What’s the prob­lem with tra­di­tional range ex­ten­ders?

HWM (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

Range ex­ten­ders are rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive and can be ef­fec­tive in the right sit­u­a­tions. How­ever, they greatly com­pro­mise per­for­mance. That’s be­cause range ex­ten­ders are re­ally only sig­nal boost­ers. They work by am­pli­fy­ing an ex­ist­ing Wi-Fi sig­nal. And if your Wi-Fi sig­nal is al­ready weak to be­gin with, what good is am­pli­fy­ing that sig­nal?

To make mat­ters worse, be­cause range ex­ten­ders can typ­i­cally only trans­mit and re­ceive data one at a time and not si­mul­ta­ne­ously, band­width is usu­ally re­duced by at least half. This, cou­pled with the al­ready weak sig­nal in the first place, is the main rea­son why users of­ten com­plain of range ex­ten­ders be­ing slow.

Range ex­ten­ders are also clumsy to use be­cause they broad­cast a sep­a­rate net­work of their own, of­ten also us­ing an­other SSID. This means users might need to man­u­ally tog­gle be­tween net­works when mov­ing around their homes to en­sure they get the best con­nec­tion.

An­other dis­ad­van­tage of range ex­ten­ders is that they only ex­pand the net­work in a sin­gle di­rec­tion. In other

words, you can­not add a range ex­ten­der on top of an­other range ex­ten­der to fur­ther ex­tend the net­work. This lim­its the ex­tent to which range ex­ten­ders can in­crease Wi-Fi cov­er­age.

how are mesh net­works bet­ter?

Mesh net­works, on the other hand, are far more so­phis­ti­cated - which also ex­plains their higher costs. Rather than sim­ply am­plify or boost a sig­nal, a mesh net­work­ing kit of­ten con­sists of two or more routers or nodes. One of the nodes will usu­ally be con­nected to your ex­ist­ing router or mo­dem and will broad­cast WiFi like any other router. Wi-Fi cov­er­age can then be ex­panded sim­ply by adding more nodes to the net­work. Each node broad­casts its own Wi-Fi sig­nal, which in­creases over­all Wi-Fi cov­er­age. Data can then be trans­mit­ted through these nodes to reach your client de­vices.

An im­por­tant thing to note about these mesh net­works is the un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ple in which they op­er­ate. Un­like range ex­ten­ders, these nodes com­mu­ni­cate with each other us­ing Wi-Fi, which makes them con­sid­er­ably speed­ier. Some mesh net­work­ing kits even have a ded­i­cated net­work that is used solely for re­lay­ing data to and from each node and this can boost per­for­mance even fur­ther.

Mesh net­work­ing sys­tems are also more flex­i­ble when it comes to ex­pand­ing Wi-Fi cov­er­age. Un­like range ex­ten­ders which can only ex­pand Wi-Fi cov­er­age in one di­rec­tion, there’s prac­ti­cally no limit to how you can ex­pand Wi-Fi cov­er­age with mesh net­work­ing sys­tems. In fact, you can even daisy-chain nodes to ex­pand or bring Wi-Fi cov­er­age to an area far away from your mo­dem. This flex­i­bil­ity is of­ten very use­ful for large homes or homes with odd lay­outs.

Take the home above, for ex­am­ple. Let’s as­sume the ter­mi­na­tion point and op­ti­cal mo­dem (ONT) is lo­cated at the ex­treme left of the house, near the entrance. There­fore, this is also where you would in­stall your router. The prob­lem with such a setup is that the router ends up be­ing very far away from the rooms that are on the ex­treme left, which re­sults in Wi-Fi dead spots in your bed­rooms.

The tra­di­tional work­around is to put a range ex­ten­der some­where in the mid­dle, but as we dis­cov­ered ear­lier, range ex­ten­ders are not very good at ex­pand­ing Wi-Fi cov­er­age mainly be­cause of their un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance. And even with a range ex­ten­der in the mid­dle, the ex­ten­der might not nec­es­sar­ily be able to pro­vide Wi-Fi un­til the ex­treme ends of the home.

How­ever, be­cause of the unique way in which mesh net­work­ing sys­tems work, it is pos­si­ble to daisy-chain mesh net­work­ing nodes to ex­pand Wi-Fi cov­er­age to ar­eas that are far away from the router. In this case, Wi-Fi cov­er­age can be spread across the home by con­nect­ing the first node to your op­ti­cal mo­dem and then an­other node near the mid­dle and then an­other one at the ex­treme end. This en­sures the home is suf­fi­ciently blan­keted by Wi-Fi cov­er­age.

Be­cause of its unique daisy-chain­ing abil­ity, mesh net­work­ing sys­tems can be much more flex­i­ble in their setup, which makes them es­pe­cially use­ful in large and mul­ti­story homes.

Per­for­mance and flex­i­bil­ity aside, mesh net­works are also more con­ve­nient to use as they typ­i­cally broad­cast only a sin­gle SSID and will au­to­mat­i­cally keep de­vices con­nected to the node that pro­vides the strong­est con­nec­tion. This al­lows users to roam freely about the house and not worry about switch­ing net­works or los­ing con­nec­tion. And by us­ing com­plex al­go­rithms, the mesh net­work will au­to­mat­i­cally route data across the var­i­ous nodes to client de­vices re­gard­less of their po­si­tion in the net­work.

Most im­por­tant of all, mesh net­work­ing works and pro­vides per­for­mance that eas­ily trumps that of tra­di­tional range ex­ten­ders. In our own tests, we found that mesh net­work­ing sys­tems can ef­fec­tively ex­pand Wi-Fi cov­er­age and pro­vide

cov­er­age to ar­eas of the home where there was pre­vi­ously no Wi-Fi. In ad­di­tion, we also found that they are sig­nif­i­cantly faster than tra­di­tional range ex­ten­ders - by as much as over 1,000 per­cent de­pend­ing on con­di­tions. So if you have Wi-Fi woes at home, a Wi-Fi mesh net­work­ing sys­tem can prob­a­bly help.

True mesh net­work­ing vs. false mesh net­work­ing

When shop­ping for a mesh net­work­ing sys­tem, it pays to do some re­search be­cause some sys­tems that are ad­ver­tised as mesh net­works don’t ac­tu­ally be­have like true mesh net­work­ing sys­tems.

The big­gest of­fender of this is the Net­gear Orbi. The com­pany has since changed its ad­ver­tis­ing ma­te­ri­als, but when it was re­leased, the Orbi was ad­ver­tised as a mesh net­work­ing unit, ex­cept it is not. In ac­tu­al­ity, the Orbi is ac­tu­ally more like a hy­brid de­vice.

Un­like true mesh net­work­ing units, you can­not daisy-chain Orbi nodes. In fact, every Orbi node, or satel­lite as Net­gear calls it, can only com­mu­ni­cate with the Orbi router. In this case, it works like a tra­di­tional range ex­ten­der.

How­ever, un­like range ex­ten­ders, the Orbi re­lies on a sin­gle ded­i­cated 5GHz net­work for communications be­tween the node and router. This en­sures faster trans­mis­sion of data be­tween the router and the node. In ad­di­tion, the Orbi and its nodes also broad­cast a sin­gle SSID and users are au­to­mat­i­cally routed to the router or satel­lite that is broad­cast­ing the strong­est sig­nal.

In sum­mary, true mesh net­work­ing sys­tems have nodes that com­mu­ni­cate with each other, and it is this fea­ture that gives them their flex­i­bil­ity and al­lows them to cre­ate Wi-Fi cov­er­age that spans large ar­eas.

Range ex­ten­ders are only able to ex­pand cov­er­age in a sin­gle di­rec­tion, which makes them ill-suited for larger homes.

Mesh net­works very more flex­i­ble in their place­ment and can spread Wi-Fi cov­er­age over a larger area.

For mul­ti­story homes, only mesh net­work­ing sys­tems will suf­fice. Range ex­ten­ders sim­ply do not have the flex­i­bil­ity nor abil­ity to ex­pand Wi-Fi cov­er­age over such a large area.

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