How do Wi-Fi extenders work nowadays?

Hi, I'm having a problem understanding the changes in Wi-Fi technology and need advice.

Up until a week ago we had an ADSL connection (Orange Livebox). Our home was built in 1860 and is made of stone meaning the walls are very thick. In order to get coverage we purchased a Wi-Fi extender from Orange which had a master connected to the Livebox and a slave in the room we wanted coverage. As far as I am aware, the signal was transmitted via the mains circuit.

We now have a fibre connection but the old Wi-Fi extender doesn't seem to work with it. I'm guessing because today's extenders no longer require a master.

Now things are going to get complicated. Please bear with me while I explain the problem.

We have 2 different connections in the home. One operates via satellite while the other is the new fibre connection. All computers, tablets, and phones are able to connect to the Wi-Fi signal from the fibre connection. We want to get rid of the satellite connection. My wife needs an extender in her bedroom which will then connect to the TV box via ethernet. If the Wi-Fi signal comes through the air that should be ok but, if it comes via the mains circuit we have a problem. You see, in order to provide CPL outlets throughout the house from the satellite connection, we had 2 different mains rings installed and her bedroom is on the wrong ring, if you get my drift.

The first question is therefore, how do they work and do I need to buy a router or a Wi-Fi extender?
If the answer is a router, how do I connect it to the Livebox which is situated approximately 15 metres away?

The next issue is our main home cinema which requires a LAN connection. I'm thinking I can transfer the CPL master to the Livebox and then place all the slaves into their respective mains sockets. The CPL's are only good for 200 MB/s but the maximum the LAN can handle is half that so I imagine I don't need to replace them. Right or wrong?

Lastly, I'm thinking of changing my TV boxes for the model that will shortly replace the ones I currently have as the new version will have Wi-Fi 6 compatibility. Bearing that in mind, should I opt for a router, Wi-Fi extender, or stick with the CPL's?
 
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spile

Active Member
I assume your router will provide a Wi-fi access. But the first principle is to route Ethernet cable wherever possible and use that.
For additional access points use a. An old router reconfigured as a Wireless ap. b. Hardwired access points or failing a. or b., c. Powerline wireless access points.
 
I assume your router will provide a Wi-fi access. But the first principle is to route Ethernet cable wherever possible and use that.

The router is an Orange Livebox 5. Due to technical issues with fibre cabling, we had to have it installed in our bathroom. Access to it is rather limited and cabling to it would be impossible, It is rather complex to explain why and I don't wish to bore you. But this is why I need to add CPL's and a Wi-Fi extender.

For additional access points use a. An old router reconfigured as a Wireless ap. b. Hardwired access points or failing a. or b., c. Powerline wireless access points.

a. I don't have an old router but, as I understand it, modern Wi-Fi extenders often offer the option to configure them as an access point.

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b. Impossible due to the placement of the Livebox which cannot be changed.

c. Not sure what you meant here. I'm guessing you are talking about CPL's. If not, are you suggesting that a plugin extender like the one shown above will get its signal through the mains circuit (like a CPL)?
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
So some fairly fundamental questions to cover first.

I'm assuming you are in France, but this probably doesn't affect things too much, other than possibly availability of some equipment.

It sounds like the installation of the fibre modem has been a massive compromise. You say you cannot get a cable to it, yet the fibre must have a route that can be followed back? How is power applied to the fibre modem in the bathroom?

Powerline devices will work across circuits. Although they work particularly well on rings, radial and split circuits are also possible, so there should be no issue getting a signal across the mains.

When you say satellite, do you mean satellite broadband or TV? What complication is that bringing to your current network solution?

I would suggest a Mesh system is your solution. Although you can get routers to work as APs, I've always found it to be quite hit and miss - and you probably don't need another layer of unreliable equipment to contend with...

The Tp-Link Deco series use a combination of wired and wireless backbone to communicate with each other and the host broadband connection. The ideal solution would be to plug one unit into your fibre router and to turn off the WiFi on the router, thus running it as a modem only. This could be collocated in your bathroom but a better solution would be to run a length of cat 5 to a more central point in the house. Additional mesh APs would then connect to this via a wifi based backbone and then create their own local WiFi in each room.

Use Powerline only to connect a few specific bits of kit otherwise not well covered by the WiFi- eg equipment without WiFi or needing a faster connection. The "master" unit should be connected to the router, so this might also need to go in your bathroom.
Trying to bodge something together is probably never going to work that well and it sounds like the position of the fibre router is going to make extracting the best from it quite difficult. Personally I would look at trying to sort out the positioning of it to start off with as otherwise you will most likely always end up with a compromised solution.
 
Yes, I'm in France (a British ex-pat). Getting equipment is easy.

It sounds like the installation of the fibre modem has been a massive compromise. You say you cannot get a cable to it, yet the fibre must have a route that can be followed back? How is power applied to the fibre modem in the bathroom?

I wanted to avoid this but it looks as though it isn't going to be possible. Ok, let's do it...
Like I said in my original post, the house was built in 1860 except that it is actually 2 houses combined. The 2nd house dates back to the 1700's and was much smaller. Although they are combined, they connect via 2 entry points which, due to the thickness of the huge stones used to build them make an internal wall of approximately 1.5 metres depth. The downstairs access is the only one used. The upstairs access has been closed-off to give total privacy to the only person occupying the other side of the house (my son). However, this closed-off access divides his bedroom from our bathroom. My son, who is an avid gamer, wanted the new Livebox on his side of the home so he could cable directly into it. Therefore, the installing technician decided the best method would be to run a power connection into the closed-off tunnel between his bedroom and our bathroom and install the Livebox in that tunnel. This means he has the best possible connection while we have a very limited Wi-Fi connection. The fibre cable enters the house from the outside wall going directly into the tunnel which makes it impossible to place the Livebox anywhere else.

My office is next to the bathroom so I am getting a good Wi-Fi signal but that isn't good enough to feed my wife's bedroom. Her bedroom is equipped with a home cinema comprising of smart TV, TV box, and Bose sound system. All 3 need an internet connection which is why I was thinking of a Wi-Fi extender. Further complicating matters is the fact that all power points in her bedroom are on mains ring 2 whereas the Livebox is on mains ring 1. This means we cannot use CPL's (I believe you refer to these as Powerlines). As far as I can see, she needs a Wi-Fi extender so she can connect her home cinema and her tablet and phone.

To summarize the Livebox installation:
- It gets its power from house #2 which is on mains ring 1
- Due to it being installed in the tunnel, access to its ports can only be achieved from house #2

Before the new fibre installation, the previous ADSL Livebox was installed in my wife's bedroom. Our son ran an ethernet cable from his bedroom into the Livebox using a very long route. His bedroom gives access to a terrace. This terrace leads to our dressing room which connects to the bedroom. So he drilled a hole in the wall of our dressing room to feed his cable through.

Now that he has the Livebox on his side of the home, he has everything and we have to find solutions to make use of it.

Let's move on to the next issue, the main home cinema.
This is located downstairs in house #1 and is on mains ring 2.

Some clarification concerning the 2 mains rings:
We live in what Orange call a "White Zone" which basically means there is no cell phone network coverage and ADSL Wi-Fi was limited to a maximum of 256 Kb. This was totally insufficient for the purposes of the home cinema as you cannot stream with that. So, I had broadband satellite installed in my office and fed all 3 home cinemas (there's another one in the guest's apartment on the 2nd floor) via CPL's on mains ring 2.

The trouble with the satellite connection is that we are limited to 30 Gb a month so, it was reserved for my office use and the home cinemas only (the one in the guest apartment is almost never used). My wife and son were therefore obliged to use the Livebox Wi-Fi connection for their phones and tablets so we installed a Wi-Fi extender (master and slave type) in the bathroom on mains ring 1. This prevented a conflict of signals between the 2 connections via powerlines.

Now that we have the fibre connection, we really don't need the satellite broadband, besides which it is very expensive, so we need to do whatever we can to ensure the Livebox feeds houses 1 and 2. If CPL's are possible, everything should work except for the equipment in my wife's bedroom.

It is all very complicated so please accept my apologies for this.

I regret the terminology you used in your last 2 paragraphs had me scratching my head. I'm 65 years old and have limited knowledge of this kind of tech.
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
OK, I think I understand your issues. Effectively you are trying to service 2 houses with 1 router and it is located in the 2nd house behind very thick walls.

You say there is a cable installed between your son's house and yours. Can this be extended to the current router position? This will at least allow you to get a good broadband signal through to your end of the house.

Having 2 power rings doesn't prevent you using Powerlines linked on both circuits. The main proviso is that they are on the same phase and linked to the same fuse board. Do not therefore disregard using them if you are unable to put a cable in.

Mesh systems are basically access points where the hard work of getting them to talk to one another and to distribute the broadband signal is done for you. This makes them much easier for us Non-Techies to understand. They operate in a master - slave or fully managed mode, so you need to get the broadband signal to at least one of them via a wired connection, but after that they will do everything else wirelessly. I have used the TP-Link Decos both at home and as a temporary solution in a start up office while we wait for the full system to be installed and they work well and are easy to install. Link here: Deco P9 | AC1200 + AV1000 Whole Home Hybrid Mesh Wi-Fi System | TP-Link United Kingdom These ones will use wired, Wifi or Powerline, whatever is available and provides the strongest signal.

"Dumb" wireless repeaters are old tech now and really don't work very well. They would need to be fitted at the edge of the good coverage, so will only extend the coverage by about half as much again if that makes sense. Simply fitting one to an area with poor wifi will not magically improve it in that area, in fact, it may make it worse. You need an alternative method of getting the broadband to the wifi repeater or access point for them to make any real improvement, which is what Mesh basically does, but without you needing to worry about how it does it.

My solution for you would be as follows:
Fit a Mesh unit - such as the Deco unit I've linked to to your Fibre router. Fit the other units in your wife's bedroom and your study. If required you could fit an additional one to the guest room as well. Use the app to set them all up. The first one will then send the broadband signal to the others using whatever route it can find (This is the Backbone) and will then create a local wireless access point in that room.

Once this is established, you can discontinue your satellite broadband and just use the fibre.

Hopefully that's a clearer explanation :)
 
Thank you for having taken the time to read my lengthy tale and for the suggestions you have put forward. I will admit, I had seen Mesh units offered and had no idea what they were so automatically discounted them as a potential solution.

The cable you spoke of at the beginning is no longer available because my son moved it to the Livebox which is basically in his bedroom. Even if he were to put it back, it would not have been possible to extend it to the Livebox in its new placement.

The 2 mains circuits are on different phases and each have their own fuse board. However, to make them easier to recognize, the electrician that installed them colour-coded their sockets. All ring 1 sockets are white and all ring 2 sockets are red. The sockets in my son's apartment are all white but my wife's bedroom has both, as does my office and the main home cinema. The guest suite has only red.

This being the case, it seems to me that a Mesh system could be applied to the white circuit. The guest suite is directly above the bathroom and my son's bedroom so it should be possible to connect via Wi-Fi without any further equipment.

So, unless I have misunderstood something, it would seem you have indeed come up with the solution. Can you please confirm I'm on the right track as what I described will mean zero cabling other than to the master next to the Livebox?
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
Some fundamentals:

All Wi-Fi is facilitated by Access Points (AP's.) AP's are available as stand alone devices, or are integrated into "other" things like SOHO routers, HomePlugs, Repeaters, Discs, Whole Home, Mesh nodes and whatever else "marketing"might want to call things.

(Incidentally, in data networking, a "router" and an "AP" are very different things - the "get-you-on-the-Internet" omni-box often referred to as a "router" contains both and much else besides - there's a block diagram of what's inside a SOHO router attached to the "Using Two Routers Together FAQ" pinned in this forum. This has lead to a lot of confusions outside the IT profession as many "lay" people think that "routers" do Wi-Fi and call any box that "does Wi-Fi" a "router" - but technically this is incorrect.)

There's lots of functionality choices to be made by one AP and another, but for many of these "boxes that do Wi-Fi and something else" one of the principal distinctions is how the "backhaul" link between the AP and the rest of the (wired) network is established.

By far the best (fastest and most reliable) backhaul is using "proper" wired ethernet. For those of us that build big Wi-Fi systems commercially, it's our default until or unless there's no way to run the cables.

Repeaters and "mesh nodes" and "discs" are all AP's that establish their backhaul also using Wi-Fi. Thusly, each node needs to be "in range" of a decent signal from the next AP up the chains for it to work well. If you deploy a node in a poor coverage area, then the "signal" the node gets from the "base" unit will be just as poor as for a client in the same locale. So you need to experiment a bit with placement and do this A----R----B more so than this A---------R-B.

Backhaul can also be done over the mains electricity circuit with powerline/HomePlug type devices. However, the success of that depends highly on the quality of the signaling that can be achieved over the mains. Some people report excellent results, some people report dreadful results and everything in between.

Wi-Fi transmit power is limited by law and most kit is, and always has been, at or close to the permitted max. There's also no asymmetry here - the AP's don't transmit any "louder" than your iPhone, laptop, iPad, webcam or anything else - it's the same rules for everyone, so don't think that AP's (whatever they may be called or packaged within) have some magic voodoo that makes them "louder" - they don't, they have to abide by the same rules as everything on Tx power. Though better kit can employ a few "tricks" in the antenna design and usage that can offer some improvements and chipset design evolves constantly. And phones, for example, sometime try to be a bit misery with their Tx power to eek out the battery life.

The newer "mesh" and "whole home" systems offer no magic either, they are still just AP's (and some of the better ones can use both/either wired or Wi-Fi backhaul, sometimes selecting which is "best" automatically.) What these new "toys" offer is something that enterprise systems have had forever - the nodes "talk" to each other to exchange useful information such as which can hear which client the best, automate the channel tuning plan and pre-stage the roaming handoffs, etc.. Thusly they are a "managed" fleet of AP's such as enterprise system builders have always known, now trickling down to the SOHO marketplace (though as is typical for "consumer" equipment, highly automated and not much that the user can "play" with.) But fundamentally, they as still "just" AP's like any other.

The best Wi-FI usage experience is achieved by deploying AP's where you expect to do most of your Wi-Fi'ing, ideally with unobstructed line of sight. So lounge, den, kitchen. bedroom is preferable to hall, landing, cupboard under the stairs and so on. The "trick" is figuring our how best to establish the backhaul from each AP to the rest of the (wired) network. Ethernet if you can, HomePlug, Wi-Fi (ie "repeaters," "mesh" etc) if you have to. If you have to use Wi-Fi backhauls, then you may need to experiment with placement to achieve good signalling conditions with both the desired coverage area and the next nearest or base node as illustrated above.
 
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Thanks for your input, mickevh. It's a bit beyond my level of comprehension though.

Line of sight is going to be an issue because all lines of sight are blocked by walls. I've been reading a bit about the Mesh systems and indeed it does appear they perform best when the slaves are in view of each other. That said, if one looks at the diagrams in the ads, they show slaves on different floors which would almost always preclude the possibility of direct line of sight. On the other hand, they still work on powerlines.

In our precise situation, a good Wi-Fi signal is only really required in the master bedroom because all other AP's would run on powerlines. The master bedroom is also central to the home so the Wi-Fi signal generated there should be accessible in the rest of the home with the exception of the media room but that would have a slave on powerline connecting to the cinema equipment via ethernet.

There's just one thing missing from all of this and it comes back to my original question concerning Wi-Fi 6. The manufacturer of my TV box "Ugoos" will shortly be releasing their new AM7 featuring Wi-Fi 6 support. Given that our projector runs 4K, it would of course be interesting for me to upgrade to the AM7 in order to stream 4K from YouTube and other online services. The current AM6 will do that but with hiccups, if you get my drift.
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
Wi-Fi 6 uses different radio frequencies to previous versions.

Just like sound, radio waves are attenuated by "stuff" (walls/doors/air) more readily at higher frequencies than lower ones. Thusly, you can hear the "wump" from the bass of a night club much further away than you can hear singer. Until you get close (or open the door.) Same for radio.

Some Wi-Fi6 can use frequencies lower than previous versions, some can use higher. To know for sure, you'd need to check the datasheets.

So if you already have poor signal propagation and opt for a Wi-Fi device that uses even higher frequencies, there's reason to believe it could be worse rather than better.

However, where this gets tricky is that successive generations of Wi-Fi technology tend to increase the basic bit rate ("speed" as it's sometimes referred to) which offsets this effect. SO even though the signal propagation may be worse, the perceived throughput might be higher.

Unfortunately, for any given use case, it's practically impossible to offer any meaningful prediction and we've little option than to "just try it" and see what happens.

Personally, if I was spending my own money, for a standard that was only ratified recently, I'd wait a while for all the "early adopters" to find and resolve all the bugs and wait until the marketplace is more mature. If you hold off for a year (or whatever,) then there will be more equipment to choose from and more opinion based on real world experience, of what works best and which are the lemons.

But then, as you might guess, rather than spending money on shiny new Wi-Fi tech to solve your problems, I'd get the drill out and spend the money on installing cabling! That would give me guaranteed gigabit rates and 97% efficient throughput :)
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
You can get WiFi 6 Mesh systems. To be honest, if you only have 1 or 2 WiFi 6 devices you aren't really gaining very much, but you of course future proofing your network to some extent.

As I said before, Mesh devices can give you excellent performance with minimal technical knowledge, so I would suggest this is the best approach for you.
 
You make a good point about early adoption. Perhaps I should wait. After all, the current AM6 does a good job and I won't lose any sleep over beaing able to watch streamed content in 1080p only.

However, getting out the drill to install cabling is easier said than done. It could have been possible had it been done before we moved in but now it would be a nightmare. Don't forget the walls are made of stone. If you live in a city, it may be that you haven't come across a stone-built home before. This is what it looks like. Those walls are really DENSE!

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I think that overall, noiseboy's Mesh solution appears to be the best option although I'm having trouble finding one with 4 slaves. I will probably go for a 3 pack with a brand that offers optional extra slaves.
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
I used to fit pa systems into churches, so a wall like that holds no fear for me. When you've spent 12 hours drilling a 4" core through a 7' thick 12th century flint wall, all the time with a heritage expert peering over you to make sure you don't damage it, a domestic building is easy!! You just need the right kit for the job 😉
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
It always amazes me how guys involved in construction see mere walls as no obstacle: "You want a door there, through that three foot of masonry that's holding the building up - no problem some RSJ's and a few weeks attacking it with the block cutter and bad language and we'll have it done." Kudos.
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
Ha, I know what you mean!!

We're converting 2 office units into 1 larger space at the moment. It's a 350 year old external shell with a modern building grafted into it, so there's been some interesting and unforseen challenges, including a mezzanine built in wood, not concrete and steel as shown on the plans, a steel girder we need to remove holding up a non structural internal wall that would not look out of place on the Forth Bridge and a 2nd, criticaly structural girder that's 3' shorter than it should be and is supported by a pillar of recycled 17th century bricks disguised as a reinforced concrete pillar with a layer of mortar slapped around it!!

And yet, the builders simply shrug, call the structural engineer and architect and adjust their plans. Nothing seems to worry them unduly!!
 

andy1249

Distinguished Member
I was in a similar situation years ago in trying to get a wi fi signal through a stone wall ( not concrete , stone , old house ! )
I spent a fortune on many different "systems" and none of them worked , then someone reliably informed me that really , all I needed was the right bit.

Amazon product
Went through the stone like it was warm butter ... I installed my cable , problem solved for less than 20 quid , wish I'd known sooner , must have spent hundreds on hopeless wi fi solutions.
 

neilball

Well-known Member
I’ve recently finished a network and wifi upgrade for a customer in an old but much extended farmhouse with 1m thick stone walls. In this case hub containing router, patch panel, poe network switch etc is in an upstairs utility area, and all external-grade Cat6 cabling passes up into the roof space, then gets taken outside at various points, with the cabling drops then concealed behind rainwater downpipes before being drilled through the thick external wall to the new network points for wifi APs. There was no realistic option to get the cabling installed any other way, and the electrician who ran the cabling simply shrugged, got out his ladders and got on with it. He did have a serious looking SDS machine with some ridiculously long SDS bits, but he did all the work for 8 new APs in a day and a half. Now the customer has a wifi AP with integrated 4-port network switch in each of these locations meaning seamless high performance wifi and wired connections throughout the house (in this case it is Ubiquiti Unifi kit with their in-wall HD access points). They previously struggled for the last few years trying a variety of powerline and wifi extenders that suffered from a variety of issues due to the physical construction of the house and the way electrical wiring had been added throughout the years. Since getting the new data cabling they are delighted and wished they had done the work years ago.

So it might not be easy, but if the new fibre connection got into the location where the Livebox is placed then you probably can get a data cable back out following the same route. If that is possible then you potentially can route cabling externally to connect to at least one key location which then allows you to use the powerline or other solutions more effectively in your part of the house.
 
The fibre cable enters the home via an external wall. Passing a cable back out through that would not be of any real use however, it may be possible to drill through the floor in order to arrive via the ceiling of the first floor and then run across to the entry into the house #1, which just happens to be the main home cinema.

I will call an electrician to see if he thinks it can be done.
 
It always amazes me how guys involved in construction see mere walls as no obstacle: "You want a door there, through that three foot of masonry that's holding the building up - no problem some RSJ's and a few weeks attacking it with the block cutter and bad language and we'll have it done." Kudos.
 

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