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Need an alternative to mesh Wifi

StormHD

Established Member
I’ve tried various WiFi solutions and none have proven stable. BT whole Home didn’t stay up. I then moved to a TP Link setup which used homeplugs as a backhaul, it was better, but we’re still getting slow speed and dropouts.

The broadband (35meg) comes in to the home office on the second floor. Which is in the middle of what is essentially a long house with dead spots at either end.

we’re about to have CCTV fitted, it’s not Cat5 cctv, but we will need to run a cable from my office router into the attic for the DVR unit. I’m thinking it would be a good idea to shove a switch up there and run some spurs in the attic and drop some WiFi points (one central and one either end).

Does this sound sensible?
What WiFi points would you recommend?
Should I also change my router? (Currently Vodafone supplied unit).
Do I also need to consider a switch?
Will the WiFi likely punch through to the ground floor?

In terms of setup, we have a *lot* of smart devices (speakers, lights, blinds, doorbells, you name it), there are TVs, xboxes and in the day a couple of laptops on video calls most of the time.

budget wise I don’t want to go crazy if I can help it. £500 would be max, which I’d pay for some stability right now, but I’d really like to come in near half that.

any advice appreciated!
 

edward

Established Member
I can tell you what I did, and what I found out along the way.

Thick walls mean I had dead stops. I read that if I used WiFi backhaul for mesh, I’d get a dramatic drop off. I wanted fast throughout so wired backhaul seemed the obvious answer. I’d slung Cat 5 between and under floors, behind panelling, in walls etc when I put the house back together about 25 years ago. There are gigabit switches throughout. I’ve got a Virgin Media package that gives me 350 down and 15 up (despite what I was paying for, PlusNet using local BT aluminium and copper was only able to give me about 2 – local problem). I had to choose a Cisco firewall router that could handle the speed – they all don’t. I have a web server here so I’ve seen how hostile things can get so a firewall brings some peace of mind.

First mesh candidate was a TP-link Deco M9. My main switch is TP-link and the feature set for the money impressed me – a huge advance on the Netgear switches. Monitoring was good and I could separate the guest network from the private network. As soon as I switched the satellites to Access Point mode, a lot of the useful stuff was lost and there is no way of getting it back. This is where you find out that this is only marginally above Minimum Viable Product in terms of maturity. Closer inspection showed the crypto used to provide the all-important security was obsolete. They went back to Amazon.

Next, I tried Netgear’s Orbi 20 series, which seem to work with Alexa. Monitoring features are absent so, even if you're looking, you won’t know you have an uninvited guest until too late. They’re as fast as the TP-link but wired backhaul… many modern switches drop the current they put on idle links, they’re green. The Orbi can’t cope with green links. However.., if you plug the Orbi router and satellites together on an old switch, they can see each other, producing a network with wired backhaul. Once done, you can get them to recognise each other over a green switch. Laptops consistently get over 100 mpbs downloads throughout the house. 170 isn’t that unusual. With a budget of £500 you should be fine.
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
"Proper" wired ethernet backhaul links are always fastest and most reliable. In big commercial installs, we'd never do anything else unless we have to. So if Wi-Fi and/or powerline backhauls aren't cutting it for you, then there would seem to be no option but to get out the drill and install some UTP cables.

(BTW - on any give cable route, always install two (or more) - it's highly unlikely a UTP will fail in service, but if it does and you have no alternate in situ, you are off the air until you rip and replace. Cable is cheap compared to the hassle of installing it.)

You do not need to change your router because you are changing (or expanding) any of the infrastructure downstream of it. Routers sit at the "edge" of a network connecting you to other network, not in the "middle" bossing it. With one caveat, of which more below...

The ability to have "main" and "guest" network (or any other names you may wish to give them - in big commercial installs we might have dozens of them) is to do with something called VLAN's which keeps the traffic of different networks "separate" from each other across the infrastructure. Virtually all switch vendors make VLAN capable switches, it's not a technology unique to any particular vendor. It's just that a lot of the really low end SOHO kit doesn't support it, because most SOHO users dont' need or want VLAN'S, so omitting it reduces the cost and setup complexities.

"Proper" routers (as opposed to SOHO get-you-on-the-Internet network-in-a-box omni-boxes) join networks together. If you want multiple internal networks, then you might need a more capable router than your typical SOHO offering. You need something can route multiple networks to/from the Internet and between each other. If you only want a single internal network, then pretty much any SOHO router will be fine as long as it's got the grunt to be able to handle the capacity of your Internet speeds and the number of devices you have. Often we reflect such multiple network into the Wi-Fi offering by having the AP's advertise separate SSID names for each VLAN and we would use AP's capable of keeping the traffic separate and presenting it to (VLAN capable) switches on multiple VLAN's. Again, for a simple SOHO use case this is generally unnecessary (unless you want "guest" nework) and cheap SOHO kit omits such capabilities.

Setting up routing and VLAN's is not trivial if you want multiple internal networks - this is one way professional network managers earn their money. It's not hugely difficult either, but if you are new to it, it would be well worth making sure you understand all the concepts before shopping for the kit you need.

If you just want a simple, single flat network with everything on it, then that's much easier - pretty much plug and play.
 
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StormHD

Established Member
Thanks a lot for the advice. I’m happy getting the drill out.

Can I just check the thinking on a statement made above about not needing to upgrade the router? I get that it sits at the edge of the network, but does it not also pick up the load of all of the inter connectivity between the many devices attached?

If I simply connect 3 wired APs to the Vodafone router I’m worried about it dropping traffic/connections because it can’t cope (again, lots of always on smart devices).

what sort of device/brand should I be considering?
Thanks
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
Can I just check the thinking on a statement made above about not needing to upgrade the router? I get that it sits at the edge of the network, but does it not also pick up the load of all of the inter connectivity between the many devices attached?

It does, but only for local traffic that actually passes through it via it's LAN ports (and in built Wi-Fi AP.)

Here's a quick bit of networking 101:

Have a look at the block diagram of a SOHO router attached to the "Using Two Routers Together" FAQ pinned in this forum (no need to read the thread - just grab the picture.)

The "LAN" ports in a SOHO router are effectively a built in ethernet switch. Traffic transitting between switch (LAN) ports and/or the built in Wi-Fi Access Point only travel through the ethernet "switch" block, it never enters the router/NAT/Firewall block. Only traffic to/from the Internet via your ISP passes through the latter (it's governed by how IP addressing works.)

Ethernet switching is computationally trivial compared to what happens in the router/NAT/Firewall et al, so we can pretty much disregard it's impacts.

To give a metaphor: Data travels around networks in discrete little units called packets like letters in the post. Each packet has some "content" and an envelope with for source/destination addressing written on it.

The paradigm of ethernet switching is like "receive letter in my in tray, pick it up, examine the addressing written on the envelope, decide which out tray it needs to go in to move it towards it's destination, drop it in out tray."

The paradigm or routing is like "receive letter, open it, discard the envelope, read the address written on the content header, decide which out tray it needs to go in to move it towards it's destination, (NAT) fake a different senders address to mask the original, (note that in a table,) amend letter with new fake address, (routing again) grab an envelope, stuff letter into envelope, seal it, address it, drop in required out tray. And (firewall) while I'm at it, if it's inbound traffic, check it was stuff I asked for and not unsolicited."

Don't worry too much about whether you follow that, but notice that the former is trivial compared to the latter.

So I wouldn't over think it. For local traffic that's only "switched" locally, just try it and fix the problem if it occurs. For Internet traffic, it might be more of a concern.

The "fix" for a router not fast enough for local traffic, would be to connect it all to a gigabit switch - which are cheap as chips these days. If your incumbent router cannot cope with the amount of traffic collectively being sent to/from the Internet, then that's the time to consider a new router. (The metric for router processing capacity for the router/NAT/firewall is usually referred to as "WAN-to-LAN routing capacity" - not that much SOHO kit cites it.)
 

StormHD

Established Member
Thanks so much for taking the time to provide a clear explanation (which I was able to follow!).

The issue certainly seems to be on my internal network, rather than the external/routing side.
I’ve seen a number of mesh WiFi devices which are advertised as being able to ‘cope’ with more we connected devices, which is why I’ve concluded that I’ve overloaded previous kit.

To give an indication, I’ve got hubs for Tado, Sonos, SmartThings, Hue, IKEA (and probably others I’ve forgotten) connected to an 8 port gigabyte switch. That’s connected to my Vodafone Router, along with PS4, Xbox, PC, Server, TV, Nvidia Shield (and probably others).

I’ve also got the primary TPlink mesh unit connected to the switch, with the others connecting to each other via home plug tech.

It often shows that I’m connected to WiFi (mesh) at full strength, but I actually have no connection. If I connect directly to the Vodafone WiFi I can connect straight out (but that doesn’t reach the extremes of the house.

I am at a bit of a loss as this is my third mesh solution. I figure I could spend hours trying to diagnose the issue (is it WiFi, home plug related? Too noisy etc etc). In reality I’d like to swap it out for a much more stable solution!

From what you’ve said I think I’m best, keeping the VF router, using that to talk to the internet. Connecting all other devices via a switch, and then from the switch connecting two/three hard wired access points (and disabling the routers WiFi). Does that sound right?

thanks again.
 

neilball

Prominent Member
Once you move into wired access points you need to decide if you want a centrally managed system where the APs are “controlled/managed” from some form of controller (which may be a dedicated hardware device, or software on a router, or even on a PC/laptop/Raspberry Pi etc, or just run stand alone APs that just do there own thing.

Managed systems generally have dedicated control software or apps that can help with deployment and maintenance of the wifi system, and may add features such as fast roaming of clients between APs, band steering (push clients onto 5GHz when possible for faster performance), pushing of clients onto neighbouring APs with better signal/performance when their existing connection is weak etc. There are lots of features available, but these are by no means standard, so check the spec sheets if you want a particular feature to be present.

Managed systems also then have simpler systems aimed at non technical consumers, and more sophisticated systems aimed at prosumers and network/wi-fi experts. For example, I run a complete Ubiquiti Unifi setup - including router, system controller, network switches and wi-fi APs, as this gives me a lot of scope for advanced control, but is most definitely not for non technical users to DIY install & setup.

Using stand alone APs is pretty straight forward and you can even deploy some of your old routers if you follow some basic rules (sea the sticky for using two routers together for extending wi-fi). But if you give them all the same SSID name then you are reliant on your client devices deciding when to move from o e AP to another when more than one is within range. Do not fall into the trap that your devices are always hunting for the best signal, as that is not the case. There are ways to manually force the situation - often turning wi-fi on and off on your device can make the decide choose the better signal, or you can use different SSIDs and manually select from your wi-fi settings as you move around the house.

If you are thinking about simple consumer managed solutions then some of the mesh systems you tried before may be able to use a wired backhaul rather than a wifi mesh to create backhaul links.

A step up from this is systems such as that from Draytek - their 2862 router (and others) include their central wifi management software for use with their range of APs. So their APs can be set up stand alone, or used as a managed systems using their router. Their routers are also designed to cope with much larger networks, so could directly replace your Vodafone router provided you can get the relevant settings from Vodafone to use in the Draytek.

Then you have the systems such as Unifi and others, where you might need some help to select/install/setup - either from a helpful retailer (Broadband Buyer offer a low cost online course on Unifi, and also offer management via their central controller for a few), or from a specialist installer who will help design/specify/install/commission/maintain your system. Here costs quickly escalate to many times that of the other solutions, often with kit that requires additional renewable licensing costs, and are more usually found in large commercial installations or in very large/grand houses.
 

diluxe

Established Member
Two Google nest routers working as mesh has been totally stable for me and was a replacement for the tp link deco M4 3 pack which was useless.
 

jon9001

Established Member
If you have a good router then using media bridges is a possibility. Basically they give you a fast 802.11ac ACxx connection and some Ethernet ports to connect stuff too. Obviously only any good if you are connecting stuff up that has Ethernet-in, and you could put the bridge somewhere where it would all work.
I have brick internal walls and use:
ASUS AC87U router (which I wouldn't recommend, purely as ASUS aren't keeping it on the latest firmware, although I run the RMerlin firmware anyway).
ASUS PCE-AC68 configured as a Media Bridge, which is crap
ASUS EA-AC87 Media Bridge, which is great (you'd think being 5GHz only it wouldn't do the range, but I find it excellent, 975Mb up and down as I type)
 

StormHD

Established Member
Thanks all, I’m trying Unify, as I can’t bring myself to try a 4th WiFi solution!

I’ve got two lite ceiling units, which I’ll install via the loft, and two wall mounted units which I’ll run a couple of external cables down and cover off the downstairs.

Installation ongoing but hopefully it solves the problem!
 
D

Deleted member 24354

Guest
Two AC Lites with wired backhauls to your ISPs router should serve you fine. Combined with an additional 2 in-wall APs should flood your house with high quality WiFi. Once you have them installed, please come back and we can give you some advise on how to optimise them. They will need a little tweaking as Out Of Box settings tend not to be the best.
 

StormHD

Established Member
Hi - all installed just fine. Was seemingly quiet simple. I’ve installed the controller onto my windows server, and detected and updated all 4 APs just fine.

Any config tips would be appreciated. I’ve not fully fitted the ceiling points so I can move them around a bit. I don’t know if there’s tools which help figure out the best placement.

I also want to set up multiple SSIDs.
-Main WiFi network
-Guest wifi (I think this can be an offshoot of the main one but not sure)
-Kids (so I can better control internet access / times etc)
-One for my smart devices. This one needs to support 2.4ghz, and some legacy devices need to have a separate 2.4ghz SSID -they don’t work well when it’s mixed

Any advice on the above would be appreciated too!
 

StormHD

Established Member
Hmmm... I’m wondering, if I set up an SSID for my IoT / Smart Device clients, will devices connected to another SSID (eg my phone connected to my primary WiFi) be able to access and interact with the IoT stuff?
 

StormHD

Established Member
And in other news... the speed when accessing the internet from the Unify APs seems to be half that compared to when I’m connected to the routers WiFi (15meg compared to 30meg).... just investigating now...

Edit: Seemingly fixed. Changed 5gjz to VHT80, and I also ran a scan on all APs and manually selected the channel with the least interference. I’ve now got solid speed across the house, apart from one room where it’s about 20% slower than the rest, however, I expect that is down to the position of that AP which I’ll move about tomorrow.
 
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mickevh

Distinguished Member
Different SSID's will keep traffic separate "over the air" - it's not strictly how it works but these days when we all encrypt our Wi-Fi traffic, you could think of each SSID as using different encryption keys. Incidentally, it's worth mentioning that the differing SSID's are still all competing for the same "air time" - you haven't magicked up any extra bandwidth.

It's kind of like a restaurant with an "only one person at a time can speak" rule, but there's a party of English speakers on one table, French speakers on the next, German on the next, etc. Each party cannot "understand" the conversation of the others, but they still "hear" the other parties and the "only one person at a time can speak" rule prevails.

What happens to the traffic when it reaches you AP's is where the fun begins. If you want to keep that traffic separate as it travels between AP's, switches and routers, you need a mechanism to avail such. The easiest way is to use something called VLAN's and programme each AP to ingress/egress traffic from particular VLAN's (VLAN's are usually identified by a number 0-4095) and bind it to a partcular SSID ie set up a VLAN-X to SSID-Y correspondence in the AP's (if said AP's are capable.)

However for that to succeed, you need the rest of your infrastructure (switches routers) to be VLAN capable also. So now is the time to check if it is - though you wouldn't normally expect if from cheap SOHO gear and rarely ISP supplied routers.

You could dump all traffic from different SSID's onto the same LAN/VLAN, but if you are going to do that it begs the question "why bother with separate SSID's" - you may as well not bother.

Thence with multiple VLAN's we're going to be into multiple IP Subnets and you'll need to devise an IP addressing scheme for such and you'll need something that can route between multiple VLAN's/subnets and/or the Internet. Again, most cheap ISP routers won't do this.

There's other ways you might achieve the same result using, oh I dunno, VPN tunnelling the "guest" traffic to some magic box maybe, but VLAN's is the simplist approach (it's commonly used in big business infrastructures.)

None of this is hugely difficult, but it's a learning curve if you've not done it before, you might not have the kit (switches, routers) to facilitate it and it will certainly require some planning and "setting up" - don't expect to unpack some magic box and have it auto-configure everything just so.
 
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