Office networking image showing an installed switch

Business vs Consumer Networking

As a business owner, it seems like a simple task: get the network set up at your office. You've already had an ISP come out and get your office wired and the modem set up. So, the next step is buying a router and getting your network set up and ready for your co-workers. After all, you did all this at home and things work great, so how difficult could it be?

Well, setting up an office network isn't quite the same as setting one up at home. Plus, buying a router 'off the shelf' for your office isn't the same as getting a coffee maker: While your office could probably get by with a 12-cup Mr. Coffee you get at Walmart, things won't be quite the same if you get a basic Netgear router from your favorite electronics retailer.

Benefits of Commercial Networking Over Consumer Networking

If your home network goes down, it's an inconvenience. If your office network goes down, it can cost you money. When you have 20+ computers, multiple printers, everyone's mobile phone and other mobile devices connecting to your network, you need an infrastructure that can handle that amount of traffic, and that can scale to accommodate your business's growth. Below are some things to consider when planning out the needs of your business network.

Business Needs

In a larger-scale, high usage environment, a consumer router just won't cut it. In fact, a router alone may not cut it. In order to get the consistency and reliability you need for an office, it may be necessary to add in access points, switches and more to ensure you have uninterrupted, reliable and consistent networking for your business. Take a hotel, for instance. If you walk down the hallway of a hotel, you'll likely see one or more network access points mounted to the ceiling or wall of the hallway you're in. (Some hide them better than others, of course.) That's because a hotel does not, and can not, rely on a single point of connection for its wi-fi; the usage is just too great. Your business is no different.

Latency

Home routers have a tendency to qualify connections and slow down connection speeds as more and more devices connect. That's because consumer networking generally has a limit to the number of devices that can connect. As more devices connect, the quality of service declines. Consumer devices also don't handle interference well: as more devices connect, the level of 'noise' from these devices increases, which can cause network interference and a degrading of speed and reliability. Business-grade equipment is built for these types of scenarios: high usage across a larger number of devices.

Look, the last thing you want is for it to take your Payroll Manager an hour or more to process payroll'only to have the connection die. Office routers have the ability to keep connections and to keep network speeds consistent across devices.

Connection Limitations

Chances are the majority of your co-workers will connect via wi-fi. Having the infrastructure in place to offer wired connections is great, and it's still the way to go to get a solid, reliable network connection. However, most businesses will simply rely on wi-fi for connecting to the web and for day-to-day operations. That means you need a large number of connections to your infrastructure.

Commercial networking is much more flexible in this regard. Consumer-grade routers may say they support up to 250 connections, but realize that as the number of devices increases, so do the headaches and potential pain points. As mentioned, consumer routers will prioritize bandwidth based on need -- a desktop may get more bandwidth than, say, an iPad. That's why you may see some 'buffering' when you're watching Netflix on your Apple TV or Roku device: that device is receiving less bandwidth than other connected devices. Commercial routers and access points are able to manage that traffic much better, ensuring consistent and reliable connections for all devices.

Security

Most small commercial routers include firewall, antivirus and other security options that provide greater overall security for your office. Unified Threat Management is generally not available, much less needed, in home routers since the type of information that's passed across a home network generally doesn't have the same sensitivity level that payroll, HR and other data does for a business. Therefore, having a commercial router just makes more sense as it gives your business an extra layer of security when combined with in-house firewalls and other security software and services you're using'or SHOULD be using.

Increased Functionality

Most commercial routers include access point functionality to help reduce dead spots in the network. Of course, it's always possible to add in standalone access points to help with this, but if your office is small enough, or doesn't contain separate levels or multiple hallways, then a single commercial router would work.

In addition, most commercial equipment offers VPN capabilities. While this is included in some home routers, it's generally more robust in commercial routers.

Remote Management

Another big benefit to using networking equipment designed for businesses is their management capabilities. While consumer-grade products offer remote management, generally through opening up access to the router via the web, business routers offer additional benefits, like app-based management. That means having an app on your mobile device that will allow you to manage your router using your phone. This flexible management makes it easy to work with IT companies to help you manage issues: the company doesn't have to come on-site, they can solve issues, check usage and more simply using the app. This saves time and money as you can avoid trip charges.

Overall Build Quality

While it's not quite true that home routers and home networking equipment is 'cheaply' built, it IS true that the build quality of small business routers is much, much better. That's because companies who make these types of routers know how they'll be used: they know the loads, they know the performance requirements and they know that skimping on parts means someone is going to potentially lose connection at the most inopportune time.

What about Mesh Networks?

A BIG buzz phrase that is getting play in the home networking space is the 'mesh network.' What that means is that you place two or more networking devices in various places around your house that connect to each other to offer greater network coverage. One device is the main 'router' and the others are 'satellites' that simply connect to the primary router to extend your network coverage. Eero, Orbi, Velop, Lyri'you may have seen these at Best Buy or even Costco as they are really getting more and more popular for home networking.

However, at least for now, mesh networking is being marketed for home users. Therefore, you'll run into some of the same limitations as if you were to use a single consumer router. While mesh networking is growing in the consumer market, it's still in its infancy for businesses.

Cost Considerations

Of course, in order to get business-quality networking, there is a price tag associated with it. While you can get a home router for < $200, business routers can run north of $400 and much more.

However, look at it this way: a router is a tool for your business. If you were a framer on a construction site, you wouldn't use a $5 hammer as you'd tend to go through a lot of them. Instead, you'd invest in the RIGHT tool that will give you the consistency, reliability and cost effectiveness that is the best fit for your usage. The same holds true for office networking. Sure, there may be some up-front cost, but the overall benefits of that cost far outweigh the potential issues, headaches and security risks of NOT making the leap.

Additional Reading

There are a TON of sites out there that rate and review both business and home routers. A little research can go a long way to avoiding any future issues. Here are some suggestions:

Best Wireless Routers of 2018 ' PCMag
Best Wi-Fi Router (for Most People) ' The Wirecutter
10 Best Wireless Routers to Buy in 2018 ' Lifewire
Best Wireless Router 2018 ' Tom's Guide
Best Wireless Routers for 2018 - CNet

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