • 5 GHz option
  • US/DS: This stands for Upstream/Downstream and will blink when your router establishes connection. If the light continues to blink or turns off, you may not have a connection to Wi-Fi.
  • Tel1/ Tel 2: This establishes when your Internet connection is grounded, rather than via Wi-Fi. If you still have a landline connection in your home, you can hook your router up to that telephone line and have a fixed internet spot.

The back of your router may seem confusing at first too. The back panel displays multiple ports that allow various forms of connection hook-ups. 

Your router ports may include:

  • Input and Output ports:  An input port processes data coming into the router. While it’s good to know its function, you’ll rarely (if at all) have to tinker with the input port. An output port essentially performs the same function as an input port, but in reverse. It transmits the data stored in your router to your linked devices. 
  • Network ports: Typically, a router will have a singular network port. This connects your network cable to a fixed networking device like a modem. Your router will most likely come with a network cable.
  • LAN/Ethernet ports: When you connect a device to your router through these ports, you have created your home or local area network (LAN). These ports also allow you to establish an ethernet connection or an internet connection that transmits a signal via cables rather than through a wireless connection. Ethernet connections date back to the first days of the internet and are rarely used today. However, most routers still come with an ethernet cable, which resembles the cables used to hook-up landline telephones.
  • Patch cable port: Similar to an ethernet cable, the patch cable allows for router connection for multiple devices within a short distance. For instance, patch cables are often widely utilized in smaller corporate settings, whereas ethernet cables might connect to an ethernet switch or network hub. 

It’s likely that your router will come with these cables, but if not, it’s important that you have them on hand when you set up your home network.

More router terminology to know and love

Even with a comprehension of router set-up steps, you may still stumble across important vocabulary which sounds foreign. If you have a basic understanding of the following terms, it may save you much headache and frustration when setting up your home router.

  • Authentication certificate: You may need to authenticate your home network before you can access the internet. Your purchased router should alert you to the level of authentication you’ll need.
  • Closed network: If you don’t want your neighbors piggybacking on your IP address and Wi-Fi connection, you may want to close your network after setting up your router. In other words, you should require some level of authentication from any user accessing your network.
  • MAC address: Media Access Control address. This is different from your unique IP address. The MAC identifies the hardware devices with access to your network. 
  • WLAN: This is the abbreviation for a Wireless Local Area Network, what most of us call “our Wi-Fi.”
  • WPA: Wi-Fi Protected Access. WPA is built-in to your router and protects you from router hackers. The latest version of WPA is the WPA3.

Other miscellaneous router information

  • Before you purchase a router for your home network, make sure you research various routers and choose the one that will do the best job for you.
  • If the router model you’re interested in has had security patch flaws in the past, it may be best to look at different routers.
  • Rename your router’s SSID: Don’t use the default network name installed by the manufacturer.
  • Follow the basic steps to setting up your router (don’t place it anywhere near your microwave, make sure you safely place the router away from other devices and off of the floor, and set up basic network security protocols).
  • Change your password regularly, and only allow access to your router among people you trust.
  • If at any time you need to reset your router, don’t press the reset button for too long! This could erase your data and restore factory settings. Unplug the router from its power source and wait thirty seconds before you plug it back in. Typically, the router will restart itself and work out any manageable glitch. 

We hope this list of essential router terminology helps ease your set-up experience, and lends you knowledge to help you install and protect your router.

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