- Don't settle for a "wireless gateway"
A "wireless gateway" is an all-in-one device that combines a modem (cable or DSL) with a wireless router. They tend to be mediocre, poor performers, especially those supplied by Internet providers.
- Insist on a pure modem. Buy your own separate wireless router.
- Make sure the modem is configured in "bridge" (not routing) mode.
- Simultaneous Dual Band
The low 2.4 GHz band, commonly found in consumer-grade devices, is increasingly crowded, which can severely limit performance. The high 5 GHz band tends to be much less crowded, and will often provide much better performance. But don't just get a single band 5 GHz device, since some wireless devices only support 2.4 GHz, and avoid dual band devices with a single radio that can only work on one band at a time. In other words, not just dual band, but simultaneous dual band.
- 300 Mbps Speed
Wireless "n" devices work at multiples of 150 Mbps (150 Mbps, 300 Mbps, 450 Mbps, etc), but most consumer wireless devices only support 150 Mbps or 300 Mbps, making 300 Mbps a good baseline, so choose a device with at least 300 Mbps speed on both bands.
- Gigabit Ethernet
Although Fast (100 Mbps) Ethernet is comparable in real world performance to 300 Mbps wireless (actual wireless performance is usually much less than the advertised maximum), Gigabit (1000 Mbps) Ethernet provides much faster wired networking for not much more money and is otherwise good "future proofing".
Nice To Have:
- Guest feature
A guest feature is a separate wireless network for guests that lets them connect to the Internet but not to any of your own networked devices. It's a bad idea to give guests access to your network.
USB can be used to attach USB storage or a USB printer to the wireless router for network access.
- Apple AirPort Extreme
If you're into Apple products, this is the wireless router to get. Expensive but recommended.
- Apple AirPort Time Capsule
Essentially an AirPort Extreme with backup storage built in, so you can keep all your Apple devices backed up over your network. Highly recommended. Get the largest size you can afford.
- Netgear WNDR4000
Fast, powerful, and capable consumer wireless router. Refurbished units can be a real bargain. WNDR3700 is also very good.
- Don't "cheap out"
A cheap wireless router can reduce performance due to poor internal routing speed.
- Use WPA2 AES Security
Identity theft is just one of the risks from getting hacked, and WEP "security" is essentially useless. Use a different (and equally strong) password for a Guest network.
- Set a Strong Password
Use a random combination of 12 or more mixed case letters and numbers that you don't use for anything else, and do not use common words, names, numbers, etc.
- Don't fool yourself
Network name (SSID) hiding and MAC address filtering are too easily circumvented to provide even minimal security, and they can lead to network problems, so don't use them.
- Network Backup
Network storage is an excellent way to keep your devices backed up. Highly recommended. (WD My Cloud is a very good alternative to network storage on the wireless router.)
- Apple AirPort Express
The AirPort Express is a great way to extend iTunes music to remote speakers.