How to Choose a Wi-Fi Router For Your Business
By Tobias Geisler Mesevage
The network is down, which means your POS system isn’t taking cards, your half-completed inventory order will have to wait, and scheduling the window cleaner will be added to tomorrow’s to-do list. Small and mid-sized business owners keep a lot of plates spinning with the help of efficient and dependable Wi-Fi. Network downtime can be the kiss of death for fledgling, local small businesses –– and it’s entirely avoidable.
Aside from the panic-inducing scenario of compromised network continuity, there are several important considerations when selecting your router. For instance, you need to be aware of:
- Your small business cybersecurity plan
- Your business’s network speed requirements for uploads and downloads
- Your guest wireless network connection capabilities
The major decisions about your small business wireless network setup depend on your business's size and comprehensive Wi-Fi needs. Follow this guide to assess which type of business Wi-Fi solution is the best fit for your organization.
Step 1: Your Organization’s Size
How many devices are on your network?
For a small business with less than 20 computers and Wi-Fi-connected devices, a simple consumer wireless router should have enough power to keep your team online. Remember that counting connected devices is not as simple as the number of people in your office. Wi-Fi connected devices in your network may include:
- Connected printers
- Cell phones (in some cases)
- POS systems
If using up all of your network connection speed on wireless devices sounds inefficient, you can hardwire devices that don’t need to be mobile. Consumer and small business wireless routers have the option of using Ethernet ports for hard-wiring devices like printers or access points (which extend your coverage).
For larger organizations, you’ll need to drill down into your needs a bit further. You may consider investing in commercial Wi-Fi equipment rather than using a home router for your business network.
Step 2: Network Availability Needs
Edge routers vs branch routers
If we use an airport as an analogy for your internal and external networks, an edge router is like the air traffic control tower, sending to and receiving data packets from external networks. A branch router is a smaller traffic router which, typically, manages your internal network –– like a package delivery organization operating within the airport.
As a small business owner who doesn’t rely on Wi-Fi for critical operations, you can get by with a branch router. You are still able to send emails, run cloud-based accounting and CRM software, and have a few devices logged in without suffering too much slowdown.
However, if you are adding in a POS system, multiple devices, printers, and possibly guest users, you should consider getting an edge router to ensure network uptime and security.
How close is your nearest neighbor?
At the very least, you’ll want to select a wireless router that supports Wireless-N technology 802.11n or the newer 802.11ac. If you have close neighbors, a dual-band router or access point that also works in the 5GHz frequency band, will provide more channels and cut down on the interference you might face with a 2.4GHz band.
Indications that you need a more powerful business router because of proximity or building type include:
- You share a space with multiple vendors
- Your business sits below loft apartments
- Your business is in a warehouse or another place with a large area to cover
These are just a few scenarios where your physical location has a bearing on your small business wireless network setup. The next step to understand the network equipment you can use that you already have in place, and what you may need in addition.
Will you have guest users?
Many small and medium-sized businesses plan to have guest users on their network. You typically need 5 GHz speeds for faster internet and should set up your network to keep that for your business needs. Guests can use the 2.4 GHz bandwidth for their laptop and coffee workspaces in your cafe or a fast email check on their phones.
Do you require a network switch?
Depending on how many devices you need to connect, network switches.
Network switches are typically for connecting more than 10 devices over an internal network, and are useful for:
- Power over Ethernet (PoE)
- Connecting multiple devices within your network
- Extends your network beyond the capabilities of your hub
Step 3: Security and Continuity
Dual or backup WAN
Many home routers are not able to provide the level of security that commercial Wi-Fi equipment has on a hardware level. If Internet access is crucial to your operations, consider routers that have a second WAN port.
A seven-layer DPI examines network traffic at every layer to provide security from the application layer to the physical layer. Business firewalls must take into account that guest users not only use bandwidth, but they also pose a threat to the security of your entire network and every device connected to it. Avoid that risk with a business level firewall.
Take stock of your small business wireless network setup to see what kind of Wi-Fi router you should be using.