WiFi Coverage Challenges and Solutions for Your Home
Are you experiencing wireless dead zones in your house or seeing low speeds when working in rooms located far away from your router? There are a few possible remedies for this issue.
The first is to purchase a single high-end router, and the second is to purchase a "mesh" system.
At first glance, it may seem like purchasing an expensive router might fix any issues you're experiencing. After all, if it costs more, it must be faster, right? While it's true that a higher-end wireless chipset like the AC3200 models you find on the shelves at your local electronics store can achieve higher theoretical speeds, several other important factors influence your wireless performance. Probably the most important of these factors is the distance from the router or access point to your devices, such as a laptops or phones. Wireless signal strength quickly deteriorates as you move away from the access point, and is heavily impacted by dense surfaces especially those made of metal, such as a heat duct. While the aforementioned AC3200 routers might be able to provide higher speeds when your device is in the same room, as soon as there are a few walls in the way you may see speeds far lower than you're expecting.
To counteract this distance issue, the best solution is to have multiple wireless access points which are typically provided by moving to a mesh system. First, we’ll give some background on older multi-access point options. You may be familiar with the concept of "WiFi repeaters" or "range extenders"; these are an older method of increasing the wireless range of your router. However, they suffer from several significant design flaws. Due to how these devices connect to the main router they cause significant slowdowns not only of devices connected to the repeater or range extender, but to all devices connected to the main router.
Certain router models allow you to purchase multiple standalone routers and configure them to work together, which bypasses the main drawback of repeaters, but the major wireless router vendors all offer a more robust solution in the form of mesh routers. These include the TP-Link Deco, Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi, and Google Wifi lines. Usually purchased in sets of 3, with the option to add additional access points for future expansion, mesh systems allow for a much more consistent wireless experience throughout the house. One router is connected to your internet feed and serves as the main router, while the others can connect to the main router either wirelessly or (preferably) via wired connections, and are placed throughout the house. The access points will then ensure your devices are always connected to the nearest, strongest signal.
When choosing mesh systems, it's important to keep in mind how the secondary access points talk to the main router. Some models support a wired connection between access points and the main router; if you have existing Ethernet where you plan on placing the access points this is your best option. Models that support a wired backhaul include TP-Link Deco, Google Wifi (but not the newer Google Nest Wifi), Netgear Orbi, and Linksys Velop. If you do not have existing Ethernet, several models have a dedicated wireless connection for talking to the main router which will help maximize the speeds you achieve. Models that support this tend to be more expensive but will help you see noticeably higher speeds when far away from your main router. Models with dedicated wireless backhauls include the TP-Link Deco M9 (but not the M5), and the Linksys Velop and Netgear Orbi lines. Finally, the cheapest option which will still help wireless coverage but may result in significantly slower speeds is to use a shared wireless backhaul. This method is supported by all of the above models and should work with any layout but at the expense of slower speeds when connecting to the secondary access points.