Router booster / amplification recommendations?
December 20, 2016 8:43 AM   Subscribe

I live in a 4 story rowhouse that is currently using a single wifi router - signal strength is strong in the front rooms of the house, but weak in the back, and we'e hoping to find something that will boost it enough to be serviceable. What do you recommend, hivemind?

My apologies if this is overly simplistic - we're kind of banging rocks together here as far as technical know-how.
posted by ryanshepard to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The current in-vogue solution for this is mesh networking, which basically will let you cover your house with as many access points as you want. "Google Wifi", Eero, Amplifi, and Plume are some product names to look at.

The other solutions are to use powerline networking or run an ethernet cable to another spot and put another access point there.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 8:48 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

My house is wired for ethernet, so at the other end of the house I use a cheap wifi extender, connected to the network via ethernet, with NAT and DHCP turned off so that all devices get their IP addresses from the main router (to avoid conflicts). It can work purely as a wifi range extender, too, if you don't have ethernet at that end of the house. The cheaper you go, the more likely you'll have to power cycle it if it gets tempermental, but I've tried more expensive ones that are just as bad.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wifi range extenders are the easiest. I got a few for cheap from ebay. The downside is that you get 1/2 the bandwidth for devices that connect to them. A solution like AzraelBrown's will work for something like this so it depends on how you fall out along the "Needs to be as simple as possible" and "Needs to work as well as possible" continuum
posted by jessamyn at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2016

I've had really good success with the Eero system in our house. Easy setup and works. I tried a powerline extender as well but that never really worked well. The Eero is also much easier to setup then additional access points.

Its a bit pricey as it comes with 3 access points but solved our issues in a 2 story house with finished basement. You can also easily add a fourth access point, put one on each floor and you should be golden.

The Netgear Orbi is more highly recommended and a bit cheaper according to the Wirecutter the Orbi is their first choice Eero is the more expensive runner up.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2016

The Wifi extender recommended here was incredibly easy to install and works well for us. At around $100, it's a bit more than the ones AzraelBrown linked to, so if you're on a budget, you could try a $30 model first.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2016

Take a look at the Article I linked to about the Mesh systems on the Wirecutter. They do a good job outlining the pros and cons of a Mesh system vs a wifi extender like the one in Mr. Know-it-some's link. TLDR - Pro: Mesh systems will solve your problem. Cons: Expensive.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2016

You have, basically, two options: do it wired or do it wirelessly.

Wired: The only downside to this option is having to actually run a wire. If it's easy for you to do that, then it's the easiest option, probably. If running a new wire is hard, you can also use something like the Powerline adapters that thewumpusisdead mentions above, which use your home electrical wiring as the network wires. My experience with Powerline adapters is distinctly bimodal: it's either the best thing ever or a total waste of money. Until you know how your house is wired for power, it's basically impossible to know for sure, so get them from a place with a forgiving return policy. Once you have a wired connection (either through the Powerline adapters or a proper ethernet cord), you can get a second router capable of serving as an access point (one compatible with an open firmware like DD-WRT or Open-WRT is a good option) and connect that to a network port of your existing router.

Wireless: This solves the only downside to the wired option; you don't need to run a wire. Unfortunately, it can open up a whole host of other problems. The home-based DIY version of this can be OK, but it can also fail in unexpected ways and is hard to set up. In the last year or so, there have been systems that work "out of the box" (the Orbi and Eero mentioned above are examples of this). Those tend to be more stable/robust than the DIY options, but you pay for that convenience.

Based on your professed level of technical knowledge, I'd get one of the mesh networks that work out of the box, if your budget allows. It will be the easiest option that will get you what you want. If you have a moderately geeky friend who might be able to set you up with an ethernet cord and/or powerline adapters, that would be a cheaper (and, probably, more robust) option.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:32 AM on December 20, 2016

If you go wired, consider actually stringing a wire. We found that for more than two network drops in our house, it was cheaper to just hire an electrician to put them in than to buy things like the powerline networking systems. They're incredibly reliable too, and unlike powerline systems which can actually expose your network over the power connection into your house, have no concern for security either.
posted by bonehead at 10:32 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Before spending any money I would check the config of your existing router. If you don't know how to do this, let us know the make and model. Look for a couple of settings - Mode and Power.

Mode may be set to a combination of B, G, N, or AC. If you can set it to AC only and everyone's devices still work you'll get more range and better speed. If there are a few older devices on your network though, they may not support AC. In that case at least try to get it on N only. B and G are seriously out of date and continuing to use them will hamstring the rest of a network.

Power is the transmit power of your antenna. Many ISPs send their router with this down at 60 r 70. Set it to 100.

You may also want to see if there's a setting that lets you change the channel. If there are lots of other wireless routers in your area you can experiment with moving to another channel and see if you have it all to yourself. Some routers offer a scan that will tell you which channels are less crowded.
posted by IanMorr at 1:04 PM on December 20, 2016

Never ever do mesh unless the alternative is no network connectivity at all. Mesh increases latency. Latency is death.

Pull wires. Put up high-gain antennae. Bump up your TX power. Anything, anything but more hops.
posted by sourcequench at 7:12 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Betelgeuse's answer is pretty much my answer as well. We're in a c. 1914 rowhouse, two stories plus basement, and had weird coverage issues with two access points*. I ran cable and put in three new access points** two weeks ago, and if this is a thing you can do (or can pay somebody to do) it is A+ 100% awesome. Actually, only like 96% awesome due to the way Macs handle wifi roaming***, but that's not the access points' fault.

* One in the basement in the front of the house where the router was, one in the back bedroom upstairs.

** One on every ceiling, right next to the stairs.

*** In short: they don't. Macs have a very low roaming threshold, meaning that if I carry my MacBook Pro from the desk upstairs to the TV room in the basement, it will probably stay connected to the weaker signal from two floors up instead of reconnecting to the access point within line of sight. Turning wifi off and on again will resolve that, so it's just a minor annoyance and not a huge problem though.

I haven't tried the Orbi recommended by the Wirecutter but it does seem the best sort of least effort solution. You put one by the router/modem, and one "in the middle of the house", and the two of them just take care of things. FWIW the same reviewer checked out Google Wifi and Plume for Ars Technica****, but in the comments he still mostly seems to recommend Orbi. Plume has the lowest per-unit cost if you really need to put one in every room, but he seems to think in most cases the Orbi will cover the same area with just two devices.

**** Also the Amplifi HD, but his comments on its design and practicality are … not favorable.
posted by fedward at 11:20 AM on December 21, 2016

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