Help, my WiFi sucks! An in-depth test of various WiFi solutions

Most of the time when the internet doesn’t work, there is a problem with the Wifi connection. Now, to increase the WiFi coverage in your house, you have various options: you can install a second access point, a range extender, a repeater or even a super advanced WiFi mesh network.

We tested the differences in performance of these solutions with several smartphones. Signal strengths and noise levels were measured using professional equipment and we made marks on the floor to indicate the points where users needed to perform a connectivity test. Testing was done with the app “Wi-Fi Sweetspots”, measuring the average connection bandwidth over a 5 second average.

Solution 1: a second access point

If you choose the same name and password for your second access point, your devices will connected without a problem. But there is something called the “sticky client” problem. What we see is that some devices don’t let go of the connection to the first access point, even when you are very close to the second accesspoint. In a normal home, you will have some level of signal strength left, even when you’re far from the access point. But when the signal isn’t strong enough to provide you with a working internet connection, you are trapped in the access point. Some devices will switch to the nearby access point after a minute, others require you to either walk out of range completely or to switch the WiFi on your device off and on again.

Solution 2: WiFi repeater

A WiFi repeater is essentially a second access point, but it uses the WiFi signal not only to talk to your smartphone, but also to link back to your first access point. Our test clearly shows this: the average bandwidth of the repeater is half the bandwidth of the access point and the sticky client problem remains present.

Solution 3: integrated WiFi range extender

The range extender we used is using power over ethernet to link back to the first accesspoint. This means that WiFi bandwith isn’t sacrificed. Since the Proximus PLC solution we used is integrated with the Proximus Bbox 3 accesspoint we used, it is also supposed to not drop the connection when you handover from the access point to the range extender. We indeed noticed that the IP address remained unchanged, but our lower end devices still suffered from the “sticky client” problem. Note that high end devices like the One Plus 3 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 didn’t suffer from the “sticky client” problem and managed to switch over when the signal from the range extender became stronger than the signal from the access point.

Solution 4: Ubiquity Mesh network

Now the very best WiFi solutions are the ones that are used in companies as a corporate network. These networks consist of multiple accesspoints that are coordinated by a central controller. The controller shares the private keys between the access points, so your smartphone only sees one access point and doesn’t need to get involved in the handover between the different antenna’s. One way to look at it is that these solutions behave like one big accesspoint with multiple antenna’s in different locations.
The one we tested is the Ubiquity Mesh network. For all devices, this solution is clearly superior. Our low-end and mid-end devices no longer show the “sticky client” problem and just have a stable connection, even between two access points. Our high end devices show that next to stability, this mesh network also increases speed, with the Samsung Galaxy S7 maxing out at 200Mbps.

Google: bringing mesh networking to the masses?

Tomorrow, Google will announce a new home router called Google WiFi. This product is rumoured to feature mesh networking capabilities. I can imagine Google trying to create a mesh network between your access point and that of your neighbours. This would really revolutionise the WiFi router market and could even mean a new way of selling internet subscriptions for telecom operators.
In the meanwhile the conclusion of our test is simple: if you internet is not stable, it could very well be your WiFi that sucks. The best thing to do in that case is to install a mesh networking solution like Ubiquity Unity.

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