How’s the WiFi at your home or office? Is it stable, easy to use, and reliable? Do you get coverage all over, or are there dead zones? Have you tried to solve your coverage problem by installing repeaters? If you’re like me, you might end up with a complex network of 4-5 local WiFi networks, including repeaters and various frequencies. Some have better signals than others. You have to manually swap networks to get on the one with the best coverage for your couch or desk because the one you were connected to in the kitchen doesn’t have signal there. Your devices are always connected to the wrong network. Everybody is constantly losing signal.
Would you like to have more control over who has access to your network and when? Do you want to be able to block traffic, or even certain devices? Do you want to separate your guest network from your internal network?
What is the problem?
A single traditional WiFi router is soon to be a thing of the past. These WiFi routers work well as long as you’re nearby. Obstacles such as multiple floors and multiple rooms quickly disrupt strong signal. Also they aren’t very well made, and it’s been my experience that I was buying a new router every 18 months, no matter how much I spent. I’ve purchased both residential and business class equipment over the years.
First, a bit of a lesson in the technology. A router tells traffic on your network what to do. It helps you get out to the internet, and it helps bring your requests back to you. WiFi on the other hand, is just a way to wirelessly connect to your network. They serve two different purposes. The router is a necessity. Without it, you won’t have internet access. Without WiFi, you’d just need a network cable.
The other problem is that your internet equipment is not necessarily located where you want your WiFi signal to be coming from. Your modem may be in the basement, but you spend most of your time on the third floor. In an office, your WiFi router might be sitting in your computer closet, but the conference room is way on the other side of the building.
What can you do about it?
The modern solution to all your WiFi problems is the “access point.” An access point is like a WiFi router that you’re familiar with, in that it does provide you with a WiFi signal. But the way it works is very different. First, there is no router component. The access point does one thing: it provides WiFi.
Secondly, there is no need for repeaters and their “extended” networks. If you have a hole in your coverage area, you simply add another access point. In practice, your devices will connect seamlessly to the nearest access point with the strongest signal, even as you move around your coverage area.
You can have as many access points as you need, and they all work together to bring you a seamless WiFi network with full coverage everywhere you need it. That makes everybody happy. Access points can either be wired in to your router, or they can act as wireless repeaters if you can’t run a wire. Either way, it’s seamless.
Before we installed access points in our house, it seemed like every device was connected to a different network (SSID). Even static devices were constantly losing signal. The children were frustrated. We were frustrated. The signal was spotty and would fade in and out. And our latest WiFi router had cost almost $400 and was supposed to be the very best.
After installing two access points, we have full coverage, from our basement to the top floor. Signal is always strong. Devices are always connected. We actually have continuous coverage throughout our 4.5 acres!
What’s the catch?
The catch is that you still need a router. At first, I disabled WiFi on our old WiFi router, but even that wasn’t terribly reliable. We finally installed a router that was designed only as a router, and our network has been remarkably stable ever since.
Are there other benefits?
Besides having a much more reliable and robust WiFi network, there are plenty of other things to get excited about. You are already familiar with access points, whether you know it or not. Any time you stay at a hotel and use their WiFi, you are using an access point. That’s how you’re on the same WiFi network in your room, by the pool, in the lobby, or in the dining room.
Most access points come with software to manage your WiFi network. This software is much more robust than the settings you normally have on a regular WiFi router because access points are designed to scale to enterprises.
You can create multiple SSIDs, including a public/guest network that is completely isolated from your internal network, along with further restrictions. You can add time restrictions and issue coupons or login codes, or even charge for access! Additionally, you may create an availability schedule, and in many cases, block devices from your network entirely.
What do you need to get started?
The list of new hardware you need is quite short: a wired router and however many access points you want.
I went with a Ubiquiti EdgeMax EdgeRouter Lite. The downside to this router is that it requires some knowledge because it does not come with a configuration installed. The upside is that it’s cheap and powerful. There are plenty of other wired routers on the market to choose from.
For access points, we recommend the Open-Mesh MR1750 for very good coverage. We currently use two of those and they cover almost 5 acres. Each access point can support over 100 devices.
But this technology is about to go mainstream, as Google recently jumped in with their Google WiFi product, which promises to be a game changer in the home access point market.
Whether at home or at your office, converting your traditional WiFi model to utilizing access points is the best way to ease your WiFi pain. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us!