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Choosing the right Wi-Fi Router for your home

I follow a handful of Facebook groups and a common question that comes up a lot is "What is the best Wi-Fi router to get?" This is a pretty open-ended question, but often times the person asking is ultimately looking to boost their Wi-Fi signal to get the best coverage and speed all over their home.

As a former wireless engineer, I always chime in to help people on those Facebook posts, but now that I am in Real Estate, it got me thinking. This must be a common thing for new homeowners, especially those who just moved into a bigger house, so here are a few tips.

Ditch the ISP Provided Wi-Fi router

If you are using the Wi-Fi router provided by your ISP, it's highly likely that router is using older Wi-Fi technology. In my experience, these routers are provided for free or at minimal cost to the customer and as a result, they are usually built using more economical components, not the cutting-edge technology you'd find in a current off the shelf router. Their radios are not up to the latest standards, their processors are not the fastest and you end up with a device that is simply not built for the modern internet traffic you might see in your home. Don't get me wrong, for many people these routers work perfectly fine, but if your family is like mine (with over 20 connected devices), you need something with more horsepower, and your ISP provided Wi-Fi router is likely not going to keep up the way you'd like.

Single AP vs Mesh Wi-Fi

Single AP (Access Point)

If you're a homeowner with ~1,600 sqft and your internet feed is centrally located in your home, you should be able to get away with a Single AP. Naturally, as you get further from the AP the signal will drop and the speed at which the signal can transmit data will also drop. Generally speaking, if you have a house that is 40' x 40' square and your AP is in the middle of your home, that signal never has to travel more than about 30' to reach all areas of your home without the signal degrading to a point where it is unusable. This is really the ideal situation for a Single AP setup; however, most internet feeds are not in the middle of your house. This is where a Mesh Wi-Fi system reigns supreme.

Mesh Wi-Fi

Mesh Wi-Fi systems utilize 2 or more Wi-Fi nodes configured in a Mesh Network to provide stable coverage throughout your home. The primary node, or router, is connected to your internet feed. The second, third, and so on... node are also called satellites. The satellite nodes connect to the router node through a backhaul signal and the router is able to provide access to the internet feed through this backhaul signal. Think of the backhaul signal as dedicated inter-node communication between the router node and satellite nodes. The router node and satellite nodes all broadcast the same Wi-Fi ID (SSID) which makes connecting your devices simple. You connect your device(s) to one Wi-Fi ID and through the marvel of firmware and software, the router nodes and satellite nodes automatically decide which node is able to provide the best signal to your device(s). As a result, you get better coverage throughout your home.

Dual-Band vs Tri-Band Mesh

Perhaps the most important decision in choosing your Mesh Wi-Fi System is whether to get a Dual-Band or Tri-Band system. What's the difference? Besides price, Dual-Band is usually less expensive than Tri-Band, there is a technological advantage that Tri-Band has over Dual-Band.

Dual-Band Mesh only has 2 radio bands for Wi-Fi traffic, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Sounds simple, right? Well, the problem is, that inter-node messaging between the router and satellites that makes the Mesh system work occurs on the 5 GHz band, which means all 5 GHz devices are competing for bandwidth with the router and satellite nodes. This is where a Tri-Band system is better.

Tri-Band systems have 3 radios. 2 are dedicated strictly to device traffic on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. The third radio is a 5 GHz band dedicated strictly to the inter-node traffic; this means better bandwidth for everyone!

Eliminate the Dead Zones!

In short, the Wi-Fi Mesh System is built to help eliminate the dead zones in your home and act a single Wi-Fi network! As you walk around your home, a Mesh System will automatically hand you off the node that is able to provide you the best signal and speed. This is the magic of a Mesh System that makes them the best solution over the Single AP.

More info can be found here: What is Mesh WiFi? | Whole Home Mesh WiFi | TP-Link

Why I don't recommend Range Extenders

In the above referenced article, it briefly mentions range extenders. In my humble opinion, they suck... and if you do an internet search for "why range extenders suck" you will see I'm not alone.

Range extenders came about before Mesh Systems were invented to rectify the very problem that Mesh Systems solve in a much better way. The range extender connects to your existing Wi-Fi system and simply rebroadcasts is on a new Wi-Fi ID (SSID). If the range extender is too far away from your Wi-Fi system, you end up with the same problem. It doesn't magically hand off your connection to the best node like a mesh system does.

Just about the only time I'd recommend a range extender is if you have a stationary device that needs an internet connection, otherwise a Mesh System is always better.

A little something for the Gamers

If you're a gamer (video games) you don't care as much about speed as you do latency. Most games, unless you're streaming (so long Google Stadia) don't require a ton of bandwidth and the thing you care most about is the latency.

Mesh Wi-Fi systems exist for you: Best mesh WiFi for gamers: Kick latency to the curb in 2022 | Mashable

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