Which Wi-Fi system to use?


(john9) #1

I need some help deciding which WiFi system to use. I am using Time Capsule and Airport Express. I am backing up to a cloud service, not my Time Capsule. I am looking at the Linksys Velop AC2200 and Google WiFi. eero Home WiFi is an option, but I like the cost/value of the Google system. I’d appreciate any and all comments on which way I should go to replace my Apple Airport Express system. Do I need to replace Time Capsule or use it as the base (as it is used now) connected to my Exfinity modem? Thanks!


(Doug Miller) #2

When it comes to reviews (such as Wirecutter, and Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal just did a review of a number of systems), I’ve read lots of great things about Netgear Orbi, particularly when it comes to value. Personally, I have Eero systems both at home and at my summer home, and I recommend it highly. Set it and forget it - everything just works.

You definitely want to connect the main unit of whichever system you choose to your XFinity modem. You won’t need the Time Capsule at all anymore.

The Wirecutter: https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-wi-fi-mesh-networking-kits/


(john9) #3

Thanks, Doug. eero is a little more than I wanted to spend, but I understand quality and reliability are worth it. eero reviews are very positive.


(Adam Engst) #4

I just replaced our AirPort base stations with eero and I’ve been very impressed so far. I looked into all the other systems too, but after seeing a presentation by Dave Hamilton of MacObserver at the MacTech conference, it sounded like eero was the best choice for me. There are some nitpicky details that make it better than some other options, but one that made the difference for me was that you can use two eero base stations (not the beacons) both connected to Ethernet and they’ll use Ethernet for backhaul between them, which improves performance over having to use wireless for backhaul.


(Doug Miller) #5

Right, here at the house (three stories) I have three Eero base stations, all connected by Ethernet. At the summer house (also three stories, but a slightly bigger house with more outdoor area we want covered), the main Eero gateway router is a model 2, there are two Eero model 1 connected by Powerline Ethernet, and one Eero Beacon that’s obviously mesh only. But all works great.

There was one small brief point of time when there was an issue with iOS devices not handing off to new base stations when connectivity was lost, but that was fixed within a few weeks. (July 2017. There was an issue with something called 802.11r fast transition with iOS devices.) Eero was very transparent about the issue online and, while dates were never promised, they acknowledged the issue. Also, Eero telephone tech support is top-notch. I had to call them twice when setting up (I have limited cellular connectivity here and at the summer house and part of the setup requires connecting over mobile). The phone was answered quickly, they had answers fast.

One possible drawback, though, is that all management is done through a mobile device app. There is no exposed web interface to manage from a computer browser. I have no issue with this myself.


(john9) #6

Doug and Adam. I have a 2 story house with full basement. I will have one base station at one end of the house where the Xfinity router cable enters the house. I have no practical way of extending the ethernet. Right now my Time Capsule connects directly to the router and from there I am extending with 3 AirPort expresses, 2 on the main floor and one upstairs. Basement seems be covered by the main floor devices. Plenty of signal in the basement now. Same basic setup will be required with the next system. I will need a 3-piece system, right? Base near the router, one extension at the middle of the house and one upstairs. Does this seem right to you guys? And, BTW, thanks for the help!


(Simon) #7

Just out of curiosity since you say extending over Ethernet is not an option. Have you considered something like powerline? Could possibly give you good range throughout the house using your various AP stations without relying on wifi for extension (slow!). I’m biased of course since I really like AP. I’d try to hold on to my AP gear for as long as possible.


(john9) #8

Hi Simon. I’d love to say with AP for now if I can. What is power line? I am not familiar with that. Thanks.


(john9) #9

I found information about powerLINE equipment and setups. It’s an option to consider.


(Dana Schwartz) #10

Just to be sure, you get service via an Xfinity cable modem in the basement, but have no coax for TV running anywhere else in the house, right? Only ask since the cable modem can be connected to any active TV line, and the internet (WiFi) could start from there.


(Simon) #11

There’s more information here.

Since you already have working AP units, an inexpensive Ethernet-only adapter should work just fine. Something like this. $86 shipped.

Have your TC hooked up to the cable modem and act as the master node of your wifi. That’s where you do NAT and define access and passwords. Hook up your powerline adapters to that and to the other AP units around the house. Have those other units operate in bridge mode. Use a common SSID to ensure you hope seamlessly from one AP to the next as signal strength changes when you move around these house.

The quality of these connections depends a lot on the wiring details of your house. Some people are super happy with this inexpensive method of extending their network while maintaining good performance. Others saw horrible performance or suffered intermittent performance. If I were to try something like this I’d just make sure there’s a good return policy. Order some and test the setup. If it works, great. Otherwise just return it.


(Doug Miller) #12

Since you’ll be true mesh, that sounds right to me for Netgear, Google, Eero, Amplifi, or Velop.

Powerline is an option. As I said, I use that at the summer house. However, I think I’d see how things go with wireless first. See what kind of throughput that you get. If it’s poor compared with your internet bandwidth, then you can consider spending extra on the powerline. I installed it because I was using that setup with older routers connected together before I replaced with Eero, so I just kept the powerline in place. These new mesh systems are designed to work well with wirleless connections between the nodes. One of the reasons that I bought the Eero for there was that I am not always there when other people are, but I can still see how the network is doing remotely.


(Fearghas McKay) #13

The 200Mbs boxes are not useful, some of the 1Gbps are marginal, the 2Gbps chipsets are all ok I believe but before spending money it is probably worth checking back here.

I use it combined with an eero network at my home in Scotland, where I am trying to get through 2’ thick stone walls and an air gap in between, it works well if you have the right gear.

I gave up trying to get it to work well with AirPorts.

In our house in Boston we have 3 floors and 5 airports scattered across them using mesh for the interconnect, the reason for more than 1 per floor is that we hang AppleTV/HDHomeRun/RPi/EthernetSwitch devices off the non primary boxes.

This is all Gen1 equipment - the Gen2 stuff is not all 220v friendly so not interested in paying the premium, in total we have 9 units for household and travel/event use. We would buy a lot more v1 for events but with only their 110v power prongs available it doesn’t scale.

As long as you can live with the fact that it is cloud config time the stuff just works, normally I would not do cloud only but this is so painfree I can’t resist it :slight_smile: If I want config pain I have plenty of other options in my day.


(Adam Engst) #14

I agree with Doug—a three-part mesh system should work fine. The eero system will also help you position the base stations or beacons.


(frederico) #15

tl;dr: don’t be too quick to condemn PowerLine adapters; it’s usually your electrician’s fault.

Having set up a number of these systems, what I find is that it is not the PowerLine devices that are (usually) at fault, but as indicated above, it exposes faults in your house wiring, if present. PowerLine adapters rely on a noise-free, clean and solid signal carried primarily on a single wire of your three-wire electrical system.

I tell you from lengthy experience, both in residential and commercial installations, finding what is known as a “floating neutral“, or a series of them, is extremely common.

What this means is that somewhere in the circuitry, the second leg of the AC power circuit, known as the neutral, is literally loose where it joins with other neutral wires and circuits. (Generally you do not have what is known as a “floating hot“ — if you do, the circuit tends to fail entirely.)

Because of the way AC circuits are wired, for simplicity and economics, there are rarely junctions of multiple points of the hot (black) wire; whereas the neutral (white) wire is commonly split and joined in bunches using wire connectors, and a sloppy electrician will fail to get multiple wires in complete and full contact, and then secured tightly with a wire nut. When they then fold, shove, and cram the bundles into the junction boxes, it is very easy for a neutral wire to slip loose.

(This is also somewhat common with ground wires as well, but because of the way junction boxes are assembled, the grounds are done first, and pushed in first, and are less likely to become undone.)

The circuit still works, because the neutral is merely shunted to ground (green), and most devices continue to work (assuming that given outlet is still grounded), but are no longer ground-fault protected, and suffer from greater amounts of “line noise” or “dirty power”. This kind of circuit will kill many electtronic components earlier in life, and will, e.g., most commonly kill fluorescent lights far sooner than they should, and usually display a buzzing sound in the ballast that drives the fluorescent tubes (also prematurely killing the ballast).

Neutrals are not only frequently found loose in junction boxes, they can be also very frequently found loose in the main breaker panel. I don’t know what it is about electricians, but I think they must secure the neutrals in the panels at about beer-30 on Fridays.

So, so, so, so many times when I am looking to fix other problems in an electrical box, I find myself turning the clamp screws one and two and more turns for each group of neutral wires in a breaker box. It drives me insane.

Thus, another factor in PowerLine adapters is whether or not the circuits being used to make the connection are on the same “leg” of the breaker panel; i.e., nearly every home or business is supplied with 220 V AC power, which is comprised of three wires, or legs, two black, and one white; the white supplies one leg of all 110 V AC circuits in the structure; and one of each either of the remaining two black wires supplies the second leg ( a single-phase 220 V circuit uses all three).

So, even if all of your neutral lug connectors are secure at each junction box, and each outlet has properly fastened hot, neutral, and ground wires, it is still possible for the signal used by powerline adapters to be weak or interrupted altogether by nothing more than a crappy connection of the neutral wires where they join each other in the box, and rely on the ground bus bar to create a circuit that can carry the powerlines signal.

And even with good solid connections throughout, powerline adapters simply do not function as well on separate legs (or individual breaker circuits), as they do when placed on the same leg.

It is usually quite simple to move them to be on compatible circuits by rearranging the breaker panel so that the circuits that carry the powerline adapters share the same hot (black) leg in the main panel.

Further still, appliances that push noise back into the electrical circuit, such as refrigerators, washing machines, etc., anything with a motor, or devices like microwaves ovens, can interfere with the powerline adapter when operating.

Again, these effects can be minimized by rearranging your circuits and breakers.

In summary, these adapters can be a very acceptable, inexpensive solution where it is cost-prohibitive to install Ethernet; and if you’re comfortable learning some AC basics (honestly, it’s technically super-easy — just make sure all three wires are securely connected at every junction or terminal), and can buy or borrow some inexpensive line testers ($5-$15-$50+), you can probably make these serve you very well.

(If you have a decent UPS (battery backup) it probably has an effective built-in line tester; you can carry it from outlet to outlet — note: even one of two sockets on a single box can be faulty — and use its indicators to test from completed/reversed neutrals and faulty grounds.)

And if the (otherwise well-reviewed, quality) PowerLine adapters don’t work well, returning them and ignoring the fact your structure (probably) has wiring problems altogether isn’t terribly wise.

Sorry for the lengthy article; HTH

edit: one more important point; because of the way the signal (waves) is carried , and the way electricity (electrons) flow across solid copper wires, it is imperative that the outlet hosting a PowerLine adapter uses the actual terminal lug screws on the sides of the outlet, and not the quick-push-in connectors on the back of the outlet! Those quickies have very little actual surface area, and do not do a good job of transferring electricity, let alone transmitting signal waves. Outlets connected in this manner can get notoriously hot when hosting heavy appliances, such as space heaters and air conditioners, for example. Personally, I think they should be banned, and any electrician who is lazy enough to use them should be fired.


(Al Varnell) #16

Another factor that can reduce the throughput of powerline adapters occurs when the outlet you are using is a Ground Fault Circuit-Interupter (GFCI) or most surge protectors.


(Tommy Weir) #17

@frederico’s experience tallies with mine (though a good deal more involved). I quickly found out that power line adaptors all being on the one leg was key to proper functioning in our last house. When it works it works great. When it came to our current house, unfortunately, we didn’t bear it in mind building our studio with it’s own fusebox and subsystem. There’s a lot of stuff plugged in out there, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to run Cat6 out there from the main house at the same time as the underground power cable, as it is our deck has a line of Cat6 providing a decorative trim…


(frederico) #18

LOL!

I’ve run into similar dilemmas; in one case, a router (or a dado or multiple passes with a circular saw) to form a groove in a neatly cut piece of trim, carefully drilled for pilot holes and brads (in place of a precise trim nailer) solved the problem. Plus it gave adequate UV protection and saved the cost of expensive gel-filled outdoor/underground cable. Corners were resolved with miter joints and a forstner bit to allow the cable ample space to curve, not bend.


(Tommy Weir) #19

Well I’ve to replace a joist or two next spring so I’m going to add that to the list. Good move.