GROUP TEST:

MU-MIMO routers

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

With the com­bined ben­e­fits of in­creased speed and bet­ter range, 802.11ac is bet­ter than ev­ery version of Wi-Fi be­fore it. How­ever, the first gen­er­a­tion of ‘ac’ routers weren’t that im­pres­sive on range. Now, though, we’re onto what man­u­fac­tur­ers are call­ing Wave 2 802.11ac and the dif­fer­ence is huge. The lat­est mod­els are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing pre­vi­ously un­heard of speeds over greater dis­tances, so much so that you should get a sig­nal in the far cor­ner of a room where be­fore you would have re­sorted to Pow­er­line net­work­ing adap­tors or a Wi-Fi re­peater.

One way that 802.11ac can go so much faster is the use of mul­ti­ple aeri­als, as we’ve al­ready seen with 802.11n. But 11ac is more ef­fi­cient, with a the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum of 433Mb/s per stream. Com­pare this with 150Mb/s for 11n on the 5GHz ra­dio band. Also, the routers here have 4x4 MIMO for 11ac, which means they can trans­mit and re­ceive four streams simultaneously.

An­other trick used to good ef­fect is beam­form­ing. Put sim­ply, the sig­nals are sent at very slightly dif­fer­ent times from each ae­rial in or­der to aim the ra­dio en­ergy more di­rec­tion­ally from router to the other device.

MU-MIMO stands for multi­user mul­ti­ple in­put, mul­ti­ple out­put. That’s a mouth­ful, but what it means is that these new routers can send data to mul­ti­ple de­vices at the same time. It might seem like your cur­rent router does this, but it doesn’t. It very quickly al­ter­nates which device it’s com­mu­ni­cat­ing with, so you don’t gen­er­ally no­tice.

But when you have sev­eral peo­ple try­ing to stream Net­flix and YouTube on their phones and tablets, plus some­one else try­ing to play Call of Duty on­line on their Xbox, you will re­ally start to no­tice the ben­e­fits of MU-MIMO.

It’s early days for the tech­nol­ogy, and it requires those phones, lap­tops and tablets to have a compatible MU-MIMO Wi-Fi chips. But while you may not have any yet, buy­ing a MU-MIMO router – which should last

sev­eral years – means you’ll be able to get those speed gains as soon as you have more than one compatible phone or tablet.

De­sign

Some routers look like a prop from 24, but there are mod­els with­out the ob­tru­sive ex­ter­nal aeri­als. Our ex­ten­sive test­ing sug­gests that in­ter­nally mounted an­ten­nas can be just as ef­fec­tive as routers that rock the Counter Ter­ror­ist Unit look.

With many homes still find­ing a need for wired eth­er­net connections, it makes sense to have a good num­ber of eth­er­net LAN ports. These are all, thank­fully, at least gi­ga­bit spec­i­fi­ca­tion nowa­days, and four ports seems to be stan­dard is­sue, with the ex­cep­tion of ex­trav­a­gant Linksys EA9500 which dou­bles the al­lo­ca­tion to 8. But even a limited ar­ray can be easily and cheaply ex­tended with a gi­ga­bit switch for around £20, al­though that cre­ates more wires and boxes and power bricks to hide.

Above all, a home router needs sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity, as it’s the gate­way to ev­ery wired and Wi-Fi-con­nected device you use at home. These are harder to gauge be­fore you in­stall and use the prod­uct, but it’s worth check­ing on­line fo­rums for re­ported is­sues, and look­ing at the his­tory of the man­u­fac­turer for timely patches and se­cu­rity up­dates.

Modems

Bear in mind that not all routers have built-in ADSL (or VDSL) modems. You’ll want a router with a mo­dem if your broad­band is de­liv­ered via your phone line. VDSL is re­quired for faster fi­bre connections such as BT In­fin­ity. We rec­om­mend that you check with your provider if you’re un­sure.

Routers with­out modems are best suited to those with cable broad­band, such as from Vir­gin. Oth­er­wise, you can buy a sep­a­rate ADSL or VDSL mo­dem that plugs into the router’s WAN port.

You may, of course, al­ready have a mo­dem, in which case you can take your pick of just about any router

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Do­minik To­maszewski

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