Data Doctors: Wi-Fi Range Extenders vs. Mesh Networks

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Several variables can cause weaker signals at various locations in your home, including distance from the wireless router, congestion from other wireless networks, and physical obstructions.

Q: I need to improve the Wi-Fi signal in parts of my home and want to understand the difference between using range extenders and switching everything to a mesh network.

A: Several variables can cause weaker signals at various locations in your home, including distance from the wireless router, congestion from other wireless networks, and physical obstructions.

Before you spend money trying to improve the signal, there are a few things you can try.

Center if possible

If your wireless router is at one end of the house, moving it to a more centralized location might provide better whole-house coverage.

Wi-Fi signals transmit in a spherical fashion, so if you’re in a two-story house, try placing the wireless router near the ground on the second floor.

Change frequencies

You can also improve your connection by switching from the 5 GHz option to 2.4 GHz if you have a dual-band router.

5 GHz connections are faster, but the signal range is shorter than a 2.4 GHz connection. The lower 2.4 GHz frequency is also better at overcoming physical obstacles and for surfing the Internet, the speed difference is unlikely to be noticed.

Materials that clog

Wi-Fi signals can be obstructed by a number of common building materials, especially metal and concrete. Another obstruction can come from walls or ceilings that use metal slats inside the plaster, even if they are not that thick.

If you know you have building materials that are obstructing your signal, adding or changing your equipment may be your best bet.

Advantages and disadvantages of range extenders

The cheapest way to increase coverage in a wide area is to use a device that will repeat the main signal, better known as a range extender.

They’re relatively easy to set up, but you may need to experiment with different locations to get the best balance of speed and coverage.

Since they are trying to boost the existing signal, placing it where the signal is weak won’t do much, so look for a placement that is in a strong signal but provides coverage in the weak area.

Under the best circumstances, expect slower speeds when connecting through the repeater, which will also have a different name, so you’ll need to switch manually when in that area.

They don’t amplify the signal, they just extend the range and the tradeoff will be slower speeds.

Advantages and disadvantages of mesh networks

Moving to a mesh network means that you will have to purchase several new devices that will replace your existing single Wi-Fi router that are placed throughout your home.

The larger your coverage area, the more devices you will need to purchase, making this a much more expensive solution.

The beauty of using this approach is that the connection speed will be relatively the same no matter which Wi-Fi device you connect to, unlike a connection made through a range extender.

Each access point also broadcasts the same network name, so you don’t have to switch connections as you move around your home. There are many other technical advantages to using a mesh network, especially if you have a large number of users, so if you want the best signal everywhere, this is the way to go.

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