The internet has become such an integral part of our lives that getting through a day without Wi-Fi and internet access is almost unthinkable. Admit it, one the first questions you ask when visiting your friends’ homes is ‘What’s the Wi-Fi password?’
Even in the comfort of home, Wi-Fi dead spots and weak signals are constant thorns in the users’ sides. Luckily, gadgets and solutions to fix your Wi-Fi woes are aplenty and come in all shapes and sizes to suit different usage requirements. Mesh networking and Wi-Fi repeaters offer unique ways to alleviate Wi-Fi woes.
Factors Affecting Wi-Fi Signals
Home size and distance between devices are not the only causes of weak Wi-Fi signals. Even the material of walls, floors, surfaces, signal frequency band and signal interference from other devices or appliances can cause loss of signal strength. The worst offending materials that block and reflect Wi-Fi signals are concrete, metal and mirrored surfaces.
A 2.4GHz frequency provides slower speed than a 5GHz frequency but covers a longer range. Therefore, signal loss is less pronounced when connected over a 2.4GHz frequency over a longer distance.
2.4GHz bands can get congested as the frequency is commonly used by different appliances which can lead to slower speeds whereas 5GHz bands will see better stability and faster speeds but at the cost of coverage range.
Common household appliances that cause interference are aged microwave units, wireless speakers and cordless phones that operate on the 2.4GHz band.
Contrary to popular belief, mesh networking is not a new technology. It’s been used for years in military and commercial applications but has just made the jump to the consumer market in recent years.
A typical mesh networking kit includes several routers called nodes. The nodes work by ‘speaking’ to each other to amplify the Wi-Fi signal, effectively working as access points spread out in an area to cover any dead spots.
In most mesh systems, the first node has to be connected to the modem to act as a gateway. Subsequent nodes then help to spread the Wi-Fi signal around the house by expanding the wireless coverage. Additional nodes can be added to further extend the network’s range.
The main draw of a mesh network is how it can extend the reach of the signal without degrading its strength, leading to faster internet speeds overall around the house within a single network. Some mesh networks even come with tri-band Wi-Fi technology (a 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands), which allows the network to ease congestion and accommodate more wireless devices so users can enjoy smooth streaming, gaming and downloading while supporting other devices like smart TVs, printers and security cameras.
Mesh networks are not just meant for use in landed property. Even in HDB flats and condominium units, dead spots are a common issue due to structure, décor or other aesthetics. Households nowadays also must support more Wi-Fi devices and users, increasing the need for improved Wi-Fi solutions.
Additionally, mesh networks are simple and convenient to set up and manage by having their own companion apps to aid in the set up and control of the networks. Some like the NETGEAR Orbi WiFi System even come with features like parental controls for concerned moms and dads.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems have the added advantage of having security updates installed automatically, and to all nodes in the network, ensuring protection is always up-to-date.
Wi-Fi repeaters, also known as extenders or boosters sound like they accomplish the same thing as mesh networks. However, they work quite differently.
A repeater works by picking up the signal from the existing Wi-Fi network and rebroadcasting the signal as a separate network to areas that are harder to reach. Repeaters offer the same level of security as routers.
On the other hand, networks rebroadcasted by single-band repeaters compromise performance by broadcasting on the same frequency as mentioned earlier. However, dual-band repeaters like the NETGEAR AC1200 WIFI Range Extender do not suffer from the same issue by receiving the signal from one band and broadcasting from the other. As a result, throughput can be optimised.
Signals rebroadcasted by repeaters create a separate network, so users may find themselves having to switch between networks with different network IDs and access codes on their devices when moving around the house. In cases where multiple repeaters are in use, there will be multiple networks running concurrently, making network management rather convoluted. Security can be a cause for concern as each piece of hardware in the network needs to be updated and configured individually.
Which solution should you use?
What to use depends on each user’s situation. A mesh network would generally give better results compared to using a repeater.
Mesh networks and dual-band repeaters will provide optimal speeds. While single-band repeaters can get the job done, they do suffer from reduced throughput.
Based on simplicity of use, mesh networking is as simple as plug-and-play, intuitive to set up and manage while repeaters can be more complex, especially if multiple repeaters are being used in the same home.
For intensive users, a mesh network will provide consistent and smooth performance in a single network around the house. Multiple networks created by repeaters will require users to connect and switch between them when moving in and out of range of the different networks.
1) For the best speed and coverage, mesh networking wins hands down.
2) Wi-Fi repeaters provide similar levels of speed and coverage but require periodic configurations and updates be done manually. Also, dual-band models are recommended over single-band ones for better throughput and less interference.
3) For overall ease-of-use, network management and security, mesh networks win out by having companion apps or programs where control over the network and its devices are centralised.
Mesh networks and Wi-Fi repeaters are both effective solutions with their own pros and cons. Overall, while performance between the two solutions are similar, a mesh network wins out by offering a near-seamless, convenient user experience. It’s up to the user to identify their preferred Wi-Fi solution based on their individual requirements.
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