Due to the Covid-19 pandemic lots of people will have found themselves spending more time at home. Whether it’s the grown-ups trying to work from home, the kids needing to access education and clubs, or the whole family looking for entertainment through Netflix, YouTube or whatever else, there has been a huge realisation by many of us that our internet and WIFI connections are just not up to the task.
Perhaps you are the person who takes your laptop into the kitchen to get a decent WIFI signal so that you can take part in your Zoom meeting? Or perhaps you are the parent who is sick of your teenagers constantly moaning about the WIFI dropping out?
There are several pieces in the jigsaw of getting a fast and reliable internet connection to your computers, phones, TV and other electronics. We’d like to discuss them briefly.
Internet connection to the property
This is supplied by your internet service provider (ISP), usually as part of your telephone/TV package. If you live in a town or city then you probably have a fairly fast and reliable connection, but if you live in a small village or deep in the countryside then this connection could be slow and unreliable. There are alternatives to a fixed internet connection, such as 4G/5G mobile connections and satellite internet. We will discuss these in detail in another article, but it’s important to highlight that if you have a poor internet connection, then the steps we are about to describe are unlikely to make much difference.
Your ISP will normally provide a ‘router’ as part of the deal. This communicates with the servers at your ISP who then connect you with the world wide web. Your router also provides other functions like internet safety, but for this article the most important feature is the WIFI signal that it beams around your house.
If you have a small to medium sized, square shaped house on 2 floors, then this WIFI will probably reach throughout the house and everyone will get a good connection; however, if you have a larger house, perhaps on 3 floors, with outbuildings, or constructed with thick walls, or with lots of steel beams, then there is no way the router on its own will suffice. This is where you need to look into extending the WIFI network.
The WIFI network and how to extend it
There are several ways to extend your WIFI to the parts of the property it does not currently reach:-
Wireless range extenders – these usually plug into a power socket and are placed half way between the router and the place where you want to sit/work. The booster picks up the WIFI signal from the router and relays it onto your mobile device. These devices are not very reliable and the speed is slow due to the fact that all the data has an extra device to pass through in both directions.
Powerline adapters – 2 or more of these are plugged into power sockets around the house, one of which is also wired into your router. They use the network of mains power cables to carry data around the house. Their effectiveness varies from home to home depending on the state of the power cables. Sometimes they are good enough to provide an internet connection to a single device like a Sky box, but we would never recommend them for anything more complex.
Wireless mesh systems – these are essentially the modern upgraded version of the range extenders we described above. Each mesh device can talk to multiple other mesh devices which are within its range; sophisticated software manages the network and data is dynamically routed in the most efficient way between your mobile device and the router. These are easy to install because you don’t need to run any wires and they offer much greater reliability than the basic range extenders, but because data is hopping across multiple devices, you are still not getting the best possible network speeds. The Sky Q TV and WIFI package uses a mesh system. Our experience is that it works well for some but not for others.
Wireless access points – these devices look like white discs and are usually ceiling mounted or hidden in cupboards. They are all connected back to the main router with data cables. Your mobile device connects to the nearest access point and since the data is then passed down a physical cable, you benefit from the fastest possible network speeds. The downside is that installation requires running data cables from the location of each access point back to the central router.
Which is best?
To answer this we should look at the commercial world, and especially businesses where the provision of WIFI is critical to the success of those businesses, for example, shopping centres and offices. Both of them would use data cabling, connecting a series of wireless access points back to the central network. Why? Because it’s the most reliable, the fastest and takes away much of the guesswork about how far the signal will travel through walls and ceilings.
We totally understand why wireless mesh systems are popular, but we would always recommend a wired solution if at all possible, because it will always give you the best results.
It’s all about WIFI, right?
Whilst WIFI is a very convenient way of connecting PCs, laptops and TVs to the internet, it’s worth mentioning that a hard-wired connection will always be faster, more reliable and more secure. Going back to the commercial world, the vast majority of PCs and printers in an office will be hard wired to the network, because IT Managers know it will give them the least problems. If you are setting up a home office, even if you have a rock solid WIFI network, we would still recommend hardwiring your PC, printer and IP phone.
If you are interested in upgrading your home WIFI or creating some wired connections for your critical computers, let’s consider how we might approach it.
During a new build or complete home renovation it is relatively easy and low cost to run the required data cabling and mount WIFI access points in the ideal locations. When retrofitting into finished homes, this may require the lifting of carpets, floorboards and skirting boards and then perhaps a little bit of redecorating. Often simpler and cheaper is to run the cabling externally and through loft spaces. Single cables can be clipped to the wall or hidden behind existing drain pipes. If you have several cables, they can be hidden inside a pipe of their own, which will then blend in with other water pipes already in place.
Case study – Installation of wireless access points in a 3 storey Edwardian Semi-Detached house
This house has the main router installed centrally on the ground floor. The owners could not get a reliable WIFI signal in the front, rear or top floor of the house. Now forced to work from home for the foreseeable future, the owners wanted to set-up a proper home office on the top floor and improve WIFI coverage throughout.
We have installed 2 runs of data cabling, from the router in the Family Room to the cupboard in the Dining Room, and also to the top floor bedroom/office. The weather proof cable is run externally, clipped to the bricks or attached to existing cables or pipes. In both rooms we have installed an ultra- reliable, commercial grade Ubiquiti wireless access point.
The original Sky router and WIFI coverage are shown below in red. The Ubiquiti access points and expanded WIFI coverage are shown in green and purple.
This small project was completed in less than one day, with zero redecorating required, at a cost of £650. Here’s what the owners said:
‘Amazing! I can’t believe we didn’t do this when we first moved in!’
If you’d like to discuss upgrading your home or business WIFI, why not drop us a line? We can offer both wired and mesh WIFI upgrade options, with prices starting from £399.