Better WiFi for Ultrafast Broadband
So you've got super/ultra/mega/incredi-fast broadband at last, but how do you get the most out of it around your house?
If you're in the same room as the fibre router you've probably got great signal and speed, but beyond there results can be incredibly variable. Perhaps you have an old house with thick walls or floors, perhaps you have a long thin house, or perhaps you have an outside office or another building that needs Internet.
Here's a guide to some of the ways you can solve those problems. Product recommendations are taken either from The Wirecutter which is an excellent in-depth review site for technology, or from having used the product personally.
Quick options for different budgets
I just want to look at my phone in bed, and the signal won't quite reach
Have a look at WiFi extenders, they're a cheap and quick way to solve your problem, but be aware that they won't give you the max speed.
I want better speed for gaming upstairs, or WiFi in the garden
See if a Mesh WiFi system is within your budget, or get a couple of Powerline adapters to connect individual devices straight to the router. You could get a mid-range dedicated access point, or a Powerline WiFi extender to provide better signal to a particular place.
Money no object, I want max speed, and I'm happy to have work done to get there
Get dedicated ethernet cabling installed for TVs and desktop computers, then have several good dedicated WiFi access points installed around the house. With good planning they can be very discreet but still give you full speed everywhere.
WiFi Extenders / Repeaters
These are the simplest solution to weak WiFi - a small device that plugs into a socket anywhere in your house within range of the main router. You set it up with the details of your original WiFi connection, and it copies it.
The range is usually similar to that of the original router, so you can easily get 50% more range in total, and you can put several around if you need to increase the range on several sides.
The big disadvantage of these is that they halve the speed of the WiFi connection for any devices connected to them. WiFi only lets one device talk at once, so as you send data to the extender it has to stop talking to you in order to send your data along to the original router. This means they're an excellent option if you have extremely weak signal in a particular place, but aren't as good if you want to make full use of your internet connection.
This doesn't meant they're a bad option - lots of people simply won't need the full 200Mb/s available for each and every device, in which case they're fine - it's just worth thinking about what devices will be connecting to the repeater.
- One Device, no cabling
- Most flexibility in placement and connectivity
- Halves the speed of your WiFi connection
- TP-Link RE450 (£54.99)
- Linksys RE6500 (£49.99)
- Slower versions of these are available for tight budgets.
If you can use ethernet you should. Anything you connect to your router via an ethernet cable has 1000 Mb/s of bandwidth available, so it will never be the bottleneck between you and the Internet. There's no signal strength to worry about, no network names or passwords.
However, it does require installation work. You could buy a long cable and tack it to your skirting boards, but that gets ugly quickly, especially if you have multiple devices to connect. A better solution involves running the cables in the walls and under floorboards, then adding sockets to plug things into. This is a time consuming and relatively expensive option, and you need to know in advance where you want the sockets. An electrician or IT specialist will be able to arrange this for you.
You are also limited by what devices can use ethernet. Desktop computers, Smart TV and streaming boxes, and games consoles are in, phones are out. Laptops can use it, as long as you're happy to plug a cable in and be tethered to a wall.
- Full speed, 1Gbps
- No need to worry about signal
- Not all devices can use it (phones, laptops)
- Requires installation work, or ugly cables tacked around
These are the newest generation of WiFi devices, which you buy as a set. Spread them around your house and the communicate with each other over a dedicated radio signal to get the best speed possible.
Because you get multiple devices, you get much better coverage than with a single router or extender, and unlike extenders there's no speed loss.
The downside is that they're relatively expensive, and because you have to commit to a whole kit at once, you can't try one out as easily as with other options. You also have to commit to a single manufacturer - if you buy a Netgear set, you can't add another TP-Link mesh box in the future as it won't be able to communicate with the other devices. Take the time to read reviews and choose a pack that's the right size for your house, and that offers expansion options if you want to scale up in the future
- Easy way to get excellent wireless coverage
- Full speed, unlike simple extenders
- Expensive, several competing systems
(Also known as HomePlug or AvPlug)
If you have a BT TV service you've probably seen these, they plug into a standard electrical socket, and allow you to plug an ethernet cable into them. Add another one somewhere else in the house, and plug another device into its ethernet socket, and they will connect.
This is a really easy way to wire devices together if you don't have, or don't want, dedicated ethernet wiring in your house. Some also act as WiFi extenders, so you get the easy signal boosting options of an extender, but without the problems caused by the halving in speed.
Performance is variable, as there are lots of versions available, and they are sensitive to the quality of the electrical wiring in your house. They don't like being plugged into extension cables either, so if you're short of sockets to begin with things can get messy.
They also can't communicate across Consumer Units (fuse / breaker boxes). This won't be a problem inside your house unless you have very unusual wiring, but can be a problem if you want to get internet out to an outbuilding or garage.
Don't let these caveats put you off, they work surprisingly well in lots of scenarios as long as you meet the requirements.
- Good speed, no need to worry about signal
- Some available as WiFi Extenders
- Variable performance depending on wiring quality
- Fussy about extension cables
- Can't cross consumer units (fuse boxes)
- TP-Link TL-PA9020P (£99.95)
- Zyxel PLA5456 (£84.99)
- TP-Link TL-WPA4220KIT (£94.99) - WiFi extender version
- Buy the fastest one you can - they will cope better with any wiring issues or noise in the house.
Dedicated WiFi Access Point
A more advanced option, requiring you to already have Ethernet cabling or Powerline adapters, is to choose a dedicated WiFi access point, and install in the best place for signal.
This is what most offices and businesses will do - buy several and spread them around for great coverage, then connect them all together using Ethernet.
There's a huge range of devices available, from simple consumer grade routers that often have a WiFi only mode, to advanced Enterprise grade ones costing hundreds of pounds each, and supporting hundreds of simultaneous users. If you need the latter you probably already know it, and might have requirements beyond what this guide can help you with...
- Lots of choice in price and features
- Requires Ethernet - either Powerline or dedicated