Stable WiFi in a Covid-19 world

With everyone now doing remote schooling in addition to remote work, we’ve been hearing about quite a lot of people having internet and WiFi issues lately. Here are some things to consider when you’re trying to nail down the source of the issue:

Raw Internet speed does not mean everything. We see a lot of people indicate that they have “1000 Mbps” or “Gigabit” speed that they have paid Comcast or Verizon a princely sum for, and yet they are still having issues. Often, internet bandwidth is like water pressure. You may have good pressure coming into your house from the street, but if your pipes are clogged you may not get good pressure in most of the house. This is usually due to interference or distance from your wireless source.

Make sure there aren’t any issues with your service provider in the area – the infrastructure is under more pressure than any time in history right now, and some of that translates to slow speeds or loss of connectivity in certain areas. If your issues are long-term and Comcast / Verizon aren’t seeing a problem on their end, the issue is most likely with the reach and strength of your wireless network.

WiFi can be a finicky thing; many things from kitchen appliances to the building materials in your walls can block or interfere with it, and your service provider will typically install your Modem / Router in a location that is convenient for them, not necessarily where you will get the best signal coverage. Good WiFi is also dependent on not only the device sending out the signal, but the device receiving it. Although a smartphone or high end laptop might have no trouble, cheaper devices like printers can be very inconsistent with their behavior on weak signals. To make sure you get a good signal throughout the house, additional equipment is often needed. Many people make the mistake of going with range extenders (or boosters, as some people know them) which are fraught with inconsistent behavior and the constant need to switch networks manually depending on where you are in your house.

Most of the time, we get the best results out of Mesh WiFi systems. The way these work is pretty straightforward – instead of one wireless router, you get a few different access points that broadcast WiFi and share their connection with each other. All of these points talk to one another and automatically and seamlessly connect you to the nearest one with the best signal, without you having to go out of your way to connect to a different network like you might have to with an extender. These devices come from many brands and in many shapes and sizes, and we’ve had experience with quite a few of them.

For newer homes, we tend to recommend the Eero Mesh WiFi System. In our experience, it tends to have the best stability (not as many strange dropouts or anomalous behavior) and is fairly easy to manage with its well-featured app. When it comes to older homes, we use the TP-Link Deco P9. Not only does the P9 have similarly good reach with its wireless coverage, but it tends to deal with older homes’ building materials (which usually aren’t condusive to good WiFi) better with a somewhat unique feature. In this case, they can use the electrical lines in the home to communicate, so even if they’re spread a bit thin or there’s a lot of interference between each access point, they can maintain their connection. We’ve recently found, however, that in rare cases they don’t interact well with newer, more sensitive circuit breakers – so any home with electrical work done in the last twenty years is ill-advised for use with this system.

If you’re the do-it-yourself type, these systems are not too hard to set up and get going effectively. For everyone else, we do this frequently and can certainly help you.