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How to Get A Better WiFi Connection

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

If you are often struggling to get a good WiFi connection in your home or office, there are solutions. Mesh WiFi systems have made the coverage of home WiFi much better in the last 6-7 years. Let's explore how you can get a better WiFi connection with a one of these systems.




It is important to recognize I am addressing the WiFi coverage throughout the home or office, not the speed of your WiFi. While speed can depend on which WiFi channel your device connects to, ultimately the speed of your internet connection comes down to what you pay for with your internet provider.


Let's cover the basics first, then I'll provide details on three mesh WiFi routers I recommend.


Cable Modems

Before diving in, I want to comment on cable modems. If you’ve never worked with your internet equipment, and just had your internet provider set up your system, chances are they gave you a combo modem and WiFi router unit. These combo units receive your internet connection directly from your provider's cable, and also create your internal WiFi network, acting as a standard WiFi router. There are some internet providers that offer a mesh system, but these products usually come at a premium on your bill.


If you decide to use a mesh router, you will need to turn your combo modem/router unit back in to your internet provider. With the exception of the purchase of the Netgear Orbi discussed below, you will need to purchase a separate modem and WiFi mesh router system for better coverage and performance. Please consult with your internet provider as to the modem brands and models which are compatible with their internet service. You should be able to find a copy of this list on their website (check the FAQs). Also keep in mind that the Docsys version of the modem you buy (modem operating system version) needs to support the speed of your internet connection. For example, Docsys 3.1 will support up to 1gbps speeds.

Standard WiFi Router basics

In most standard WiFi router setups, your internet connection cable (called a coax cable) from your internet service provider connects to your cable modem, which then connects to your WiFi router (see diagram).


Your WiFi router then creates an internal WiFi network, broadcasting that connection to the rest of your devices, tvs, smart hubs, etc. to provide WiFi coverage. The signal coming from the router is coming from one source, and gets weaker as it travels outward, through rooms, walls, and appliances.


While standard WiFi setups have their place, depending on your home or office, the WiFi connections can be weak in some areas, strong in others, or non-existent in certain rooms. Sometimes people use a WiFi extender (a device that receives your WiFi signal and amplifies it) in weaker areas of the home. This device creates a second WiFi access point with its own WiFi network. So users would then connect to whichever network has the stronger signal, depending on what part of the hoe or office you are in. The downside to this is if you have a mobile device or laptop and move around the house, you would have to change your network to the strongest connection. The WiFi extender can create complexity, and not necessarily better service. If you have a relatively small house or apartment however, a WiFi extender may be a good solution.



Mesh Wifi Router Basics

A Mesh WiFi router system is designed differently and solves the coverage issue where the signal is weaker. By design, it is made up of a series of nodes that all act as one network (see diagram above). A mesh system starts with a parent or main node which receives the internet connection from the modem and establishes the start of the mesh.


Once the main node is set up, child or satellite nodes can then be installed with typically just the app on your smartphone and the node. You place these nodes at different areas around the home or office and after they are connected, all of the nodes then communicate together as one network to provide total coverage.


The distance and fidelity of the nodes is dependent on the model purchased and you will want to consult your documentation to get to know its limitations and caveats. Keep reading for my recommendations...



Dual Band Vs Tri-Band

You will see if you begin researching WiFi routers, that some models are Dual Band and some are Tri Band. The radio frequency (or “rf”) bands of WiFi routers are normally 2.4ghz and 5.0 ghz. Higher end models have 6 ghz capability.


Dual Band means that the router broadcasts a channel at 2.4ghz and at 5ghz. As you may know, 2.4ghz is the standard WiFi speed and will have the longest range. The 5ghz channel will be the fastest speed best for high bandwidth applications such as streaming movies in 4k, but it also has a shorter range than 2.4ghz.


Tri-band means that the router transmits a 2.4ghz, and two 5Ghz bands for increased simultaneous high bandwidth applications.

Keep in mind that the devices you are using need to support the 5 and 6ghz connections to utilize them, and typically all devices with WiFi can connect and operate on the 2.4ghz channel.


 

For years I’ve used Linksys routers. When the company came out with the Linksys Velop mesh system, I was enthusiastic to try it. It was relatively easy to set up and it remained stable. I purchased the Linksys Velop AC2200 3 node model. The price now is half of what I paid years ago. The 2200 in the name refers to the maximum speed of 2200 Mbps. It broadcasts at both 2.4gz and dual channel 5ghz for streaming.


The estimated internet speeds top out at 867 mbps on the 5ghz channel and 400 mbps on the 2.4ghz channel.


If you are currently paying for a gigabit internet connection through your internet provider and want your router to be closer to gigabyte speed, you will need to go with a WiFi 6 model such as the Atlas 6E.


Other tech specs of the Linksys Velop:

  • Each node has two ethernet ports for wired connections (the main node will only have one free as the other is connected to the modem).

  • For security, there is a standard firewall.

  • It has port forwarding capability.

  • IP address reservation.

  • You can manage your system from a router hosted URL, or the smartphone app.


 

When I started learning about WiFi 6 and how some newer routers broadcast at 6 ghz, the TP-Link Deco 6E caught my attention. As of this writing only the newest WiFi devices can connect at 6 ghz.


However, I chose the TP-Link model because even if your devices cannot take advantage of the 6 ghz directly, the nodes will utilize this channel internally to balance your network traffic from the 5ghz channel. So in the end, with this model you actually are getting the benefit of it. This functionality is called “wireless backhaul”.


Upon connecting to a 1 Gbps internet connection, I speed tested the TPlink in the 900-950 Gbps range. I also saw a noticeable difference in coverage and an increase in 5ghz speed around the home.


For security, TP-Link offers Homeshield which is a firewall, parental control software along with monitoring and reporting tools. There is also a Homeshield Pro subscription which gives you more granularity in reporting and features.


Other tech specs of the TP-Link:

  • Each node has two ethernet ports for wired connections. You can always add a switch to expand the number of wired ports needed.

  • For security, the router has a standard firewall.

  • It has port forwarding capability.

  • IP address reservation.

  • You can manage your system from the smartphone app. There is no site URL for management.


 



Another WiFi mesh router that consistently receives good ratings is the Netgear Orbi. The Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wifi 6 provides increased coverage with less equipment. The two nodes cover 5,000 square feet, and the main node has a built-in cable modem. This means that when you turn your combo router/WiFi unit back into your cable provider, you do not have to buy a separate cable modem, provided this model is supported by your internet provider. If your internet does not connect using a coax cable, then you will need to get a different model Orbi as this was designed for a cable provider.


The Orbi can get up to 1Gbps from Cox and Spectrum (depending on your service), and 800Gbps from Xfinity. Also like the other Mesh WiFi systems you can also buy additional satellite nodes to increase the square footage.


Other tech specs of the Netgear Orbi:

  • The main node has 4 ethernet ports (network ports) to wire in devices, and each satellite has two.

  • Security is provided by Netgear Armor which is backed by Bitdefender (one of the top antivirus, malware, VPN security suites around).

  • It has port forwarding capability.

  • IP address reservation.

  • You manage your system at Orbilogin.com through your browser.


 


What do you need?


Like all tech equipment, you should be assessing your needs with WiFi:

  • How big is your home or office?

  • How much bandwidth will you be using simultaneously?

  • If you’re only trying to cover 2 or 3 rooms, purchasing a mesh system may not be needed.

Standard WiFi routers have come a long way, can be very fast, and provide great coverage for the range they have. With mesh WiFi systems, you want to get the minimum number of nodes required for your home or office coverage, but not more than needed. In other words, having too many nodes too close together will actually slow down your WiFi network, as I found out when I started using them.


If you decide to go the mesh route, you may need to perform tweaks in the software depending on the model, if you are experiencing unexpected issues. You may need to look up some terms in the settings you don’t understand and then make corrections. This is all a normal part of setup.


In the end, I found that the payoff for switching from a standard WiFi system to a mesh system was well worth the effort.



ADDITIONAL TECH POSTS:

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