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Catfisch Cinema Home Wifi Upgrade (2 Viewers)

DaveF

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I want to upgrade my home wifi. A thread.

Here's the home, thumbnails to scale. Left to right: basement, first floor, second floor. The Homerun and Router are in the basement. The router, an Apple Extreme Base Station 6th Gen (802.11ac) is literally in the rafters to get it as high up (and on top of, not behind a concrete firewall there). It's actually behind the closet drywall, not within it. I have an Apple Airport Express 2nd Gen extending the network as a wired bridge on the second floor in the "bonus room" (open space / reading room). The entire home has wifi. And with the bridge, it's reasonable on the second floor as well. But, in the back end of the theater, it's not super fast. And in the master bedroom, it's generally good but sometimes a bit slow. I've also encountered random drop off of the entire wifi network. I don't know the cause, so I'm currently attributing it to using five to ten year old wifi gear: AEBS router is eight or nine years old and the extender is five or six years old.

I could find some used Airport Expresses, add them as additional bridged extenders, and maybe see some improvements.

But I've not got gigabit Fios, and recent vintage iPhones and iPads. So I'm hoping I can get wifi speeds in the hundreds of mbps in all the key rooms with a big new "mesh" upgrade. And since my wifi kit is going on a decade old, I'm feeling ok with a big upgrade.

The question is...what?


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DaveF

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I've been noodling on this for three or four years. I've been reading the Wirecutter reviews a couple times a year the past several years. I was originally planning on buying a Netgear Orbit and then Amazon Eero system. I've looked repeatedly at Ubiquiti hardware, including long how-to articles and YouTube videos, and the system always looked dauntingly complex and expensive.

But just of late, I've changing my perspective.

@John Dirk and @Dave Upton have explained to me that the crux of modern wifi system with wired backhaul is basically Access Points connected to a router. Which, is what I have now, with decade old, discontinued Apple gear. I'm also accepting their assertion that WiFi6 is not crucial for the home. So with that, I'm reevaluating my options against current consumer mesh kits.
 

DaveF

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What about Eero?

What I like about Eero is it's a trio. My guess, from living with a two-piece LAN, is I need three total wifi sources in my home due to its layout and the homerun location. Two works, but isn't yet ideal. Three feels good. And four could be about perfect. Hold on to that thought.

The current, and very affordable (~$180), Eero 6 has extenders that lack ethernet backhaul. This is no good for me.
Amazon product

The Eero 6 Pro is the step up to get ethernet ports on extenders. It's $600. While Eero was top rated a two or three years ago, it now comes in middling compared to other options.
Amazon product

I could buy the original Eero system from four years ago to get wired backhaul for under $200. I'm wary of buying Amazon's basically discontinued older product in terms of support and performance. But as a cheap fallback, this is in the back of my mind.
Amazon product
 

John Dirk

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Some initial observations...

  • You're probably not doing yourself any favors with the placement of the main router. Ceiling level placement is optimal in open spaces but placing it where there will be obstructions between it and every single device is likely reducing signal strength.
  • The Airport Extreme has Gigabit LAN/WAN ports but the Express has only 100Mbps. This means it's combined throughput back to the main router for all of the traffic it carries [wired and wifi] is capped at a [theoretical] maximum of 100Mbps. In practice this is usually about 80Mbps due to Ethernet overhead, etc.
  • The random drops should be investigated and isolated before you spend any money. First off, you need to determine whether there is wired connectivity during these episodes. Next I would want to take a closer look at your configs. Are you using the same SSID throughout the home? If so I would suspect the issue is with the router, not wifi in particular. Do you reboot the router regularly?
Contemporary hardware will easily yield improvement due to the sheer age of your existing gear but a little extra time spent revising your placement is also advised. Honestly, in your case, I don't know that you need to spend a lot of money. Just make sure you have wired Gigabit paths back to the main router for every AP and experiment with placement until you achieve the best results.
 

DaveF

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  1. Router placement is definitely not ideal. But that's where the Fios cable comes in and where the router needs to be.
  2. That's a good point on the AX speeds limiting the system. And a reason to upgrade to faster hardware.
  3. I reboot about once or twice a year when we lose power :) Otherwise, the wifi drops are so erratic and momentary, I have no way to investigate.

My current wifi works well enough. So this upgrade has never been a priority. But I'm getting tired of thinking about it. I could potentially add a couple of AP's talking to the AEBS and get a lot of value. But I am thinking of doing a big upgrade and getting to a new "ecosystem".

But I'm also open to spending up to $500 to get a whole new system and hopefully not think about it again for another decade.
 

John Dirk

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Router placement is definitely not ideal. But that's where the Fios cable comes in and where the router needs to be.
If that is the case then I would just disable the routers wifi radio and place a wired AP in a better [proximal] location.
I reboot about once or twice a year when we lose power :) Otherwise, the wifi drops are so erratic and momentary, I have no way to investigate.
I would recommend doing this every week or so at a minimum. You can use simple smart plugs to automate the process. Many newer devices have this functionality built right into their firmware.
But I'm also open to spending up to $500 to get a whole new system and hopefully not think about it again for another decade.
If need be sure, but wouldn't you rather give most of that money to JVC! :cool:
 

DaveF

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I mean, he might own stock in JVC.

I close on a newly-built home in about 1.5 months, so I am keeping an eye on this thread for posterity.
What I advised my brother-in-law, who's designing a big new house: ethernet run to every room and ideally have ethernet drops in the ceilings for "ideal" mesh network setup with ceiling-mounted access points.

And, I'd go with wiring that supports >1Gbps. I've got Cat5e run which supports about 1 Gbps. And ten years later, I wish it supported 10 Gbps for faster file movement inside the home.
 

DaveF

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If that is the case then I would just disable the routers wifi radio and place a wired AP in a better [proximal] location.
Do you recommend a particular AP that is $60 (or less), includes POE injector, and has at least one gigabit ethernet output port?

I thought I'd buy a single AP and try it out. But...
EAP-225v3 doesn't have any data ports. So to add this in and replace the old Airport Express, I have to buy at least one new Network Switch to make it work, as the AX has my Lutron control hub connected. (Moving that hub to a different location still requires a new switch, since I'm maxed out in the living room switch.)

EAP-235 has output ports, but requires POE. So I'd have to buy a POE injector or get a new POE-capable switch.

These can be done with minimal extra costs of $20 to $40. But if I'm buying extra bits and bots to keep kludging my ad-hoc network, I start thinking again about spending the money to buy the "right" bits and bots and doing the whole thing anew.

(I'm focusing on TP-Link because it seems a decent balance of price to performance, and can work either ad hoc or all-in on Omada while being price / performance competitive with anything else from Eero to Ubiquiti.)
 

DaveF

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Some initial observations...


  • The Airport Extreme has Gigabit LAN/WAN ports but the Express has only 100Mbps. This means it's combined throughput back to the main router for all of the traffic it carries [wired and wifi] is capped at a [theoretical] maximum of 100Mbps. In practice this is usually about 80Mbps due to Ethernet overhead, etc.
I keep thinking about this, and I think this is a great observation. I put in the AX years ago when I had 25 or 50 Mbps, so the 100Mbps max on the AX was still overkill. And then I forgot about that. And I ugraded to gigabit. And got new iPhones that are faster. And that's probably a limiter for me. So replacing that with a new fast AP might make a big difference. Hence the above comment about looking for a simple AP swap in.
 

John Dirk

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I keep thinking about this, and I think this is a great observation. I put in the AX years ago when I had 25 or 50 Mbps, so the 100Mbps max on the AX was still overkill. And then I forgot about that. And I ugraded to gigabit. And got new iPhones that are faster. And that's probably a limiter for me. So replacing that with a new fast AP might make a big difference. Hence the above comment about looking for a simple AP swap in.
I'd definitely start there. As to patching your existing network vs starting fresh, I would definitely recommend the latter, especially in your case as Apple is no longer a player in this arena.

In the consumer space I really don't see great differences between the major players. It seems to be mostly a matter of preference, with some exceptions of course. In my case, I avoid Netgear products as they tend to lack features and have limited management interfaces. I still have a couple that are working as AP's but they'll eventually be replaced.

The TP-Link products you identified earlier seem perfectly decent for your needs. I think the overarching point I want to make here is "don't assume one of the new Mesh systems will magically give you blazing fast wifi throughout your home." Properly implemented and in ideal spaces perhaps they can but with wifi, there's simply no substitute for proper planning and AP placement.

Now go and spend! :cool:
 

JohnRice

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I've been not doing anything to improve the coverage in my house as well. I'm in a similar boat that I'm using an Airport Extreme, probably the same model Dave has. That's all I have. It was one of the last, if not the last model Apple offered. It actually works for me. I get solid 250Mb/s in the main part of the house, but is only about 35 in the bedrooms. I understand I can just add an AP in my office, which has ethernet. It is directly under the bedrooms and if I put it near the ceiling, which is where the Airport is located, it seems that should give me at least 250Mb at that end of the house as well.

I keep talking about it, but I should just do it.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I have to say, and this might not be particularly helpful with your specific situation but I’ll throw it out there just in case.

When I was still in my apartment, John recommended a Netgear router that was probably overkill for a one bedroom place, but we needed something a little on the overkill side to make up for a really old building whose walls basically killed the signal. Now we’re in a house - two main floors, plus a basement an an attic. The previous occupant of this house had an AirPort Extreme and a couple Airport Express boxes to compliment that, and despite all that, the WiFi was always, always, always patchy and slow in most areas of the house with that setup. And that was still way better than whatever was there in the years prior to that.

Anyhow, I had limited expectations when I plugged that Netgear router into this house, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how remarkably strong and stable the WiFi has been. Its on the first floor and I get fantastic signal in every room on the first and second floors and the attic and basement! I really did not think it would handle Plex sending uncompressed Blu-ray rips to the iPad in the basement for when I’m doing laundry, but does without a hiccup.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the stuff from the past few years is so much better than what the top of the line AirPort Extreme was that you may need less gear and less fussing than you think you do.
 

JohnRice

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FWIW, the Airport Extreme is rock solid for me, providing a solid 250 Mb/s. I just need to cover the bedrooms at the other side of the house. Still, yeah, it is at least ten years old.
 

John Dirk

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I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the stuff from the past few years is so much better than what the top of the line AirPort Extreme was that you may need less gear and less fussing than you think you do.
Well said, Josh. You have a wonderful knack for boiling things down in simple terms. The marketing outlets want to convince everyone that an expensive Mesh system is their best option but in truth, many don't need these systems. I no longer recommend Netgear products for the reasons mentioned earlier in this thread but they can be perfectly suitable for basic environments as long as you intend to set and forget them. For tinkerers like me there are better options for comparable money.
 

JohnRice

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So, @John Dirk , if I was to do a completely new setup, I have a new modem that will serve me for a long time, since it's capable of up to 2.5 Gb/s. Then I guess I'd need a router, and two APs should do the trick. Are routers basically plug and play, or do they need to be configured?
 

Josh Steinberg

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FWIW, the Airport Extreme is rock solid for me, providing a solid 250 Mb/s. I just need to cover the bedrooms at the other side of the house. Still, yeah, it is at least ten years old.

My mom’s still using one at her home and it’s a very solid performer in her house. My experience based on my own use and my relatives’ use is that they’re great in more open spaces and new buildings but aren’t as good as my newer router when it comes to passing through walls, obstructions and other obstacles in older buildings.
 

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