I upgraded (i.e. replaced) our wireless network tonight. It had been something on the “honey-do” list for a while, but it took a bit to get all the information I needed. Tammy and Miranda both have been having lots of trouble with their laptop & phones dropping off the WiFi. The current technology that I was aware of for whole-home WiFi is wireless mesh networking, where multiple wireless nodes work together to shuttle data around the house. Eero sponsors a number of podcasts I listen to, and when I heard stories about how well it works, I thought perhaps that type of solution was what I needed.
But part of me wondered if that was really what I needed. Mesh networks have two main advantages:
- Multiple access points that create a seamless single network over the whole house,
- The access points support multiple hops through your network so you don’t have to run ethernet cable to the ends of the house.
I highlighted that bit, because of course I did run Ethernet cable from the basement cabinet to the dining room and to the bonus room. Mesh networks currently run between $400 and $550, which isn’t cheap. Would a mesh network be a waste?
Then I was reading the Wirecutter’s recommendations for mesh networks at dinner tonight and after reams of information on Netgear Orbi and Eero, the last paragraphs talked about an alternative:
If you’re a more technical sort, you might be wondering how this stuff compares against a more traditional multiple-access-point stack such as Ubiquiti’s UAP line of devices. Unlike the mesh kits we tested, each UAP unit connects to the network through a wired Ethernet port and provides a Wi-Fi signal in its physical area. Technically, this arrangement is a much simpler option than mesh, as you don’t have to worry about a signal to the access points, just the signal each one provides. You also don’t need to worry about broadcast chatter in between the access points, or any of a host of other potential problems; you just plug a unit in (to both power and the wired network) wherever you want some more of that sweet, sweet signal.
Even if you add the cost of labor for a professional to run an Ethernet cable from, say, your router to the downstairs office, the total cost is still well under $300. Eero and Plume are capable of using a wired connection to any or all of their satellites, as are most of the mesh kits (Orbi’s satellites and AmpliFi HD’s mesh points being the exceptions), but they’re all considerably more expensive than Ubiquiti access points.
Long story short: If you can run Ethernet cables and use standard access points instead of a mesh kit, you should consider it.
So I purchased two Ubiquiti Unifi access points from Memory Express. Total cost is $250, and three hours of my time tonight. They were not exactly plug and play, but once it was all working, the performance around the house has been excellent.
We have seven days to take them back if they don’t work out, but they haven’t put a foot wrong yet. The bandwidth to the bedroom has never been better.