Wi-Fi Router: How It Works

I Wi-Fi router have now become part of our lives: surely you too will have one, or at least you will have heard of it. But what exactly is a Wi-Fi router? What is it for and, above all, how does it work? If you have asked yourself at least some of these questions, know that you are in the right place!

In the next paragraphs of this post, in fact, I will have the opportunity to explain how a Wi-Fi router works quickly, easily but not of little use (or at least I hope!). Trying not to get too technical, I will try to make you understand in an easy way how this device does its tasks and I will outline what its main functions are.

Since I see you quite interested in the subject, I'd say don't waste any more precious time and get started right away. So, are you ready to go? Yup? Great! Make yourself comfortable, take all the time you need to concentrate on reading the next lines and you will see that, at the end of this reading, you will surely have a little clearer ideas on the subject. Enjoy the reading!

What is a Wi-Fi Router

Before you see how a Wi-Fi router works, it seems necessary, indeed obligatory, to explain to you what is a Wi-Fi router. If you don't fix this concept well in mind, in fact, you will hardly be able to understand the rest.

Technically, a router it is nothing more than a network device used as an interface between different subnets, whose task is to route the data packets between different subnets, allowing interoperability at the addressing level.

Often the term "Router" is used interchangeably with the term “modem” (and viceversa). However, it is technically wrong to use the latter as a synonym for router. For what reason? The routers, as just mentioned, take care of distributing the Internet signal, while the modem instead takes care of translating, or rather, of modulate e demodular, the analog signal into digital (and vice versa), allowing in fact to connect to the Internet. Modems are usually not Wi-Fi and have only one Ethernet port to which a computer or, in fact, a router must be connected: the latter will then take care of redistributing the connection to multiple devices (and not the modem , as some might think).

Put simply and simplifying the speech as much as possible, we can therefore say that the modem is what takes the internet signal from the socket, while the router is the one that distributes it, via cable or Wi-Fi to computers, smartphones and so on. The router, in order to recognize and manage all the devices connected to it, creates an internal network (the local network), in which each device has its own numerical address (IP address), which can be fixed or variable ... but I have already told you about this on other occasions. However, it should not be confused with the public IP address that the connection (therefore the modem) has on the outside and identifies it uniquely on the Internet.

It must be said, however, that the so-called are now quite widespread modem / router, or "hybrid" devices that act as both a modem and a router: they are able to connect to the Internet via the telephone cable and redistribute the connection to multiple devices via wireless, thanks to the integrated Wi-Fi antenna (there may be even more than a). This is the type of device you were probably thinking about when you came to this article and it is mainly these devices that I will refer to during the guide.

Having clarified these aspects, I would say that now you should have a little clearer ideas about what a router is. Let's see, therefore, what are its operating principles.

How a Wi-Fi Router Works

Let's get to the heart of the discussion by seeing in fact how a Wi-Fi router works, analyzing a little more closely some purely technical details on the technology that allows the distribution of the Internet signal to multiple devices. In the next paragraphs, I will necessarily have to resort to some technicality, but rest assured: I will try to be as simple as possible, so that you can understand the principles of operation of the Wi-Fi router.

As I have already mentioned in part in the previous lines, routers perform the function of redistributing, or rather, route the internet signal to multiple devices. The principle behind how a router works is quite simple. The router gets the information from the cable via a WAN connection (Wide Area Network) and directs information to the various connected devices, making sure that all data packets are transmitted correctly.

In doing so, therefore, the router makes use of the so-called packet switching, that is a technique that involves the subdivision of a message into several parts (i packages to which I have just mentioned, in fact), before forwarding it on the network through a path that is not defined in advance.

Each data packet, in fact, follows its own "way" and "bounces" between the nodes of the network before reaching the recipient of the communication. It is the destination node, then, that puts the received packets in order, thus reconstructing the divided message as a sort of "puzzle", using the protocol TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).

The router, as mentioned earlier, is capable of assigning local IP addresses to all devices connected to its network and, at the same time, create a separate path for each connected system, thus offering the possibility of connecting multiple devices to a modem. 

A modem / router communicates simultaneously with theISP (Internet Service Provider), through technologies ADSL o optical fiber (or even satellite connection or mobile data), as well as with the home network, consisting of all devices connected to the network (eg smartphones, tablets, PCs, Smart TVs, Wi-Fi printers, etc.).

All routers have a port WAN (Wide Area Network), the wired connection that connects the router to the wall via cable, to which a series of ports are added LAN (Local Area Network), which allow you to make local network connections.

I wireless router they are instead those equipped with one or more Wi-Fi antennas and can operate on different protocols, for example 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n e 802.11ac among the most common, which ensure increasing data transfer rates and can operate on different frequency bands (I'll come back to the subject soon).

Speaking of protocols and classes, you should know that, based on its hardware characteristics, a router is able to connect to classi Wi-Fi differenti: Routers currently on the market can support the following Wi-Fi classes.

  • Class b - guarantees data transfer at the maximum speed of 11 Mbps.
  • Class g - guarantees data transfer speeds up to 54 Mbps.
  • Class n - guarantees up to 450 Mbps of data transfer.
  • navy and - is able to guarantee a speed up to 1331 Mbps (only works with the 5GHz band).

As for the radio frequency bands, it is possible to exploit the frequencies a 2.4GHz o 5GHz. Some routers, called mono band, are able to exploit only the 2.4GHz frequencies. The routers dual-bandinstead, they exploit both the a 2.4GHz than that 5GHz: the latter avoids the problems related to interference that can be encountered much more easily on radio channels operating on the 2.4Ghz band, ensuring usually better performance.

More advanced routers, which support the 5GHz band, also have the technology Beamforming+, which greatly improves network performance over the long haul, by routing the signal specifically to the device that needs it most (e.g. the laptop you use for business purposes, rather than the Smart TV you use to watch 4K video streaming).

Some top of the range routers are defined tri-band, because they can use the 2.4 GHz band and two 5 GHz bands simultaneously, thus ensuring incredibly high performance when it comes to data transfer. It must be said, however, that the 5GHz band has a lower coverage range than that of 2.4GHz networks and to use it you need to have devices compatible with this technology.

Safety chapter. In the case of connection in Wi-Fi mode, you need to configure the router, setting one password that allows devices to access the network distributed by the router. These codes or ciphers are used to protect the home network from access by malicious people.

The most used encryption keys are the following: WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) e WPA2 (Second generation Wi-Fi Protected Access) and offer an increasing level of security (the least secure, therefore, is WEP, while the most secure is WPA2).

Now that you understand the general operation of wireless routers, you may be interested in purchasing one if you don't already have one. Well, if so, reading the buying guide on the best routers will come in handy, which I have personally edited.

How to Set Up a Wi-Fi Router

Now that you understand how a Wi-Fi router works, let's analyze together some of its main functions and how to best configure the device.

I will not go into too much detail, as the functions of the routers and the procedures to follow to configure them vary according to the type of device in your possession, and for this I will only make a general speech, but I will link you with numerous insights that will certainly be useful to you. for your purposes.

As I partially mentioned earlier, a wireless router needs to be configured to work. After turning on the router via its power button, you must log in to his configuration panel, so as to set a Wi-Fi key with which to protect the network and personalized credentials for access to the administration panel itself.

To do this, you need to start the browser you usually use to surf the Internet and connect to theIP address of the router. Usually the IP is indicated on an adhesive label applied to the back of the device or on its sales package and in many cases it could correspond to 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1. If you can't find it, try reading my tutorial on how to find router IP.

After entering the router IP in the address bar browser and pressing Submit on the keyboard, you may be prompted to enter the username and password set by the router manufacturer to protect the latter; usually the combinations used are admin/admin o admin / password, but if they don't work and you find it difficult to locate them in the user manual of the device, consult my guide on how to find the modem / router password.

Once you have entered the router configuration panel, the device configuration procedure should start automatically. This may not apply to all devices: if the procedure is not started automatically, therefore, start it yourself, by clicking on a button visible on the screen (eg. ConfigureWizard, Etc.).

Then follow the instructions you see on the screen to configure the router correctly, setting a new password to access it (if not requested, proceed anyway, for security reasons), as well as all the parameters concerning the connection. In the vast majority of cases, the automatic router configuration procedure identifies in an "intelligent" way the parameters necessary to surf the Internet using the connection offered by your provider.

If not, you can proceed by selecting PPPoe / LLC or PPPoA / VC-Mux How type of connection e 8 e 35 eat value VPI and VCI. If the problems persist, search the Internet for the suggested connection parameters for your line and / or contact your provider.

Since we are talking about Wi-Fi routers, you must also configure the security key for the wireless network, as I have already told you. Therefore, go to the section of the panel that allows you to manage the network Wi-Fi and set a key of type WPA2 / AES long, consisting of numbers, letters and symbols. More info here.

Once you have completed the initial router configuration procedure, you can also change some more advanced settings if you want. To do this, you can visit the section  MaintenanceAdministrationSafety in the control panel of the router (the name varies according to your device) and start by customizing the password with which to access the panel itself, by filling out the appropriate form that is proposed to you. More info here.

Other settings that you may be interested in changing concern those relating to firewalls and the ports to open in order to use P2P programs (eg uTorrent), applications or consoles for online gaming and more. Also in this case, the procedure to succeed in the operation varies from device to device: in principle you must go to the menu related to thePort forwarding o port Forwarding or in the one dedicated to Virtual Server, create a new rule or new virtual server and fill in the proposed form, following the instructions below.

  • Internal door/External door o Initial port/Final door - here enter the number of the door to open, inserting the same value in all fields.
  • Destination IP o Server IP address) - here you have to write the local IP address of the computer on which you intend to use the program of your interest (if you do not know how to view the IP address, you can consult the guide in which I explain how to do it).
  • Name - here you have to write the name to be assigned to the rule you are creating (eg uTorrent, to remind you that you are creating a rule to use this program).
  • Door type o Protocol) - here you must indicate if what you are opening is a door TCPUDP.

Remember, then, to save the changes made, by clicking on the appropriate button and repeat the operation that I have just described briefly for all the ports you intend to open in the router. Since the procedure may vary from one device to another, I suggest you consult the in-depth information on how to open the router ports, to know more in detail how to proceed.

Furthermore, I recommend that you read my thematic guides dedicated to the operation of Netgear, D-Link, TP-Link, TIM, Fastweb, WINDTRE or Vodafone modems.

How a Portable Wi-Fi Router Works

Are you interested in the operation of portable Wi-Fi routers? Well, in reality these work almost similar to "traditional" Wi-Fi routers, with the difference that, compared to the latter, they can be transported with some ease, as they are designed to be used on the move, as the their name, and usually support data connection sharing 3G / 4G from the SIM.

There are different types: "pure" portable routers, which are very compact models, usually equipped with an integrated rechargeable battery that allows you to use them without having them connected to the power outlet and that allow you to surf only on 3G / 4G networks; 3G / 4G domestic router, mainly designed for "home" use, to be connected to the electrical socket, through which it is possible to share the 3G / 4G connection via SIM or Internet Key; ADSL / fiber router, which are "hybrid" routers, able to share both the ADSL / fiber connection and the 3G / 4G connection sharing through the Internet Key and router hub, very versatile devices to use as portable Wi-Fi routers, power banks, wireless repeaters and access points.

For more information on which portable Wi-Fi router to buy, I refer you to reading the buying guide that I have entirely dedicated to this category of devices.