How to fix your Wi-Fi dead spots with a mesh network

by Peter Griffin / 09 October, 2017

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Mesh networks are an easy, speedy way of plugging Wi-Fi gaps.

Wi-Fi dead spots are the bane of our digital lives. Being offline is bad enough, but what’s worse is not being sure whether you are connected to the internet as your web page fails to load or the buffering symbol pops up in the middle of a YouTube video.

Despite living in an 80sq m apartment, I’ve been plagued by Wi-Fi dead spots. I blame the concrete and steel lift shaft that backs on to one wall for blocking my wireless router’s signal.

To solve the problem, I first turned to a fancier dual-band router, which helped a bit, then a Wi-Fi extender, which finally supplied a reliable wireless signal to the smart TV in the lounge.

But wireless extenders generally use the same frequency to both receive and send signals, which cuts network capacity by half. I also kept having to re-sync the extender with the router.

But my latest solution seems like a keeper: a wireless mesh network of three small devices throughout the apartment that eliminates the dead zones once and for all.

Mesh networks aren’t new but have only recently hit the sweet spot of easy installation and high-performance that allows them to go mainstream. The new Google Wifi system exemplifies what is possible with mesh networking.

It took me less than 30 minutes to set up a wireless network with the Google Wifi gadget and smartphone app. One “Wi-Fi point” sits on top of my expensive and now over-engineered router, which remains a key part of the network. Two other points are in the lounge and master bedroom.

The Google devices connect wirelessly to each other to create a network that links laptops, phones and other devices to the point where the signal is strongest. As you move around, your devices uninterruptedly switch from point to point, just like cellphone roaming.

 All the Wi-Fi points need is power, though they also have ethernet ports so you can plug into wired broadband jacks if you’ve been smart enough to install them around the house.

The smart stuff happens behind the scenes with the software that manages the network load and switches between bands (5GHz or 2.4GHz) as necessary.

Feast of bandwidth: three Google Wifi points are claimed to cover 1200sq m.

Feast of bandwidth: three Google Wifi points are claimed to cover 1200sq m.

The app lets you easily set up a guest network for visitors, and with a single tap, you can “pause” the network – a simple way to give everyone some internet-free time. I have up to eight devices running on Wi-Fi at a time and haven’t had a drop out on Google Wifi in two weeks. Speed tests show I’m getting 99 megabits a second across the network.

Google claims a three-Wi-Fi-point set-up should give up to 1200sq m of coverage – palatial by my standards, and just the thing to end interruptions to your googling and the king of search’s stream of online ad revenue.

Wireless mesh networks

These are the best ways to fill in Wi-Fi dead spots caused by structural elements of your home and distance from your router.

  • Wi-Fi points send data along the most efficient path.
  • Wireless coverage is extended without sacrificing bandwidth.
  • Individual points share the same network ID and password.
  • The network stays up if a Wi-Fi point fails.

Mesh devices are sold by Asus, Google, Linksys, Netgear and others for $500-700.

Price: Google Wifi $599 (three points); $229 (one point).

This article was first published in the August 26, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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