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How Many Devices Can a Router Handle?

Written by: Gryphon Online Safety Inc. / November 01, 2021

When we compare routers online or in-stores, we’ve got our eyes on several key factors. We look for a sleek design, an affordable price point, and the performance metrics that matter most, including range and supported connection speeds.

But there’s one all-important question that we often fail to ask when looking at routers: How many devices can it handle at a given time?

Furthermore, is performance compromised when we reach the upper limit of connected devices, and what happens if we add one too many smartphones or tablets?

These are all fair questions, and there are many ways to find and explain a complete answer.

Let’s start from the top and learn as much as we can about today’s routers, focusing on the number of devices they can support and the implications of the latest technology.

Number of Devices: Theory vs. Reality


It didn’t take long for the average number of household devices to go from a small handful to well over a dozen per family!

Are modern routers able to handle the rapidly growing number of devices in the home, and at what point can we expect to see performance issues when that number gets too big?

Let’s look at what today’s routers can theoretically support in terms of device numbers and compare that to real-world findings that we’ve seen in our own tests and user reviews.

Average Number of Devices


While there has certainly been an uptick in the number of smart devices in homes and offices, it may not be quite so high as you think.

Stats show that the average number of devices in a home is still around 12 to 15, although that data point is rising steadily with each passing year.

The point is that even a home with 20 devices is still on the upper end of the spectrum when it comes to the Internet of Things adoption and smart home technology.

Take a second to scan your entire home and see how many devices are connected to your network – are you ahead of the curve or still a WiFi minimalist?

Our takeaways here are threefold:

1. The average number of devices in a home network is not shockingly high.

2. Most routers can handle the number of devices for daily internet demands.

3. It’s rare for a home environment to have more than 20 connected devices at a time.

With this understood, it helps us put our original question into context and change the way we look at routers and their capabilities.

What matters more isn’t necessarily the number of devices, but rather how those devices are managed and how performance holds up under pressure.

Upper Limits and Maximums


Even with those findings, you might be curious about the absolute maximum number of devices that can connect to a modern router, and so are we!

Things get a bit tricky here as manufacturers make varied claims about the number of devices their routers support, but we’ve found that most brands put that number at about 250.

That seems like a lot of devices – because it is! Not even the most advanced smart home on the planet has that many devices connected to the network, and enterprise environments likely rely on wired network solutions and wireless access points to meet demands.

In other words, it’s not very useful to consider the number of devices that could theoretically be connected to a network, especially if you have a reasonable array of smartphones, computers, and entertainments hubs connected in your home.

Too Many Devices: What Happens?


Enough about theory – what can we realistically expect from our routers in terms of performance as we add more devices to the network, and when does this start causing problems?

Again, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience major issues when more devices are connected, but let’s entertain the idea that we push the upper limits of our routers and see what happens.

Can Your Router Crash?


The short answer is no – a router won’t crash even if you host a party with hundreds of people connecting their phones to the network at once.

The latest routers are far more capable of managing dozens of devices at a time, but even they have their limitations when the network is purposely being pushed beyond its recommended usage.

Of course, anything can happen if you’re testing your hardware for research purposes and using far too many devices, but for your daily WiFi needs, there’s no need to worry about crashing a router.

Performance Factors


While a crash is extremely rare for a router, it’s likely that with all those devices competing for bandwidth simultaneously, performance will probably grind to a halt.

You may also find that some devices aren’t able to connect when the request is made.

This shows us once again that performance is the main question here, and the real way to determine the quality of a router is by its device management capabilities.

Here are the performance factors that truly matter when testing WiFi with numerous devices at once:

-Max speeds for high-bandwidth tasks like streaming, gaming, conferencing

-Range of connectivity for devices as they reach the perimeter of the coverage area

-How performance is impacted when new devices are added to the network

-Multiple band (dual or tri-band) functionality for intelligent device management

-Actual WiFi speeds compared to the service level of your ISP

-Speed and connectivity at peak hours (every family member is connected)

Rather than focusing on how many devices can connect to your network in an imaginary scenario, make these above metrics your top priority because they are far more consequential for your overall WiFi experience each day.

Next-Gen Routers for More Devices


You may be wondering whether there are real differences between routers, given that the average number of devices doesn’t seem to play such a pivotal role.

The answer is a resounding yes – the capabilities of different routers vary tremendously due to the technology within and the protocols certified by organizations like the WiFi Alliance.

That’s why our next goal is to identify the top features of a modern router to maximize performance with a rising number of devices connected each year.

This way, you’ll know what technologies and feature set to look for when you start to browse and discover the next router for your home or office.

Key Features


Let’s start with some features that make a major difference in how a router handles many devices without compromising performance.

4x4 MU-MIMO

This acronym stands for multi-user, multiple input, multiple output technologies, which indicates an upgrade from single-user MOMO.

By increasing the number of signals in a single router, the number of access points to the network is also boosted, allowing more devices to interact smoothly and quickly at one time.

Tri-Band Radios

Remember when routers only had one radio band to transmit wireless signals? That led to performance problems of all kinds, especially with other appliances and electronics in the vicinity.

Now, dual-band radios (5 GHz and 2.4 GHz) are far more common, and tri-band radios represent another step forward for this technology. More bands mean less congestion on the network and higher performance levels at peak hours.

Antenna Beamforming

In an environment with many connected devices, you want a router to ignore the rest and focus only on your application that needs the most bandwidth.

That’s what antenna beamforming does, transmitting a focused signal to support a specific device when it’s being used, maximizing performance in the process.

WiFi 6 Readiness


The WiFi Alliance has been through many versions of its original wireless protocol since the early 2000s, and we’ve finally reached the sixth iteration of the standard.

While WiFi 6 is innovative for several reasons, the biggest leaps have been made regarding device management and functionality in large, high-traffic networks.

WiFi 6 has only been around for a few short years, but the transition is happening steadily over time. Upgrade to a WiFi 6 router to see significant performance improvements for your home network.

Mesh Network Technology


A mesh WiFi system is one of the best innovations for high-density networks in recent years.

This means that your main router is accompanied by powerful nodes throughout the environment, maintaining a powerful signal over longer coverage ranges and keeping performance high throughout.

Even if you don’t need a multi-unit mesh system in your space, a standalone mesh router can be a significant performance booster for your network.

Optimize Your WiFi Network for Performance – and Volume


We may not see massive IoT implementations with dozens of devices any time soon, but we’ve learned our lesson about how router technology impacts high-traffic networks in our homes.

WiFi performance, device management, and the other key metrics we discussed today – it all starts with your router and the next-gen technology it utilizes.

 

Sources:

Can Too Many Devices Crash a Router | Smarter Home Guide

How Many Devices Can Connect to One Router | Lifewire

What is WiFi 6? | Tech Advisor