These days, the minimum speed most Cable Internet Service Providers (ISP) offer for internet access is 200 Mbps here in the Los Angeles/Orange County area of Southern California. That is more than sufficient for most households. But, I hear more and more people complaining that they have slow internet.
Even though streaming TV shows and movies is the norm now, HD streaming only needs around 7-10 Mbps bandwidth. So why are so many people complaining that they have slow internet when they have 200 Mbps bandwidth with only a few people in the house and maybe only one person streaming? And no, it’s not that they’ve been lied to by the ISP.
The problem is their WiFi router. Most households use the default single unit modem & WiFi router that the ISP provides them and these units are the very basic types. Yes, you can go buy your own WiFi router and that may help the overall speeds a bit, but only a bit more.
The problem lies in how many devices are connected to that single WiFi router. The device manufacturers have realized this for some time now and have started to add into the specs how many devices it can handle. However, that number is very subjective and difficult to quantify because it’s not only the number of devices but how heavy of the usage is that device.
For example, let’s say a single WiFi router states it can handle up to 10 devices. However, let’s say 5 of the connected devices are WiFi security cameras you have placed around and inside your property. WiFi security cameras are basically sending full HD (FHD) resolution videos through the WiFi router every time movement triggers the camera to record. These also include your video doorbells that most houses have now as well. These devices are heavy users all day long and I would equate each of these devices to be equal to several typical devices connected to the WiFi such as your smartphones.
So, with that being said, those 5 security cameras and video doorbell would bottleneck your WiFi router and make your own connection feel slow because the WiFi router is under heavy usage even though it’s “supposed” to be able to handle up to 10 devices.
Another outcome of the above scenario is that when you have these heavy usage devices such as security cameras or even multiple people streaming tv or movies at the same time, the WiFi range diminishes as well. So, for example, let’s say a WiFi router states it can cover up to 1000sqft of space. Well, once you start connecting multiple devices and you get some heavy users on it, the WiFi coverage actually starts to shrink and you may find that it’s only covering 500sqft now. And so the further out you are from the router, the closer you are to the edge of the coverage, the slower your WiFi connection will be as well.
How do we fix this? With a Mesh WiFi Router system now being offered by several companies. The most notable would be Google Nest Wifi, Orbi by Netgear, and Amazon’s own eero.
Before the advent of mesh router systems, companies would deploy Access Points (AP) to extend their WiFi coverage and “split the load”. These can be stand-alone WiFi units set to AP mode set to the same WiFi SSID and password so that as you walk around the building, you are constantly connecting to the nearest AP on the same WiFi network without disruption in connection. But, setting up AP units at home isn’t a simple thing and usually requires you to run networking cable all over your house to connect the AP units to your main router. This can be costly and inefficient.
A mesh router system consists of multiple WiFi units. There is a main unit that is connected to the modem. Then you have the point (short for access points) or satellite units that you can place elsewhere around the house and you just need to plug them into an outlet. The points communicate to the main unit using a separate communication protocol that does not interfere with the WiFi signal and does not degrade the coverage or speeds.
In essence, with a mesh router system, you now have multiple WiFi access points to share the load of all the devices you have in your house. This gives you an overall better coverage of your entire house without the issue of overloading a single WiFi unit when you have many connected devices or even a few heavy users.
My personal favorite and the one that I use is the 2nd Generation Nest WiFi from Google. One of Google’s design philosophies is to keep things simple. Setup, configuration, and maintenance are very simple. For most households without a techie in the house, I recommend this product.
For many others I know, they use the Amazon eero mesh WiFi system. There are a bit more bells and whistles and they also offer it with WiFi 6, the newest generation for WiFi connectivity. Yes, WiFi 6 is a faster connection than 802.11ac (which could be classified as WiFi 5). But, WiFi 6 has a smaller coverage range than WiFi 5. Then again, if you’re using a mesh WiFi system, coverage won’t be an issue.