Two years ago, you had to pay at least $80 to get a wireless router that had 802.11ac, which is the latest Wi-Fi standard. Today, you can buy a wireless router that has the 802.11ac standard for as little as $55.
If your home computer, notebook computer or tablet computer is more than 1 year old, it might not support the 802.11ac standard. However, almost all models that were made in 2015 or later will support 802.11ac. That’s good news, because the standard delivers faster Web-page loading and smoother video streaming than does the previous Wi-Fi speed standard, 802.11n.
In the past 2 years, we saw the introduction of triple-band (starting at $260) and quadruple-band (starting at $190) wireless routers. These multiple-band routers are good if at least two people in your home want to play online games or stream videos on separate devices while another person wants to surf the Internet. That’s because multiple-band routers have one radio that sends out signals on the 2.4-gigahertz (GHz) band, which is adequate for basic Web surfing, and two or more radios that send out signals on the 5-GHz band, which is less crowded and faster than the 2.4-GHz band is for gaming and video streaming. Without multiple bands, the multiple connections in your home would share the same band and likely produce buffering, interruptions or an otherwise slow connection.
Most routers use Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology, which means that the router quickly takes turns receiving and sending data to all of the devices that are trying to use the router’s connection. Multi User-Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology, which started to appear in 2015 in wireless routers that cost at least $249, allows devices to receive and send data simultaneously (read: without waiting for their turn). MU-MIMO allows up to four devices to have their own data stream, which means that the connections will be faster and more dependable.
Here’s the catch: For MU-MIMO to work, the router and the device to which it connects must be compatible with the technology. At press time, only a handful of MU-MIMO routers were on the market. However, Karen Sohl of manufacturer Linksys tells us that we can expect to see a handful of new sub-$250 MU-MIMO wireless routers on display in January 2016 at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show. At press time, we counted 16 notebook computers (starting at $350) from six manufacturers that include MU-MIMO compatibility. Experts tell us that more MU-MIMO-enabled devices, including smartphones and smart TVs, will be introduced in 2016.