Web And Mobile Interfaces
Wireless routers are typically controlled through a software interface built into their firmware, which can be accessed through the router's network address. Through this interface you can enable the router's features, define the parameters and configure security settings. Routers employ a variety of custom operating environments, though most are Web-based. Some manufacturers do offer smartphone-enabled apps for iOS and Android, too. Here's is an example of a software interface for the Netis WF2780, seen on a Windows desktop. While not easy to use for amateurs, it does allow for control over all the settings. Here we can see the Bandwidth Control Configuration in the Advanced Settings.
Routers offer a wide range of features, and each vendor has its own set of unique capabilities. Overall, though, they do share generally similar feature sets, including:
- Quick Setup: For the less experienced user, Quick Setup is quite useful. This gets the device up and running with pre-configured settings, and does not require advanced networking knowledge. Of course, experienced users will want more control.
- Wireless Configuration: This setting allows channel configuration. In some cases, the router's power can be adjusted, depending on the application. Finally, the RF bandwidth can be selected as well. Analogous settings for 5GHz are available on a separate page.
- Guest Network: The router software will provide the option to set up a separate Guest Network. This has the advantage of allowing visitors to use your Internet, without getting access to the entire network.
- Security: This is where the SSIDs for each of the configured networks, as well as their passwords, can be configured.
- Bandwidth Control: Since there is limited bandwidth, it can be controlled to provide the best experience for all (or at least the one who pays the bills). The amount of bandwidth that any user has, both on the download and upload sides, can be limited so one user does not monopolize all the bandwidth.
- System Tools: Using this collection of tools, the router's firmware can be upgraded and the time settings specified. This also provides a log of sites visited and stats on bandwidth used.
Here is a screenshot of a mobile app called QRSMobile for Android, which can simplify the setup of a wireless router, in this case the D-Link 820L.
This screenshot shows the smartphone app for the Google OnHub.
Historically, some of these vendor-provided software interfaces did not allow full control of all possible settings. Out of frustration, a community for open source router firmware development took shape. One popular example of its work is DD-WRT, which can be applied to a significant number of routers, letting you tinker with options in a granular fashion. In fact, some manufacturers even sell routers with DD-WRT installed. The AirStation Extreme AC 1750 is one such model.
Another advantage of open firmware is that you're not at the mercy of a vendor in between updates. Older products don't receive much attention, but DD-WRT is a constant work in progress. Other open source firmware projects in this space include OpenWRT and Tomato, but be mindful that not all routers support open firmware.