What's the best home wifi option?
May 31, 2016 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm so sick of having bad wifi. I'm willing to pay for a good router, but I'm not sure what to get.

I live in a small apartment, but it's in a very densely populated neighborhood, and wifi just keeps getting worse. Right now, I'm using the standard wifi router provided by Xfinity. It works nominally better than the Airport Extreme and two Airport Expresses I was using before, but still not great. The signal is very good when you're sitting in the same room as the router, but worse and worse the further you get from it. There's one room in particular where it's very painfully slow, and I need to use that room for work. I've tried moving the router, moving to different wifi channels, etc., with very little difference.

If I were to spend a few hundred dollars on improving my wifi experience, what would I get? I've been reading some reviews lately of Eero--is it any good? The three-pack is definitely at the top end of what I'd be willing to pay, but I'll do it if it will fix the problem.

Other solutions we should be looking at? I've also been looking a little bit at powerline adapters, but even the high-end ones seem to get very mixed reviews, leading me to think that they're just not a very reliable technology.

Thanks a lot.
posted by roll truck roll to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

This review made me a believer in not buying shitty consumer wifi equipment any more. I bought the UniFi AP-AC-LR and attached it to my router and I'll never go back.
posted by Sternmeyer at 5:07 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I recently asked my network technician friend who rolls his own wifi routers what could I just buy off the peg that would work, and he recommended "one of the Ubiquiti models*". He says that he also used a wifi card from them when he made his home router.

For what it's worth, I use a powerline adapter in my current home office setup, and it's plenty fast for my needs. I think the mixed reviews come from people testing the difference between the claimed specs and actual specs, but I bought the second cheapest on sale at my local office supplies, and I can watch Netflix, upload big files for clients and do all my other stuff without a problem. The bottleneck is in the DSL part of the network anyway.
posted by kandinski at 5:09 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Whenever I have a product question like this, I always refer to The Wirecutter, and it never steers me wrong. (This page includes discussion of Eero.)
posted by ejs at 5:15 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

You don't mention which model router provided by Xfinity or which model of Airport Extreme, but moving to an AC router over an older N-only router could help with your congestion issues as many of the routers around you could be of the older sort.

Anecdotally, I've heard good things about Eero in the providing coverage for hard to cover places (lots of concrete walls or general interference), although, yeah, it's a bit expensive.
posted by bluecore at 5:17 PM on May 31, 2016

Are you changing channels blindly or did you scan the wifi bands to see what's empty? Are you using the crowded 2.4GHz space or are you using the more open 5GHz space?

I use an Android app called Wifi Analyzer to see what wireless networks are using what channels near me.

Since you have identified a problem region, perhaps instead of replacing your router (or in addition to that--Standard modems are often standard because they're cheap), can you perhaps add a router as an access point? The difference is one of configuration. The second router, located in or closer to your problem room, would be wired to the first one, radiate (on the same or different channel as dictated by the environment) the same network name and support the same password, but it's not allowed to issue addresses to connecting machines. Your first router will continue doing that job.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:26 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ya im nth-ing ubiquiti. Get the AP-pro and use 5gig. The range and the performance of the unifi is impressive as hell and 5gig is so much better. Dosnt penetrate as well(a good thing as it cuts down on spurious signals and wifi thieves) and is less crowded
posted by chasles at 6:15 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in a similar situation to you (large apartment building with lots of interference) and I bought the TP-Link router that is recommended in the Wirecutter link, and it has definitely been one of my better hundred-dollar purchases in the last few years.
posted by firechicago at 6:55 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

nthing Ubiquiti, which is solid out of the box, though more advanced network tweaking is... more advanced. Their AmpliFi range looks like it's a serious bid for the prosumer market and a challenge to Eero, offering an out-of-the-box mesh network, though we won't know if it delivers on the pretty pictures until it's released this summer.
posted by holgate at 8:14 PM on May 31, 2016

Apple's Airport and AirPort Extreme boxes just got pulled from the stores, so either Apple is getting out of that business due to new FCC rules or new Apple hardware is on the way finally. I would generally recommend their wifi hardware as it is rock solid, and is easy to setup, but it has not been revved in 3 years.
posted by w0mbat at 9:10 PM on May 31, 2016

I'm considering the R7000 and custom install tomato onto it. My current 2.4/5Ghz router uses this and it allows you to tinker a bit more than stock firmware (for example setting up global VPN with exceptions, as well as increasing the signal strength), and the R7000 is supposedly compatible and capable.
posted by monocultured at 5:15 AM on June 1, 2016

Sunburnt has it: before buying new gear. Manually find the least busy space between channels on BOTH 2.4 and 5GHz and try setting your wifi channel to each of those. If that still doesn't work then look for new routers. Also make sure you have your wireless functions set up to screen interference.
posted by lalochezia at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2016

Ubiquiti gear just had a rather nasty vulnerability...but then don't they al these days? *wince*

I have an Asus RT-56U (or 65?) that works fine. You're more likely to be hitting a full channel, though, as had been recommended.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:08 AM on June 1, 2016

I'm using the standard wifi router provided by Xfinity.

This is your problem, not the airport. Get a new modem, like a basic motorola surfboard or arris that is JUST A MODEM. No wifi router, nothing else. I have this and i freaking love it. You want the modem equivalent of one of those old bell desk phones, just. a. modem.

My mom has a nice router and the xfinity default modem router combo junk thing. It works like ASS. The same router with my modem works like a dream. I swear it's usually not a signal issue per se: those comcast/xfinity modems will not turn off their fucking wifi so comcast can spew out their "customer network"(the one called "xfinity wifi") and it clogs up bandwidth. Also they just work like crap.

The problem is not your router, i promise you. Replace just the modem with a really basic one before you try anything else. If you do that and it still works like junk, then buy a cheapo basic wired router and a couple of unifi LRs

By the way, my recommendation would be either ubiquiti unifi or the airport extreme you probably have. I went to school for network engineering, and i'm in IT admin for a big office that uses unifis right now and manage them.
posted by emptythought at 9:43 AM on June 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I had dozens of 2.4 networks visible at my current place, and concrete walls, which made for a pretty terrible experience. I wound up disabling the wifi on my ISP-provided combo box and plugging an Asus RT-AC56U into it, and switching over to 5GHz.

Definitely try a wifi analyser, just to see if you can use a different channel, before you go out and drop $100 on a new router.
posted by Kreiger at 10:14 AM on June 1, 2016

On the matter of channels, you'll see in the 2.4GHz band that most everyone is on channels 1, 6, and 13. (14 if you're outside of North America, but you seem to live inside.) You'll be tempted to shoot for channels 3-4 or 10-11. That's not a good idea-- you'll get more interference, whereas sticking to the (least trafficked when possible but) same 3 channels, 1,6,13, the signals will interfere with each other the least, and enjoy the most efficient sharing of the channel as possible.

Supposing each of those three channels was shared by 10 existing networks in addition to yours, the option is to pick one of the three channels and share with 10, or shoot for an in-between and get interfered-with by 20. It so happens that there are 13 distinct channels (+1 outside NA), your actual signal is about 3-4 channels wide, as is everyone else's, which is why it's better to do the counter-intuitive thing and go for the designated channel rather than an open channel. Of those three, though, you should pick the least crowded in terms of numbers of other networks, then in terms of power. Even a powerful router has to share the airwaves.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:35 PM on June 1, 2016

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