Which Wi-Fi system to use?

(Al Varnell) #21

Apple products are still being sold, but future development has been halted.

One more contribution to this discussion. If you live in an average, single storage house / apartment, then you probably don’t need to purchase a three node mesh system as a couple of three story users have suggested. You can purchase only one such devices which will usually result in faster service and not require Ethernet cabling between nodes.

(David Ross) #22

I’m fairly sure they are only selling off excess inventory. I’ve not see Airports or Time Machines anywhere but the refurb page for a while now.

As to home size yes a big home can really make use of a mesh system, but many smaller ones almost require one. It’s all about what is inside of the walls. And where the kitchen is located with all those metal appliances. Plus most microwaves put enough RFI out the back to kill any wifi in the “line of fire” when they are in use. And don’t forget all that metal piping and ducting inside the walls that you can’t really see without some serious exploration.

My house is a split level with 1850 sf. It was built in 1961. The 2 baths have their tile laid down on 1/2" of concrete with a metal lathe as a backer. So basically they act as an RFI blocker for anything trying to get from one end of the house to the other. Add in the location of the kitchen and various outside doors plus plumbing and HVAC ducting and the only place a single WiFi access point would work is suspended over the front door vestibule. And as long as I’m married that will not happen. So I use 3 Airports to allow me to curve around the blocking parts of the house. And that only works as wel as it does because I ran Cat5e over the years to various points.

(David Ross) #23

You are one nearby lightning strike away from blowing out your network and some or all of the attached devices. Use a radio link or some fiber to go outdoors. Eiither can be done for under $300/$400 these days.

(Tommy Weir) #24

I understand that. Not the same phenomenon here it is in the US. No fork lightning, sheet lightning is not that common. And my house and surrounding tree cover make it extremely unlikely.

(David Ross) #25

Actually anything within 1/4 mile is close. And trees are no help. A strike in a nearby tree is basically the same as a ground hit.

(frederico) #26

If a lightning strike is remotely a concern, then the solution is as simple as an inline Ethernet surge protector.

99.999% of homeowners don’t even put adequate surge protection directly on their most expensive appliances, let alone consider the origin point of incoming Ethernet/telephone cables; and if you think your telco or cable provider did an adequate job ground-faulting your house against nearby ground/tree strikes, you’re probably dreaming. Open your service panel and look for the securely attached 4 gauge grounding cable, and trace it to the 48"+ (according to local code) buried copper-jacket grounding rod, or, at least, directly to your incoming copper water supply.

What? Not there? Color me shocked.

(Doug Hogg) #27

I have set up two of the dual-unit RBK50 Orbi mesh routers recommended by thewirecutter.com and they have been rock solid and very fast — 283 down and 23 up connecting to the main router through the floor of our bedroom (both units are downstairs). I was able to set them up by logging in via the local i/p address, but I am using the Orbi app for my iPhone now. At one point prior to my use, Netgear had released a flaky upgrade that resulted in complaints, but I have not experienced any issues. Our Spectrum internet went down a few times (a Spectrum issue) and the Orbis complain by flashing colored lights, but they re-connected when Spectrum came back up. The other Orbi system is at our in-laws 90 miles away, so I am glad it has been stable since set up months ago,

(David Ross) #28

I guess we disagree. You’re discussing what I think of as a minimum. But I’ve been involved with situations where lighting strikes have taken out things with good grounding and such but had copper runs outside of the building stucture. And the strike was over 1000’ away.

As to your grounding requirements I suspect you’re not in the US. Here what I think is current code for most of the US.

Two 5/8-inch x 8 feet copper or copper clad grounding electrodes must be supplied with a #4 copper or larger grounding conductor spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart. The conductor shall have no splices and be connected directly to the grounding lugs of both the meter base and disconnect box.

(Richard Rettke) #29

Surge protectors DO NOT protect against lightning strikes, only transient voltage spikes. I have personally seen a fortune 500 taken down for for over 12 hours, when protected by a professionally installed multi layer electrical protection system (large room full of batteries to power the data center whilst the 2 gigantic underground diesel generators come online, etc.) It was the best protection for a data center that money could buy and did an awesome job against power failures and power surges, but it was no match for a nearby lightning strike (Took out a large tree about 15-20 meters from the data center).

When the vendor was asked why this multi million dollar system didn’t work the response was, “give me the specs on that bolt of lightning and I’ll build you a system to protect against that one”.

(frederico) #30

Yes, you’re quoting from NEC 250.5[somethingsomething], and that’s just the current, most accepted minimum code (and we can have en entire class here of why that is now considered obsolete, let alone horrifyingly incomplete and widely misunderstood); and what you are referring to is for main AC electrical service panels, whereas due to the nature of quick conversations in casual forums, I failed to fully clarify that what I was talking about were independent telco/cable/data junctions and ground terminals, which may or may not be located near to, and grounded with the AC service panel.

So, this conversation could rapidly explode into a masters-level discussion of physics and electrical engineering and best electrical high and low voltage practices, but I doubt much of the Tidbits audience is interested in it; and you can find the same conversation and arguments and agreements to disagree in electrician’s, builder’s, and IT specialist’s forums all over the web. (;

That said, allow me to try to make a few points relevant to TidBits homeowners trying their best to provide basic protection when they add or modify equipment in their own homes.

In the earlier reference to telco/data grounding issues, I’m referencing the fact that most homes around the entire world aren’t built according to the latest universal building codes of the most recent years, which many local governing bodies may or may not have yet adapted in the first place.

It’s all well and good to discuss (a minimum of) two 8 foot grounding rods, but that only became typical in the past decade, and even then, is widely ignored, and, as I said above, is wildly misapplied and misunderstood and is terribly incomplete; you have to read and understand the entirety of 250.5.xx to know that two 8 foot rods 6 feet apart is just what gets you past a typical lazy local code inspection.

Did your electrician/contractor measure the actual earth ground resistance? I doubt it. Six feet is for minimum load in idea soil conditions; it has nothing to do with reality, and ignores entirely the obvious potential for ground loop capacitance, which is why many experienced, partially-knowledgable electricians (based on awful outcomes) resist the idea at all, but don’t fully understand why.

Let’s also establish that most homeowners doing self-repairs/additions/modifications are not master builders/contractors; and most contractors doing the same are not master builders; and few master builders are master electricians; and few master electricians are electrical engineers; and even electrical engineers will admit that grounding and ground loops are voodoo science that even they don’t yet fully understand – hence the ever-evolving and changing of IEEE and NEC codes, standards and recommendations.

Here’s another fun experiment for you: next time you talk to an everyday electrician – particularly the one you’ve contracted to install your new main or sub-panel; and particularly the guy he’s paying to actually do the work – to outline for your, in layman’s terms, Kirchoff’s Law. I can almost guarantee you that not only will he/she not be able to even outline it (let alone recite it), his/her eyes will glaze over and you will have insulted them and set a terrible tone for the remainder of the project.

The simple truth is that most small electrical contractors, even if they are somehow licensed in your state, are, at best, journeyman-level in knowledge and competence; most are very competent apprentice-level installers who know the very basics of what it takes to install code-passing AC installations, but haven’t got the first clue how to account for ground plane issues; they haven’t even heard of Soare’s Book on grounding, and they’ve never even looked at the code requirements and tables starting around 250.1[somethingsomething].

There’s a whole lot of math and theory in there, and there’s a reason why a truly good electrician costs a fortune (and is hard to find).

Anyway, back to the original (sort of) topic of low-voltage data line protection from lightning strikes; one, we’re just going to have to assume (likely wrongly) that your AC panel was properly installed and met (at the time) the local code, and there is at least a single six foot grounding rod (but for homes over 30 years old, it’s probably just (frequently loosely) tied to your incoming copper water supply) protecting your home from lightning strikes.

Depending on your telephone provider, there may (or may not) be yet another separate, 4-6 foot grounding rod specifically installed for the telco cable service (and if your are unfortunate, they placed that rod within 8 feet of the AC service rod(s), and have created a nasty ground loop capacitor right next to your main panel).

And then we have your natural gas connection, which is rarely (in my experience) located anywhere near the AC panel, but which in recent years, now also requires its own ground rod (especially if any modifications are made adding/splitting out new lines for new appliances); and whose rod is (hopefully) far enough away from the others to prevent capacitive ground loops.

Next, depending on your cable/satellite provider, and where they chose to install your main incoming line; they might have tied into the main service panel (not a great idea, but common); or into your existing telco ground lug (not ideal either, but acceptable, and also common; notwithstanding any inadvertent ground loops); or they may have tied onto a visible ground rod for the natural gas (lots of opinions on if this is good or bad); or they may not have bothered with a ground at all, or made a halfhearted attempt at making it look like there’s one tied into one of the above.

But what if your cable/satellite was installed long after the home was built? What if your original buried line has gone bad, and needs to be replaced? What if things like decks, patios, sidewalks and the like make installation anywhere near the existing service impractical or remotely difficult? Do you think Comcast or Charter or CenturyLink is going to spend what is required to restore service underground to the original point of entry?

What I said originally was to go look at your cable/telco service box, and examine its ground lug, and then (if they even bothered to connect it) trace it back to its actual ground device; it’s probably not even connected to anything, and if it is, it’s likely not going to do anything good – there are NO code inspections (that I’m aware of) required for data line installers, especially for existing structures.

I’m getting really tired, so I won’t even go into the fact that even residential homes should have separate ground bars installed for every major TV/AV/computer room and network panel, and how almost none except those built by the very rich contracting to very experienced and trustworthy builders will ever have them.

But I will circle back to one more anecdotal refutation to match the other anecdotal refutation preceding this post; I have personally seen where an inline Ethernet surge protector got nailed by a nearby tree/ground hit, and it saved the network panel it was protecting; while the main AC panel was destroyed, despite allegedly and theoretically having the best possible, and code-compliant ground system.

In any case, @tommy is stuck dealing with an afterthought, like most homeowners, and a $30-$50 CAT5/6/7 inline surge protector might be advised, and is a cheap wager, assuming that the house is otherwise fully protected [insert desired level of skepticism here] against nearby ground strikes (of which he seems completely unconcerned).

For the absolutely no one that has read thus far, I apologize for the lengthy wander into the weeds; but the entire point is that there are things you can do as a homeowner to both advance your data speeds, and correct existing electrical issues, of both high and low voltages, that add to your benefit and safety. And, there’s always homeowner’s insurance deductibles and/or precious income to be thrown at Verizon for 5G home service, if not.



(Tommy Weir) #31

Cheers. I read it all for one :wink:

Yes, not too worried about natural causes. Unconcerned and happily so probably go hand in hand, I don’t expect comedy or tragedy as a result.

The service of our power grid… with winter storms and trees coming down. That’s more our worry. We do have surge protectors in the TV room and the external office/studio. The power cabling and grounding for both house and studio are excellent. They might be in Ireland but they were built by an American, a master builder even…

(Jack F) #32

Is the Airport Utility app on a Mac and a iPad usable with non-Airport routers? Or does each of non-Apple routers come with their own software & device apps. I have a two story house and given the room layout Ihave an Extreme (802.11ac) with several Expresses (802.11n) to extend. The Extreme is etherneted to a fiber optic modem (ISP provided). Would I need a batch of extending routers should I leave the Airports?

(Al Varnell) #33

We seem to be straying way off-topic here, but no, Airport Utility is only for Airport routers.

Very few, if any 3rd party routers come with a Mac computer based software to configure them. They rely on using your browser to log into the router’s server based control firmware. Most are a bit user unfriendly and require close attention to the manual which probably did not accompany the router and must be downloaded from the support web site.

If those extenders are actually required in your home, then yes, you would probably need just as many multiple access points with a third party router. A mesh solution would probably reduce the numbers.

As others have often said here, ethernet connections to those extenders will go a long way toward increasing the speed of your local network, at least twice as much as you are seeing with non-mesh WiFi extenders. If you are limited by the speed your ISP provides, then the advantage is mostly lost, depending on how many devices you have on your local network.


(David Ross) #34

Of course those of us with Tivo’s and Plex type media servers don’t mind having an internal LAN that runs faster than the ISP connection. :slight_smile:

(David Ross) #35

Yep. Best phrase I’ve read is “The best protection for a direct lighting strike is the 12” of air between the outlets and power and data cords lying on the floor".

But most people without tall antennas on their roof will not get direct strikes. What they will get is nearby hits to trees and power poles. Which will send an interesting EMF wave into nearby things. My most recent experience was with a home office in a basement where the lightning hit a tree 100’ to 200’ from the house in the front yard. Around 100’ from the various power and service pods for the house. It blew out 2 surge protectors for sure (dead outlets) and we marked the rest in the house as “no surge, power only” and replaced all of them. The only thing that died was their Airport Extreme.

As to surge protectors just by the biggest joule count you can find for under $30. You can find them at various Staples type web sites if you search with 3000+ joule ratings.

And no they are not perfect. Just a better line of defense than nothing or those cute 800 joule things that get sold all the time for $10.

And realize that most of us have multiple paths into our “stuff”. Copper phone lines, DVRs, satellite, and cable boxes tied to our in house LANs, etc… Do you have a fax machine that is connected to both your LAN and copper phone line?

And I’m sorry but based on personal experience with business clients (and agreement from a local ISP that does their own fiber) copper between buildings is just a bad idea. Especially since you can do a radio link or fiber for similar money. Not talking to you but to others on this.

Two of these will set you back under $150 total.

(David Ross) #36

I wasn’t busting your chops. But trying to suggest simple approaches that work in the real world. It’s a fun place to work. Where electrician buy a punch down tool and start doing networks and such.

My best exploration was after a lightning strike took out some equipment (mostly an old key system phone setup) 15 years ago. Office was spread across two 100 year old warehouses separated by an alley. We found all kinds of interesting things. The best being the electrical ground for both were tied to the old water lines. Which likely would have been fine. Well except that about 10 years earlier the city had redone the street and utilities with new sidewalks and such. And the water lines (plural) that the electrical systems were tied to had been cut and only went about 1’ down and 3’ horizontal from the buildings. Oh well. Buildings were empty when the street work was done and no one who might understand the impact noticed.

(Doug Miller) #37

Eero uses an app on a mobile device only (iOS or Android). There is no way to manage them from a web interface, and there is no desktop OS version like Apple’s Aiport Utility. They just made the iOS app have support for iPad sizes - until a week or two ago, the Eero app ran as an iPhone app on an iPad.

I do wish that there was a desktop or web interface for Eero, just for even basic options, but the truth is that there are enough iOS devices around my home that I suppose it will never be an issue to manage the system.

One of the great things IMO about Eero (and other systems, like Orbi, Google WiFi, Velop, etc.) is that the devices update the firmware on their own, and are generally smart enough to do this when activity is low (people are sleeping.) I look at the Eero app every once in a while (there are some stats there, such as a bandwidth test that runs once a day and shows the results prominently on the bottom), but it really can be set it and forget it if you wish; there are no major reasons to keep looking at the app (Airport was great that way, too.)

Eero also has an optional subscription package called Eero Plus which monitors your network for malware and blocks it, does content filtering, can do ad blocking (optional) at the network level, and gives you a free subscription to 1Password’s family plan and to the encrypt.me VPN, for $99/year. I do not know if the other mesh network providers offer anything similar. I do use Eero Plus, but haven’t tried the ad blocking yet.

If you are concerned about privacy, though, you should know that Eero manages Eero Plus by providing its own DNS, so all of your DNS lookups go to Eero. If you are uneasy about that, then don’t sign up for Eero Plus. By default Eero without the optional Plus service uses your ISP’s DNS, but you can set it to anything else you like.

(Adam Engst) #38

I’ve been pretty impressed with the Eero app, which makes it easy to see which devices are connected to the network, along with which base station (I have two) each device is using and current activity. The Internet speed test that runs once a night is also welcome, since it makes it easy to see if a problem has cropped up. I haven’t had to do much more configuration in the week I’ve had the Eero setup, but I don’t miss AirPort Utility at all.

(Jack F) #39

Thank you, Al for the helpful answer. It sure is discouraging that Apple has ditched the Airports.

(David Ross) #40

When Airports first showed up there basically was no one who made an easy to setup (for almost any definition of easy) router with wifi. Now there are multiple choices. And wifi is really complicated these days. Really. And getting more so. So for Apple it wasn’t a high profit area. Just an area where keeping the standards up to justify the Apple logo meant larger and larger engineering staffs. So they bailed.