Home Networking Question
December 13, 2018 7:37 AM   Subscribe

How do I figure out what is the best wifi solution for my home? I needed to upgrade my internet service, so the cable company just installed a combo cable modem/router. I already have a router. So now I have two wifi signals. I am trying to figure out how to determine which one has better speed and coverage in my home so that I can know if it makes sense to disconnect my old router. I am also willing to upgrade to a mesh network if necessary.

A little more detail. I use Suddenlink and was on 100MB service. That service had a data usage cap. I needed to upgrade to 400MB service to get rid of the data cap. However, that meant I needed a new modem. I decided to use one of their modems b/c it is included with a bundle and I needed one that supports my home phone service (I have my parents living with me and they want a wired home phone).

The new Suddenlink modem is a combo unit that has a router. So after installation, the guy told me that I now have two wifi networks. My house is a good size so sometimes wifi has been spotty in some parts of the house (especially my parents side). We also have one of these which I think is supposed to boost the signal.

So I guess what I am asking are a series of related questions.
1) How do I determine the wifi speed of the different networks?
2) How do I determine the coverage of the different networks?
3) Does it make sense to have two wifi networks in the house? (For instance, should I have some family members on one, and other on the other).
4) Would the answers to the above questions help me know if I should upgrade to some kind of mesh network system?
posted by bove to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just go with the router the internet company gave you and use a repeater in the other side of the house.
posted by k8t at 7:50 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having two wireless networks is unlikely to offer any advantages in a home setting and could mess things up if they're not configured properly (if, for example, both the old router and the new router are set up as DHCP servers).

k8t is probably right that you almost certainly want to unplug your old wireless router and use the one that's integrated with the cable modem. However, here are some options in increasing order of complexity:

1. Unplug your old router, put it in a drawer and forget about it, and use the repeater for the other side of your house (assuming that's what your link is supposed to point to; the link is broken for me). This should probably be your default option and is likely to be the best/simplest.

2. Turn off the actual routing on the cable company's box, just use it as a modem, and use your old router as a wireless access point/router. This will take a little doing and you probably only want to do it if your old router is better in some way (faster, more configurable, more wired ports that you're using).

3. Unplug the old router and figure out if you can use it as a range/extender or access point. This may involve installing some kind of third party firmware (e.g. DD-WRT or tomato), running a wired cable (or Powerline adapters) from your new router to the place you want to install your old router (now access point), and configuring everything.

#3 is what I do. It's very solid, but it involves some doing. If you're not the type of person who likes to fuss with things, just do #1 and be done with it.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:30 AM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

"turning off the router on your cable company's box" is usually called bridge or bridged mode. You may need those magic words and a call to the cable company to get them to switch the mode from their end (they lock down a lot of administrative capabilities on the modem/routers they send out). This is what I would do if you liked how your wireless network existed before; putting the router in bridged mode means the in-house network works exactly the same as it used to (once it's configured to talk to the new modem), the only difference is the point where the internet connects to your house.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:26 AM on December 13, 2018

I was trying to link to this picture. (I hope that link works better). It is a picture of a round thing that I think is a wifi extender. My house is a two-story house, with a separate house/wing for my parents. I believe that this wifi broadcaster is what helps get service all the way to their place. (They do have ethernet ports in the walls too, but my dad uses his iPad a lot).

As of now, I am leaning towards going with option #1. Even that is a little more complicated than it looks b/c the wiring box in my house is overstuffed, so even figuring out what to unplug will be complicated (I have got stuff for my solar panels, and a big switch for all of my wired ethernet ports, etc.)
posted by bove at 9:51 AM on December 13, 2018

Take your old router: set it into bridge mode; set it and the new modem to the same SSID; and plug it into an Ethernet port at the opposite end of the house from the new modem/router.

It's always better to use wired ethernet when it is available, because wifi devices all compete for available air-time.
posted by monotreme at 1:51 PM on December 13, 2018

Your best bet would be to use the cable company's router and set up a separate wired AP on a different channel in your parents' wing. You should be able to make your old router into a plain AP if you're at all technically inclined.

If you wanted to go super fancy, you'd get the cable company equipment set up as only a router (disabling the wifi on it entirely) and use a couple of wired UniFi APs with the same SSID to provide seamless roaming. Most mobile devices will be just as happy with the two SSID method, though, so you don't have to spend extra money.
posted by wierdo at 1:53 PM on December 13, 2018

To answer some of your questions, you can use something like WiFi Explorer or NetSpot (or others) to map out signal strength. WiFi site surveys are a little tedious (take a reading, move a bit, take a reading, move a bit, repeat) but you only have to do them once or twice (before and after, really).

FWIW that round thing on the wall is exactly a UniFi access point. It does not have any routing capability. If you had a couple of those you could cover just about any house.

In decreasing order of speed and reliability networks generally go: wired; wireless with wired backhaul (such as that AP); wireless with dedicated wireless backhaul (you'd know if you had it, because that's part of the sales pitch); wireless repeaters and mesh networks without dedicated backhaul; and, last and least, a single, high-powered wireless access point or router. Conveniently, those are also listed in decreasing order of the difficulty of installation. It's a pain to run ethernet everywhere; it's less of a pain to run ethernet only to a couple access points; it's no pain at all to install repeaters or mesh access points wherever you can drop them. Mesh networks are a bit more clever about how they distribute signal using available bandwidth than old school repeaters were, but the basic idea is still the same: there's a base node and one or more other devices that connect to that node wirelessly and then retransmit a fresh signal. The advantage of a mesh network is that it's pretty good and very easy – the best mesh networks make "good enough" cost about $300 (or maybe less, if there's a sale). Wireless speeds and latency might not quite be as good as a well designed network with wired backhaul, but they're probably good enough for most purposes.

If you want to segment your house into two distinct wireless networks (one for you and one for your parents) then sure, you can keep that one UniFi access point and use two different network IDs (called an "SSID" in the parlance). Have one for your parents, and one configured on your new router. If you want one big wireless network that "just works" anywhere in the house, you could get a second UniFi access point and configure both of them as part of the same network (with the same SSID). There's some optimization that can happen if you have multiple UniFi access points, but if you knew you needed that and knew how to manage it you wouldn't be asking here. It's probably safe to ignore that capability.

I really like UniFi gear (I bought it for an office a couple jobs ago, and have it at home) and if you're already comfortable managing the access point you've got, adding another node wouldn't be exponentially more difficult (you open the management interface and "adopt" the new hardware, and you can stop right there). It would be faster than a mesh network in most cases thanks to the wired backhaul, but the installation does require more work. If you really want to jump to a mesh network because it's new and shiny, then sure, do that. But your UniFi AP doesn't need upgrading. The new router from your ISP may be pretty good, or it may be kind of crappy. Do a survey to figure out the answer to that, then go from there.
posted by fedward at 9:27 AM on December 15, 2018

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