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Expanding Your WiFi Connection: Whole Home WiFi vs. Range Extenders

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of under-performing WiFi before; calls dropping when you walk to certain parts of the house, music buffering when you’re mowing the edge of the lawn, your text messages refusing to send when you’re in your garage…. the list goes on and on.  

Let us officially welcome you to the club (there’s even more of us than you think!) If you’re looking to eliminate dead zones in your home or office space once and for all, there are two main products to be on the lookout for: range extenders and Whole Home WiFi systems.  

Before We Dive In, Let’s Check Your Signal 

First and foremost, make sure that extending your WiFi is really the solution you’re looking for. If you haven’t found any dead spots where the WiFi signal seems to drop, then the problem may not be with your WiFi, but rather with your internet service. 

If you live in a small space where your WiFi should have enough coverage, yet you are still experiencing dead spots, it's also worth checking to make sure that your router is correctly placed within your home. You want your router in a central, open location that’s away from other appliances.  We cover the best and worst places to put your router in our blog post, 5 Ways to Make your WiFi Connection Work for you While Working from Home. You will save yourself both time and money if you can solve your WiFi problem by moving the router instead of purchasing new products, so it is worth mentioning before we move on. 

Ok, if you’re still with us, let’s dive in!  

Range Extenders: The Add-On Device 

Range Extenders (also referred to as WiFi Booster or WiFi Extenders) do exactly as their names suggest: take the WiFi that is already being broadcasted around your home from an existing router, and extend it to areas where the coverage is weaker or nonexistent by creating a separate network. In a sense, they act like invisible extension cords for your WiFi connection. 

How Do They Work? 

You can use range extenders to optimize your WiFi by placing them strategically around your home (it’s best to place them within direct line of sight to the areas with bad WiFi coverage). When using a range extender, you’ll notice that a new network name will pop up in addition to your existing wireless network. For example, if you add an extender in your basement, “Sullivan_Home_EXT”  or Sullivan_Home_RPT will appear in addition to “Sullivan_Home.” This is how you know that the range extender is now covering that area of your home with  WiFi. 

The Highlights  

  • An in-place upgrade - You don’t have to re-tackle your entire WiFi system to improve your WiFi with a range extender. It’s simply an add-on attachment to your existing router that will broaden your signal and expand the range of your WiFi.  
  • Cost Effective - Range extenders are less expensive than many other network upgrade options.  
  • Perfect for smaller homes or apartment buildings - A range extender is a great option if your house is under around 3,000 sq, doesn’t have multiple floors, or only needs dead spot elimination in one or two places.   

The Challenges  

  • Complicated configuration - Range extenders can be confusing to set up. You must manually configure the extender to connect with your main router, which can be a time consuming and complicated process. Plus, if you have more than one extender, they all need to be configured individually.  
  • Manual Roaming - Since you will have to build a new network with your extender, you may experience connection issues when moving out of the range of one network and into the range of another. For example, if you are connected to “Sullivan_Home,” you may still experience dead zones in your basement if you haven’t manually changed your device over to “Sullivan_Home_EXT.”  It can be frustrating to constantly roam between two separate networks that also have different names and interfaces. 
  • Diminished performance in large, multi-level homes - In a larger home or office with more devices, a range extender can actually weaken the performance of your network. Remember: they are merely taking the WiFi that already exists and extending it by stealing bandwidth from your router to transmit their data on. Thususers who are connected to the router may see slower speeds.  

If you have a larger home, or own many additional devices, a Whole Home WiFi system may be a better fit for you.  

 

Whole Home WiFi Systems  

Whole Home WiFi (also referred to as Mesh WiFi) is essentially a system of individual WiFi stations that work together and build off of each other to envelope every corner of your home in coverage.   

It would be like having multiple routers in your home if they all connected to one seamless network. So, instead of losing signal the further from the router you roam, a Whole Home WiFi system creates an equal blanket of coverage throughout your space. 

How Do They Work? 

Picture your router as being the main light fixture at the center of your home. Even if it is turned onto the highest level of brightness, there could still be corners of your home that are dark. To solve this, you may choose to put lamps around the house. That’s essentially how Whole Home WiFi works. Instead of lamps for light, however, you will be replacing your single router with multiple WiFi points (called satellites or nodes) placed strategically throughout your home for better WiFi 

The first step would be to connect a primary base station directly to your modem. Then, you connect satellite stations, or nodes, in rooms where you experience dead spots or weak coverage. Unlike traditional routers, these nodes will all share the same SSID and password to create a single, seamless network.   

The Highlights  

  • Seamless, hands-free roaming- Although Whole home WiFi offers you multiple access points throughout your home, you will still only have one network with one name and password. Additionally, your devices will automatically connect to the strongest stations in your vicinity. This means that you’ll never be interrupted by having to manually switch from one network to the other as you roam around your house on the phone, watching videos, etc.     
  • Easy Configuration - Since Whole home WiFi satellites are all on the same network and designed to work together, they will automatically recognize each other during setup. It's usually as simple as turning them on and setting up your new network’s password.  
  • Minimal upkeep- If you ever need to update the name of your network, your password, or your channel, the whole home WiFi system allows you to do it only once from a primary device. The system will then automatically sync and update to the others in real time.  
  • Control over your network - Many whole home WiFi systems, like the Motorola Whole Home WiFi, allow for easy management through a mobile app (even when you're away from home!) The centralized and automated networking system gives you the power to monitor your network, cut off WiFi access to certain networks, create guest networks, connect new devices, and use parental controls all from your phone. 

The Challenges 

  • Costly - Whole Home WiFi can be one of the more expensive network upgrade options to invest in.  
  • Replaces your existing network- When you upgrade to a whole home WiFi system, your existing router becomes obsolete.  
  • Multiple devices - For a whole home WiFi system to run effectively, you will need to set up multiple satellites, or nodes, around your home.  

 

Let’s Recap  

Overall, Whole Home WiFi systems can allow for faster speeds, greater network reliability, and broader coverage for your home. They're also easy to expand and build upon, allowing you to design a local network that matches your unique needs.  

  1. Ensure that your router is correctly placed within your home and that WiFi expansion is what you actually need 
  2. Gauge the size of the building is an important step in deciding which device to buy. If you have a smaller space with one or two dead zones, you may only need a range extender. A larger space with multiple floors, unique layouts, or dense walls may require a whole home WiFi system.  
  3. Decide where in the house the signal seems to always drop or isn't as strong as you'd like.  
  4. Place your range extender or Whole Home WiFi satellites in these locations.  
  5. Enjoy better WiFi coverage!