Recently, a new kind of device has appeared to help boost WiFi in our homes, the whole home WiFi system. In a whole home WiFi system, a number of devices work together to create one seamless WiFi network for your home. This is a very important new category that is delivering real benefits to extend WiFi, but understandably the name is causing a little confusion.
Why? – Before our WiFi had been delivered by a router and a range extender. If our WiFi started to buffer we knew what name to curse. Now we have to blame the whole home WiFi system and apparently we need to have two or three devices – they are mostly sold in packs of 3 – leading to even more confusion.
Is it a router?
This is a fair question as most of the products don’t mention it in the first stages of their materials. It is also a very easy one to answer: Yes, it is definitely a router. A router creates a local network for all your devices to connect to, either by cable or wirelessly over WiFi. It assigns IP addresses to your devices and in doing so makes sure when your devices request something from the Internet the right data gets sent to the right device. Whole home WiFi system devices do this job also so they are definitely routers. The only question is what kind of router?
Do I need two of them?
They come in packs of 3 and most of the promotion literature encourages you to buy several, but, the truth is, you can definitely create a network with just one. Each one is a router in itself, so, if you buy a pack of 3, and then share them out among friends with different homes they will all work. They are sold in packs of 3 for a good reason explained below.
Why a pack of 3?
This product was created to solve a very real problem that exists in many houses. WiFi signal is limited by distance and slowed down by obstacles such as walls, microwaves, even sofas, and the materials in the walls such as chicken wire. If you have a big, old house you probably have plenty of areas where there is no WiFi signal. If you have a smaller house you may have areas of the house where the signal is weak. You may even have a very small house but want to extend WiFi out in your garden.
So what can you do to solve the problem? A newer AC router can help boost WiFi but has its limitations. The reason is that while AC routers improve the boost WiFi reception at a certain distance, they don’t extend the WiFi signal significantly further and they don’t have any special technology to get the signal through walls. If you have a very big house or particularly thick walls the signal will continue to be weak and you need another way to boost WiFi.
That other way is to add extra devices. These additional devices extend WiFi coverage by capturing the signal from the main router and broadcasting it again so the signal goes further. To optimize signal distance you place them strategically around the house with a clear line of sight to the areas with bad WiFi coverage; therefore, avoiding the walls and other obstacles.
Each device only covers a certain range and a box of three is designed with the average suburban house in mind. But don’t just pick up the box of three. Check the range the manufacturer says each one will cover, think about the size of where you live, and buy the single unit box if appropriate.
What are whole home WiFi systems doing differently to extend WiFi?
For a while now there has already been a solution to boost WiFi signal from your main router – range extenders – so why do we need this new one? Whole home WiFi systems use mesh technology to create a WiFi network. Mesh networking has been available and is used in businesses and public areas for many years. It wasn’t used in consumer routers before because of cost and difficulty to set up and maintain, but that now has been solved — Whole home WiFi products are incredibly easy to setup, so much so that they are easier to do so than traditional routers. If you are technically minded or curious you can find out how mesh networking works here. Below I am going to focus on a practical comparison of mesh versus a range extender.
Work together for improved Signal Strength
Mesh enables many devices to work together on the same network, whereas a range extender always creates another network in addition to your router’s network. Consequently, range extenders are only able to capture WiFi signal and rebroadcast it, not communicate with the main router. This is a problem because Internet data goes through the air on channels or bands, but the number of these channels is limited and so is capacity. All the time different devices and WiFi networks are competing for that limited space making it very crowded. If we use the comparison of driving in a busy city, good traffic information can help us get on less crowded roads, while if we don’t have that information we can get stuck in a jam.
With range extenders, your data has no eye in the sky to help, whereas whole home WiFi devices can communicate about the amount of data on various channels and can make decisions on the best channel or band to send it on. They can also learn over time about traffic patterns, why traffic may have slowed down, and then optimize WiFi speed and strength for the future.
Whole home WiFi system devices will recognize each other when setting up making the process quicker and smoother with no need to input setting. They also all use the same network (SSID) rather than creating an additional network in your home like range extenders do.
Ease of management
Mesh WiFi devices are all on the same network so if you need to update network name, password, encryption or channel, you can do it once on the primary device and will automatically sync to the others. For range extenders, nothing will be synced. For example, even if you do something as simple as change the password on your router you will need to set up the range extender again.
Children now get connected to the net from tablets and smartphones rather than the family PC, making it more difficult to keep track of your children’s surfing habits. With whole home WiFi systems you can install once on the network to cover all your devices. With range extenders, this is not possible as you have to install on each one.
Our own entry into the mesh router or whole home WiFi system space is Almond 3. And, sorry, we have our own twist on the product description: Almond 3 is a smart home WiFi system. We don’t like to make up these long names – preferring our product to do the talking – but Almond 3 is not only a mesh router, it is also a powerful smart hub. This means you can use it to not only get great whole home WiFi but also automate your home; set up DIY home security, make your home safer from accidents, more convenient and more fun. Almond 3 connects to a host of key smart devices like Nest, Phillips Hue, and it is also the first router to integrate with Amazon Alexa so you can voice control parental controls and guest networks among others. You can learn more about Almond 3’s innovation awards here.