Having an internet connection is vital to almost everything we do today. Thanks to home automation, streaming services, and personal smart devices, it’s important to keep your entire home or workplace well-connected.
There are many options when it comes to emptying your environment of internet coverage. Mesh networks, Wi-Fi extenders, and access points are the three main options to consider for most people. We will explain the main differences and advantages of each technology.
Do you need a larger network?
Before assuming you need to spend money on new network equipment, there are probably many things you can do to improve the Wi-Fi coverage you already have. To try some of them, go to 10 ways to boost weak Wi-Fi signal and see if you can get a free boost from your existing setup.
Wi-Fi Extender: Can You Repeat That?
These devices are sold under various names, such as “extenders”, “repeaters” and “intensifiers”. As the name suggests, these devices take your existing Wi-Fi signal from the main router and repeat it. Repeaters are positioned at the edges of your existing Wi-Fi footprint. They intercept data packets going to and from your Wi-Fi router and then resend them at full signal strength.
These devices are generally simple to set up and work well for desktop computers, Wi-Fi printers, and smart TVs that don’t have to be moved around the house.
On the other hand, the processing time required to repeat the signal hurt bandwidth and latency. Typically, extenders provide half the bandwidth of your main router. So, if you need the maximum speed of your internet connection or are a competitive online gamer, a repeater is not the right solution for you.
Wi-Fi extenders often pop up as a separate network. In other words, you will be connected to the main router or extender. Unfortunately, devices like smartphones often don’t switch to other networks until you’re completely out of range of your current network. So you may have to manually switch networks to make sure you’re connected.
Who Should Use a Repeater?
The repeater is perfect for extending the range of general-purpose home Wi-Fi. These include browsing the web, streaming videos, downloading software, and other everyday tasks.
We cannot recommend them to medium or large businesses. However, they are a suitable solution for a small business that needs to extend Wi-Fi to (for example) cover an entire open-plan office.
Network: We are Borg. Resistance is futile.
The easiest way to explain mesh is to think of it as a hive-mind router. Instead of a single main router being extended outwards, a mesh network consists of many identical routing units. They all talk to each other as well as the devices connected to them. The result is essentially a giant distributed router.
Large companies have used mesh networking technology for decades, but it has only recently become cheap enough to break into the home market. This is the leading solution to extend the range of Wi-Fi usage.
Once properly installed and configured, mesh networking provides a seamless experience. No need to manually switch between networks as you move around your space.
Mesh routers have specialized hardware that allows them to talk to each other in addition to the devices they serve. So they perform much better than Wi-Fi repeaters in terms of bandwidth and latency.
Mesh network systems are much more expensive than other solutions. Although you can start with one or two units and then expand your network as the money comes in.
Mesh networking is more complicated to install and configure than other solutions. Some users may have to pay for professional installation services along with hardware costs.
Even so, modern networks geared towards home users are relatively user-friendly and automate much of the maintenance work. For example, you may not have to update the firmware on each individual grid unit.
Who should use the network?
Assuming that you can afford it, a network is the best solution for most people. Businesses of any size should consider networks, especially since they can be expanded as needed, allowing them to grow with the organization.
Home users who enjoy home automation and want constant mobility of smartphones throughout the home should strongly consider a mesh network.
Access Point: VIP Room Wi-Fi
An access point is a device that provides its own local Wi-Fi network, separate from the main router. It is connected to the main internet connection with an Ethernet cable, ensuring that it has access to plenty of low-latency internet bandwidth.
Hotspots allow you to service a specific room or area with a separate Wi-Fi network. Therefore, they do not suffer from the bandwidth reduction problem that Wi-Fi repeaters have.
Usually, depending on how the network is configured, devices connected to the access point cannot connect to devices on other Wi-Fi networks, even if they share the same internet connection. This is a desirable safety feature in many cases.
Some access points also support PoE (Power over Ethernet), so you only have to install an Ethernet cable and don’t have to worry about a nearby power outlet.
The most significant downside of access points is that you need to install Ethernet cabling. That means drilling holes in the wall and laying cables from the main internet connection point to the access points.
Devices connected to the access point cannot access devices on other Wi-Fi networks. So, for example, if you have Plex Server on your home network, guests using the access point cannot use it. As mentioned above, this can also be considered an advantage, depending on your needs.
Who Should Use an Access Point?
Hotspots are a great solution when you want to share an internet connection with multiple users. For example, let’s say you host an Airbnb and want to share a fiber optic connection with your guests. You would place an access point in the living room or apartment and connect it to the main router with an Ethernet cable.
The guest can then access the internet, and devices connected to the hotspot can talk to each other (such as home automation devices), but devices connected to the local network Your home is still safe. The access point approach is common in hotels or office buildings, where a fast internet connection is shared between tenants or guests.
Powerline Extenders: Best of all worlds?
The Powerline extender is an interesting solution that overcomes many of the selected disadvantages of the above methods. Powerline technology uses copper wiring in your home to carry Ethernet traffic.
The mains power line device connects to your internet device (for example, a fiber optic router) via Ethernet and then plugs into the wall. You then plug the extenders into an electrical outlet wherever you need an internet connection in your home.
Typically, power line extenders provide a wireless access point and Ethernet ports. This makes it easy to connect devices like smart TVs or consoles while also using a Wi-Fi device.
These devices provide a direct Ethernet connection anywhere you have a power outlet. You can connect all of your Ethernet-equipped devices, literally wiping out unnecessary Wi-Fi traffic.
Power line adapters do not require laying cables or drilling holes in the wall. Just plug in a few gadgets.
Wi-Fi hotspots work like a network. They all broadcast the same Wi-Fi network name and so there’s no need to manually switch networks when you’re on the go.
Some homes have isolated electrical circuits, which means that power line extenders in some rooms cannot talk to others. You will have to confirm this with anyone who has built a home or done electrical installation work.
Normally, Ethernet speeds are limited to 600Mbps at the moment. Gigabit Ethernet devices are available but cost more.
Who should use Powerline Extenders?
We think the Powerline extender is the most convenient and cost-effective solution for most people. They are simple to set up, easy to install, and provide the performance above most people’s needs.
For a full comparison and discussion, see Wi-Fi Extender vs Powerline Adapter – Which is Best?