If you live in 2018 and are somewhat connected, chances are your home has one or more PCs (laptops, if you are representative of the majority of users), one or two smartphones, an IPTV box, a tablet, or even a voice home assistant. Equipment that generally connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi and can easily be moved from one room to another or, failing that, spread throughout your home.
This implies, however, that your Wi-Fi network is up to the task in terms of speed and coverage. We have already given you some generic advice on how to best plan your wireless network. Now it’s time to get down to business and help you choose the best equipment for your home.
There are two main issues when it comes to Wi-Fi: the surface area covered and the data rates obtained. That’s why we have imagined several scenarios based on the surface area in order to advise you the best solution.
From 0 to 30m2
The smaller the surface area, the easier it is to cover it completely without too much effort. Nevertheless the question of flow rates is not necessarily settled. One may be tempted to rely only on the Wi-Fi of one’s box when one occupies a small apartment. However, even in this case, we can only advise those who wish to benefit from a good wireless network to opt for a dedicated router.
Once the Wi-Fi of the box is deactivated, you can install an 802.11n or better ac router, dual band. You can find good models starting at 60 euros.
To make life easier, if you want to bring together your wired computers and your Wi-Fi devices on the same network, make sure that the router offers enough Ethernet ports in addition to its Wi-Fi connection.
For this type of choice:
NB: these three scores are indicative of an overall trend for the different solutions discussed.
Between 30 and 50m2
Depending on the layout of your home, a 50m2 surface area may pose a problem for a single router. In this case, several solutions are possible to extend the range of the Wi-Fi network of your box or router.
The repeater solution
The simplest is to invest in a repeater. There is a wide variety of models at prices ranging from 50 to 180 euros. It is difficult to review them all, of course. However, here are a few things to keep in mind before buying:
- The compact models are practical because they take up little space and are discreet. However, they suffer from one major flaw: their antennas. In most cases, a small housing means small integrated antennas, so reception and transmission quality is not as good. We’re not telling you to buy boxes as big as a truck, but be aware that compactness can have an impact on the speed and coverage of your Wi-Fi network.
- Wall-mounted Wi-Fi repeaters are among the most economical (and therefore most tempting) models. They attach directly to the electrical outlet. Apart from “condemning” an outlet, this limits the locations where they can be placed. The outlet is not necessarily placed in the best location to provide optimal Wi-Fi coverage. In addition to these small defects, wall-mounted models are also often compact, which adds to the disadvantages.
The PLC + Wi-Fi solution
Sometimes, when it seems that the Wi-Fi network does not reach far enough to use a conventional repeater, the temptation may be strong to use power line communication, or PLC.
Of course, there are exceptions, but we do not recommend it if you are looking for a good throughput. Even if the PLC can nevertheless be used to offer a sufficient flow to surf quietly.
1/ the quality of the flows of the PLC depends much on the quality of your electric installation. If this one is a bit old or the meeting of several networks, it could be problematic.
2/ PLC boxes often condemn an electrical socket, except if they are equipped with a “female” socket
3/ they are compact and therefore embark antennas at best passable.
Between 50 and 100m2… on several possible levels
When the surface of your home starts to be really important, two cases arise. The first, you are looking to have a cover in only a few rooms. The second, you want to establish the most complete coverage to be connected to the Internet everywhere.
Before going further, it is obvious that it is possible to mix the solutions listed above with a multiplication of routers/access points. Nevertheless, we try to propose coherent, efficient and simple solutions.
The best is, when it is possible, to have an installation with the recent standards which allows to “cross” Ethernet ports from a panel often placed near the electrical panel. In this case, the Internet connection goes from the box to the different Wi-Fi routers thanks to Ethernet cables. The question of coverage and speed is solved.
However, in most cases, your apartment or house does not offer this ideal situation.
The two-network solution
If your box is well placed, one of the first possible solutions is to use two individual routers. A solution that has two obvious advantages but some drawbacks. The first advantage is that it is possible to recycle a router (keeping in mind that its performance will not necessarily be at its best). The second, corollary of the first: you will save money.
But, from the point of view of simplicity of use or configuration and even in terms of performance, this solution has its limits and proves to be restrictive even if you make sure that the second router extends the coverage of the first.
There can be problems of IP address conflicts in the worst case and if you use two networks, you will have to systematically connect your machines to one or the other… We would tend not to recommend this solution, which has had its day.
The Wi-Fi bridge solution
If you are not a Net addict and only want to connect in your office and your living room, for example, but these rooms are widely separated, a good solution is to use a Wi-Fi bridge.
The principle is simple. The Wi-Fi bridge usually consists of two elements. One is wired to the box and emits a strong Wi-Fi signal to be received by a second box. It will then distribute the connection either in Wi-Fi or in Ethernet to the devices that need Internet access.
Depending on the devices, the first module can also emit a Wi-Fi network locally. This makes it possible, for example, to do without the Wi-Fi of your box and to have, in the best case, only one SSID to manage on a daily basis.
These solutions can offer very good speeds, for example, to connect a TV to the local network and to the Internet, in order to stream video content.
Beware, however, that they are generally very sensitive to obstacles. Try to maintain as clear a line of sight as possible between the two modules, even though in theory a Wi-Fi bridge can cross a few walls or a floor.
The mesh network solution
This is the latest incarnation ofeasy-to-install, easy-to-use and ubiquitous Wi-Fi. Mesh networks provide the most seamless network experience available. They rely on multiple routers that connect to each other, either in a star pattern (in which case one router is central) or in a daisy chain, covering all or part of your home. Once the configuration is done and the routers are installed in different rooms, you only see and have to manage a single network. Better your smartphones, for example, will move from one coverage area to another dynamically and without interruption of the connection regardless of your movements in your home.
The main manufacturers of network products now occupy this niche. Some of them cover the top of the range, while others are placed at the entry level of this product family. The principle is always the same at the beginning, to provide two routers, one to be installed on the box side, the other at about ten or fifteen meters. Generally, it is possible to add routers according to the coverage needs.
The performance of these devices depends a lot on the environment in which they are installed, so it is important to keep in mind that the announced coverage will often be better than the real coverage. However, it is a good idea to start with a “pack” of two routers to get an idea, even if it means buying new “satellites” later.
The first name means that routers transmit Wi-Fi networks on both frequency bands: 2.4 and 5 GHz, even if you only see and manage one SSID. Remember, the SSID is the identifier of your Wi-Fi network.
The second name, tri-band, may be more confusing: what is the third frequency band? It is in fact routers that use the 2.4 GHz frequency band for one network and emit two networks in 5 GHz. This makes it possible to dedicate one of these communication channels to data exchanges between routers at certain manufacturers so as not to encroach on the data rates between your devices and the Net.
Because, dual-band mesh routers use part of their bandwidth to communicate with each other. In the case of a daisy chain connection, the further away you get from the first router, the more you add more routers, the more the bandwidth is reduced and the quality of the signal weakens.
As a general rule, the solution of tri-band mesh routers is more efficient. This seems quite logical. They offer an additional, higher quality network and therefore spread your devices over three networks.
Nevertheless, the tri-band router is not necessarily the best choice. The current models are generally more expensive and in some cases, they may not bring a significant gain to your use compared to a dual-band model.
Dual-band mesh routers are to be preferred if:
- The surface to be covered is not too large or tedious
- The walls and parasites are not too important
- You don’t think you have to connect many devices at the same time
- You can prefer a star network
- The devices to be connected are quite old (not compatible with 802.11ac)
- Your Internet connection does not exceed 200 Mbit/s
- You are looking for the most economical solution