2 Pack Wifi Mesh advice

HadHa

Standard Member
Hello!

I don't really understand what I should be buying based on my needs. I have my current router in the ground floor front room and as such I have dead spots in the back room + garden and also in my 2nd floor bedrooms as well. I don't think an extender is a good solution(?) and am looking at mesh systems. However I would not be using back hauling, only hard wiring my main router/modem in the front room and the other spot would be a wireless connection (I think I only need one extra).

I have Vodafone Superfast 2 speed, FTTC, ~65Mbps. Since it's Vodafone, if I get rid of my current router the new modem has to be VDSL2. I don't understand if I should be considering Wifi 6 or if it's unnecessary for my speed? Should I instead consider Triband instead of dual band? What will give me more stability?

Any help appreciated.
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
All Wi-Fi is facilitated by "Access Points" (AKA "AP's" or "WAP's.") They get built into lots of other things such as SOHO Routers, HomePlugs, Extenders, Repeaters, Mesh Nodes, Discs, AirPorts and whatever other silly names the vendors make up. They fundamentally differ from each other in how they can establish the "backhaul" link to the rest of the (wired) network infrastructure. For example, it can be done using wired ethernet, over the mains electricity circuit and over the radio airwaves also using Wi-Fi.

"Proper" wired ethernet backhaul is by far the best mechanism, (fastest and most reliable,) so if you are planning to use ethernet backhaul links, you are already alighted on the best strategy and all you need to shop for is some Access Points (or SOHO "routers" that have an "AP mode" if it works out cheaper or you have some old ones lying around - even without an "AP mode" routers can be "crippled" and turned into AP's, though you'd only really do that as a cost saving measure or to repurpose old kit you have in hand.)

"Mesh" has no useful definition and seems to mean anything to anyone. I suggest generally what you are paying for with a "mesh" system is a fleet of managed AP's that are all managed from a common platform (in SOHO it's often an "app".) Such systems also often feature some technology whereby the mesh node "talk" to each other to exchange useful information to avail radio channel planning, pre-stage roaming hand off, steer clients to the "best" node and so on. However, one should not "assume" what any given "mesh" system does and dig deep into the specifications to be sure what you are getting. Some "mesh" systems don't even have wired ethernet backhaul capability and can only backhaul over Wi-Fi, so check those specs. to be sure. Of course, chances are a fleet of mesh nodes all bought at the same time all support the same Wi-Fi protocols, though they don't have to.

However, multliple AP's can be deployed without being a "mesh" system, it'll "work," you just don't get any of the "good" stuff a mesh system offers and each AP essentially functions as a stand alone device that each needs to be individually configured and managed and you won't get any (for example) automated channel planning, client steering, etc.

You don't need a new router because you deploy additional AP's (mesh system or not.) Your router will carry on routing/NAT/Firewall/switching just fine and one could argue that the ISP supplied router is probably best optimised to work with the ISP's kit in the Exchange - though there's plenty of after market that'll "work" just fine (I've been using a Western Digital router with BT for years.) However some ISP's require you to use their kit and make it difficult (though not impossible) to use anything else.

If you don't want to use the ISP router's Wi-Fi, simply turn it off - it's rarely more than a couple of clicks - no need for "modem mode" or an after market router.

However, if you want to continue using the ISP router's in built AP, it's unlikely to integrate with any "mesh" system you might buy (unless you are already using something like an ASUS AIMesh enabled router, or BT's newer Smarthubs which will integrate with their "discs.") It will still "work," but you again won't get the benefits of a single management platform and you may find client steering (if you mesh system offers it) only happens between the mesh nodes and not between the router and any mesh nodes. Thence the routers in built AP will "work" just like any stand alone AP's.

"Tri-band" has also become an overloaded term and presently has two meanings: It might refer to AP's that support three wavebands - the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands that have been around for decades plus some additional wavebands that have recently become available for use by Wi-Fi (sometimes styled the "6Ghz" waveband, though it can use some other frequencies also.) The second, older, usage of "tri band" refers to dual waveband 2.4Ghz and 5GHz AP's that have a two radio chains servicing the 5GHz waveband. So whereas a "dual band" AP is one that is essentially two AP's, one seving 2.4GHz and one serving 5GHz combined into a single device (most are these days) a "tri band" might be essentially three AP's in one box, one serving 2.4GHz and two serving 5GHz (on different radio channels.) In some "tri band" kit, particularly "mesh" systems, one of the 5GHz radios might be dedicated to backhaul (which you simply don't need if you are using wired backhauls.) So again, it's a case of reading the specs. to know what you are getting and what any particular vendor means by "tri band."

So when shopping for a Wi-Fi solution, we are principally considering:
A) How it achieves it's backhaul
B) What Wi-Fi standards/protocols it offers.
C) What management facilities it offers (ie what "mesh" systems with a single management platform offer, particularly things like client steering.)
D) Cost.
And one might argue, aesthetics are a consideration and how we're going to get power to the AP's - Power Over Ethernet is the neatest way, but that's a whole other discussion!
 
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noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
I can recommend the TP-LINK Deco range.

The dual band are adequate for most applications where wired backhaul is not available, while the more expensive Tri-band units are all but invisible, with excellent throughput and connectivity.
 

HadHa

Standard Member
Woha, thanks for the comprehensive advice.

I didn't realize I could 'backhaul' via the mains electricity. Not sure how good that would work, is it generally better than wifi (though my mileage will vary depending on how well wired my house is?)

So Vodafone don't make it super easy from what I've understood and based on some posts I've come over, the provided router don't allow me to use it with other APs to create a 'mesh'. The router / Hub in question is THG3000. My understanding was I would have to buy a new AP to act as router and another to act as the secondary point which would have been connected via Wireless or potentially mains electricity now that I am aware of it. Will need to find out if that's even feasible.

My Vodafone THG3000 shows this list of networks when analyzing the channels whereas my mobile phone shows a lot less networks in general. It also seems that in my front room, channel 1 is fairly clear (see image) whereas when I go to the back a lot more people are on channel 1. My thinking was that having Triband would allow the routers to communicate better if they had mutiple channels? It seems like most of the neighbors in the area have them set to automatically hop around so I'm stuck doing the same as the crowded channels keep changing.

I'll definitely take a look at TP LINK Deco. Ideally I'd be able to stay away from the asus routers that looks like spy drones with 8 antennas, at least on the secondary AP. The first AP will be fairly hidden in a separate room whereas the second one will be very visible in the central living room.
 

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noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
Woha, thanks for the comprehensive advice.

I didn't realize I could 'backhaul' via the mains electricity. Not sure how good that would work, is it generally better than wifi (though my mileage will vary depending on how well wired my house is?)

So Vodafone don't make it super easy from what I've understood and based on some posts I've come over, the provided router don't allow me to use it with other APs to create a 'mesh'. The router / Hub in question is THG3000. My understanding was I would have to buy a new AP to act as router and another to act as the secondary point which would have been connected via Wireless or potentially mains electricity now that I am aware of it. Will need to find out if that's even feasible.

My Vodafone THG3000 shows this list of networks when analyzing the channels whereas my mobile phone shows a lot less networks in general. It also seems that in my front room, channel 1 is fairly clear (see image) whereas when I go to the back a lot more people are on channel 1. My thinking was that having Triband would allow the routers to communicate better if they had mutiple channels? It seems like most of the neighbors in the area have them set to automatically hop around so I'm stuck doing the same as the crowded channels keep changing.

I'll definitely take a look at TP LINK Deco. Ideally I'd be able to stay away from the asus routers that looks like spy drones with 8 antennas, at least on the secondary AP. The first AP will be fairly hidden in a separate room whereas the second one will be very visible in the central living room.
I run mine from a Plusnet hub set in modem mode. the first "AP" is in router mode and I've cabled to the lounge, with the other 2 dotted around the house on wifi only. 3 of them provide excellent coverage everywhere, with the kid's smart TVs and gaming PCs running wifi without issue.
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
No-one can predict how any HomePlug link is going to work, there's just too many variables and environmental factors in play to make meaningful predictions. Some people have excellent results, some people have dreadful results and everything in between. You really just have to suck it and see. An advantage HomePlugs have (if they work well in your locale) is that the backhaul transmissions over the mains are not competing for Wi-Fi "air time" with the client devices which might yield faster results if "speed" is your think.

"Proper" cabled ethernet is by far the best backhaul if you can stand the hassle of getting the drill out (for much the same reason, and it's just fundamentally faster and more reliable.)

No router will prevent you from deploying AP's or a "mesh" system downstream of it. It's virtually impossible for them to prevent it. What those saying "router X won't allow you to use other AP's" are probably referring to is that brand X won't participate in the mesh system Y. That's not surprising as there's no common standards for how mesh nodes talk to each other and each vendor tends to do their own thing (though I'm talking about the bits and bytes here, not the radio encoding, etc.) For example, (choosing brand names at random) BT's smarthub won't play nice with a Deco system, but it won't prevent you deploying the Deco either - the two just won't talk to each other about who can hear which client the best, pre-stage the roaming handoffs, and so on.

In the field of data networking a "router" and an "AP" are very different and separate things.Your average SOHO get-you-on-the-Internet omni-box happens to contain both and much more besides. You never need to change routers or put them into "modem mode" (for those that support it) to "fix" a Wi-Fi problem. Attached to the "Using Two Routers Together" FAQ pinned in this forum is a block diagram illustrating what's inside a typical SOHO router. For Wi-Fi AP's ("Mesh" or otherwise) you essentially throw away everything except the AP.

If your ISP router is doing a good job of connecting to your ISP, then it's best to leave it alone. If you don't want to use it's Wi-Fi, you don't have to - just turn off the radios (it's rarely more than a couple of clicks) and the Wi-Fi fall silent and everything else will continue to function. ("Modem mode" is never needed to turn off Wi-Fi - "modem mode" is about something else.)

If you then want to deploy a "mesh" system, repeaters or some stand alone AP's downstream of your router. you can, it's no problem and you don't need an extra "router" - you only need AP's (or "mesh" systems).

Where life gets funky is if you want your mesh nodes to connect to each other using Wi-Fi. Somehow one of them need to connect to your router. Some might be able to do that using Wi-Fi, (it's certainly technically possible,) some might insist that the "first" or "king" or "central" mesh node (nomenclature varies) is cabled to your router. (Incidentally, same for HomePlugs.)

In some mesh systems, the "first" node may capable of acquitting the routing duties and such is intended to be a complete replacement for your router to give you a homogeneous system and it only needs a modem upstream (you throw your existing router away.) But it is not at all necessary for it work that way and quite a lot of the "mesh" offer a "bridge" or "AP Mode" of operation which will defeat such routing for people who have already got a perfectly good router.

The latter would be my preference and indeed, it's how we deploy big Wi-Fi systems in business environments who almost always have a pre-existing network infrastructure and they wouldn't want to re-engineer it all just because I want to plug in a couple of hundred Wi-Fi AP's!

So your goals have shifted a bit from your first post which implied you have decided to use Wired backhauls. If you are now contemplating HomePlugs or Wi-Fi backhauls, it might alter the amount of kit you need. But all you need right now is more Wi-Fi nodes, you don't need any more/replacement "routers." How you establish the backhaul to you additional AP's will inform the sort of system you need and in particular (if you buy a managed fleet of AP's) how the "first" node connects to your (existing) router.

Incidentally, having a fleet of managed AP's distinct from your router can be advantage if you change ISP's and you don't ever have to "worry" that your Wi-Fi system is somehow "compatible" with the new ISP's router. You just change the router and your Wi-Fi system carries on as before (albeit that you'll be in for a day of IP address carnage.)

It's not surprising a Wi-Fi scan sees more 2.4GHz co-channel systems that 5GHz - the physics is "just like that" low frequencies penetrate "stuff" more easily the high frequencies - just like sound.

Equally, it's not surprising a Wi-Fi scan on a phone detects fewer and quieter networks that your router - phones tend to have smaller antenna and less powerful amplifiers. Take all the signal levels with a pinch of salt - don't worry too much about the absolute values - what you are looking for is trend.

You are correct that trying to find a clear channel (esp. in 2.4Ghz) is a nightmare in densely populated areas as most people leave their routers to "auto-tune" and they hop around. I live in flats and long since gave up trying - I just picked a channel, fixed it and left it to get on with it.

Tri-band AP's don't communicate "better" - it's not some kind of magic sauce, they are using the same protocols and radio frequencies as everyone else (which means AP's need to be close enough to each other to hear each other well if you are using Wi-Fi backhauls.) It's just that they can generally transmit a backhaul and a client packet at the same time which relieves the air time competition a bit. It's basically a performance option.
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
Equally, it's not surprising a Wi-Fi scan on a phone detects fewer and quieter networks that your router - phones tend to have smaller antenna and less powerful amplifiers. Take all the signal levels with a pinch of salt - don't worry too much about the absolute values - what you are looking for is trend.
The real reason for this is that the higher the frequency, the more power you need for the same level of propagation. If you think about it this way, 5GHZ needs twice as many frequency cycles as 2.4GHz to travel the same distance.

The advantages of higher frequencies are that they are easier to "beam form" - send and receive from 1 direction, and many routers now use phased array technology to do precisely this. It gives the ability to reduce interference from other sources and prevents the front end of the receiver from being overloaded with signals from other sources, improving signal quality and reducing error rates.
 

HadHa

Standard Member
Thanks everyone, this really is a difficult decision..!

I get quite daunted by the amount of ifs and buts when reading about trying to replace the router. Here is an example thread from another vodafone user with the same router Using ASUS Router to replace THG3000 on Superfast 2 connection

I'm technical enough to research and take advantage of the system I'll end up getting but with the amount of options it's fairly overwhelming.

The router I have does a decent job of connecting me personally to the ISP, but in my home office however (upstairs and one room to the side, brick/concrete walls) the wifi is significantly worse. It shows as 65 DBM when monitoring on the routers own 'monitor client' setting and sometimes drop to 75. I assume it's due to things hopping around / microwaves or whatever turned on in the house next door but it can last as long as 20 minutes which means my calls at work get interrupted. I've checked that the ethernet connected pc have no issues in the same time span, so its just the wifi.

I checked the connection DBM in the room straight above, and it was on about 60DBM, so very slightly better. Would another access point in that location even be of help? It seems like it's the routers range in the first place that is the issue.

I need better range or wall penetration (I assume they are much of the same thing). Considering get ~75 / 20 Mbps on ethernet I don't see a great reason to get AX when AC will handle my speeds just fine?
Instead I thought the improved range, maybe one AP in addition to router and potentially the addition of triband would be things that could ensure better stability in the other rooms.

I'm fairly close to just getting the Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8 since it seems to be up there in performance and then I don't have to worry about not getting what I need, but it costs an arm and a leg.
Am I throwing money out the window with my needs taken into consideration?
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
Don't worry too much about the absolute RSSI values - you really want to look for trend. A lot of kit isn't calibrated so the exact values can be a bit inaccurate.

RSSI fluctuates a lot - a lot more than you might realise using a Wi-Fi scanner. In Enterprise kit, where we have reports up the wazoo available, if one creates a the graph of RSSI for any given client or AP, there's often a range of values. Frequently you get a kind of "bell curve" where the vast majority is "X" with diminishing frequency of outcomes either side. A lot of kit doesn't even use the maximum transmit rates if it's only got a small amount of data to send. For example, if I've only got 50 bytes to send (which easily fits into a single packet,) is it worth the expense (in time) of binding up and clearing out an 80MHz channel - it might be quicker to just send it in a 20MHz channel. That sort of outcome effects the graphs (on kit that has them) and/or thoughput one observes.

Range and penetration is more of less the same thing. The simple physics/mathematics of a wavefront propagating in a sphere in free space means the amount of energy per unit area of the wavefront drops dramatically near the transmitter, then reduces more slowly as you get further away. (It's proportional to the square of the distance.) Add materials in, (walls, doors, air,) which attenuate the signals at different rates and the energy levels/range drops further.

With more expensive kit, you tend to be paying for more "bells and whistles" in the feature set rather than some magic "much better signals." Or more radios (which in N/AC/AX facilitates some of the bells and whistles.) There may well be an argument that "brand X uses better quality components" that make a difference, but I suspect it's not as great as you might think, Bigger antenna can make quite a difference as you can create more directional coverage patterns. Such antenna are often called "high gain" - but don't let that fool you: It's high"ER" gain in some set of directions at the expense of lower gain in others compared to a theoretically perfect antenna that radiates uniformly in all directions (which is actually impossible to construct.)

Wi-Fi transmit power is limited by law and most kit is, and always has been, at or very close to the permitted max, which, by design, is deliberately low.

Tri-band isn't some magic "fix" in terms of signal propagation. It uses the same standards, same radio waves, same laws as everything else. "Tri-band" is usually either a performance option or possibly a reference to kit that supports AX (just to make it really confusing for everyone.) One of the many reasons why, if we want to know for sure what we are really getting, we have to by-pass the BS "marketing" speak ("mesh," "tri-band," "high power," "seamless," etc. etc.) and get into the real numbers on the datasheets. Better still, download the manuals of a prospective purchase and read them before you pull the trigger. It's surprising (both good and bad) what one sometimes finds buried in user guide. I've certainly rowed back a couple of times (professionally) on some pretty big purchases when I got hold of the manuals and found some "gotcha" in there.
 
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Due to cabling issues (rented property) I went for the Netgear Orbit (753 - one below the big one) - it's rock solid.

I was worried about the overlap with Sky Q 5Ghz channels to mini Sky boxes, but even though it does overlap it's actually more stable than the Unifi solution I had in place where I could separate the channels.
 

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