Wi-Fi on every floor: five fixes for you to try

Wi-Fi on every floor: five fixes for you to try

Martin Jud
Zurich, on 26.03.2021
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
If your existing Wi-Fi network is too weak to cover your entire apartment or house, a fix is desperately needed. This can vary depending on your use, but there are only a handful of options anyway. Find out what they are here.

Last week, my brother asked me for advice on extending his network from the ground floor to the basement after he moves. Since his Internet provider's router is too weak, he needs a solution. This question is more common than you'd think. Our Head of Content also asked me about it some time ago. In addition, after my last Wi-Fi speed test article about the UPC Giga Connect Box, I received three (3) emails with questions on the same topic.

*UPC Giga Connect Box** im Wi-Fi-Speedtest

UPC Giga Connect Box im Wi-Fi-Speedtest

There are a few ways to greatly extend your network coverage. What doesn't exist, however, is an ultimate solution that'll fit everyone. Any individual's optimal solution depends not only on the desired speed and the location of the rooms or the area to be covered, but also on things such as the building material used. Ceilings made of reinforced concrete or underfloor heating can severely weaken a signal, cause latency or even block it. Even if you barely make it to the basement or an upper floor with a single router, you'll probably still only receive the 2.4 GHz frequency range.

Five solutions for omnipresent Internet

First and foremost, you'll need to decide what purpose extended Wi-Fi will serve in the newly connected areas of your domicile. How many devices will be supplied with how much data simultaneously?

For example, if you want to watch movies on a smart TV and surf the web with two smartphones at the same time, low speeds are usually enough. No provider streams its series and movies at over 25 Mbit/s in 4K. Depending on the sites you visit, 50 Mbit/s should be enough in this scenario. However, streaming movies to a TV from my Plex server without a loss of quality is a whole other issue. After all, UHD Blu-ray can require 80 megabits and more per second, depending on the movie.

If you want to take full advantage of a fast 1-gigabit Internet subscription with a single device, you won't be able to avoid connecting it to the router via a LAN cable. In this case, Gigabit LAN optimally offers 940 Mbit/s. In Wi-Fi mode, most routers don't even come close to achieving such values, even in the room they are installed. For this reason, many users recommend wired connections on NAS with an active download station or a gaming PC. These usually download the 72 gigabytes required for Cyberpunk 2077 in eleven minutes, directly via cable.

But anyway, on to the actual solutions. The last one is more «exotic» in nature.

Solution No. 1: extending the coverage of an existing router using a second device

This solution only works if you already have good Wi-Fi on floors directly above or below the current router. Then you can set up a secondary device in those locations and use it to forward at least some of your total capacity to other target rooms. Optimally, both your current router and your secondary device should be capable of mesh technology. This doesn't just ensure an extended range, but a dedicated second network for the target floor as well.

The second device can be a router, a repeater or an access point. Importantly, you should disable DHCP on the secondary device if present. Ideally, the second device should also be capable of Wi-Fi 6 (AX) as well, although this usually only brings noticeable advantages over Wi-Fi 5 (AC) when most end devices in the network are capable of the latest standard too.

Here are the three highest-rated Wi-Fi 6 repeaters in our store at the moment:

WLAN Box 2 (4800Mbit/s, 600Mbit/s)
Swisscom WLAN Box 2 (4800Mbit/s, 600Mbit/s)
RE505X (1200Mbit/s, 300Mbit/s)
Tp-Link RE505X (1200Mbit/s, 300Mbit/s)
Nighthawk AX8 Mesh Extender (4800Mbit/s, 1200Mbit/s)
Netgear Nighthawk AX8 Mesh Extender (4800Mbit/s, 1200Mbit/s)

We currently only stock very few Wi-Fi 6 Access Points. But here are the best, in any case:

WAX204 WiFi 6 AX1800 Wireless (1200Mbit/s, 600Mbit/s)
Netgear WAX204 WiFi 6 AX1800 Wireless (1200Mbit/s, 600Mbit/s)

Solution No. 2: replace the Wi-Fi of your existing router with a mesh system

The second solution delivers considerably more speed. It's your second-fastest option, in fact. Unless solution No. 1 already offers a mesh system, as is possible for Swisscom customers with the WLAN-Box 2.

This second solution has you disabling your existing Wi-Fi. After which you place two additional devices around your flat or house. Naturally, you might need to install more than just two devices, depending on the size of your home. Either way, you'll then need a mesh router that's hooked up to your Internet provider's router via a LAN cable. You'll also need its counterpart, a second router or an access point/satellite, depending on the manufacturer of the system purchased. That device should be located on a different floor, wherever the reception to the first device is strongest, i.e. where the mesh router offers the best signal strength. Usually, the distance between both is as short as possible.

I've already proven that mesh systems can be a good solution in Wi-Fi speed tests. Among the few systems tested so far, the Orbi AX6000 comes out on top. In my maisonette, an average of 629.64 Mbit/s is possible for 140 m².

*Netgear dethrones Swisscom:** Orbi AX6000 in the mesh Wi-Fi speed test

Netgear dethrones Swisscom: Orbi AX6000 in the mesh Wi-Fi speed test

By the way: if your current Wi-Fi is just barely enough for an entire home, you can also buy a single mesh-enabled router and see if it's sufficient. The option exists, and thanks to the mesh function, you can still upgrade it with additional devices at any time.

Here are the three highest-rated Wi-Fi 6 mesh starter sets currently available (in sets of two and three):

ZenWiFi XT8 WiFi 6 AX6600 (2 Pack)
ASUS ZenWiFi XT8 WiFi 6 AX6600 (2 Pack)
Orbi WiFi 6 mesh system AX6000 (RBK852)
Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 mesh system AX6000 (RBK852)
Deco X60 WiFi 6 Set of 2
Tp-Link Deco X60 WiFi 6 Set of 2

As well as the highest rated mesh single routers with Wi-Fi 6:

ZenWiFi XT8 WiFi 6 AX6600 (1 Pack)
ASUS ZenWiFi XT8 WiFi 6 AX6600 (1 Pack)

Solution No. 3: opt for a cable and use it as a backhaul

Laying LAN cables is usually quite expensive, but it's also always the fastest option in terms of data throughput. The most important factor in the distribution of a network is always a strong backhaul, that is, the line between two network nodes. In a mesh system, for example, this is usually done via a third Wi-Fi band, which can be a good solution, but doesn't offer maximum speed with minimum ping. Therefore; it's cable time!

If you choose cables, keep in mind that not every network device can be integrated with them. For example, only some satellites, access points and repeaters offer the option of feeding the signal in with an RJ45 cable.

When buying LAN cables, you shouldn't just look out for the right length, but especially the data throughput. Looking forward, I'd advise going straight for a cable that also supports 10 Gigabit. Meaning CAT version 6a, or even CAT 7 or 7a, as these offer better shielding and the data throughput decreases less with long cables. Please don't go for CAT 8. While it does double the operating frequencies, it can only be used over short distances.

Here are our network cables. If you're overwhelmed by the range of products, I recommend the following:

Ethernet Patch Cable RJ45 (S/FTP, Cat. 6a, 20m)
Quantity discount
digitec Ethernet Patch Cable RJ45 (S/FTP, Cat. 6a, 20m)

Solution No. 4: Powerline adapter

Powerline adapters let you use your power grid as a network cable. This works reasonably well depending on your power line and fuse box, and some of the total capacity still comes through on the target floor. Or relatively poorly, all things given. In my flat, I get around 450 Mbit/s with Powerline adapters using the latest «G.hn» standard on the same floor as the start adapter. On the lower floor, however, only up to 60 Mbit/s make it through at the sockets, but they are latency-free – only one millisecond of ping. My brother is better off, by the way. He opted for a Powerline adapter solution and receives around 250 Mbit/s in his basement, even though his adapters don't yet support the new standard.

Importantly: as with a mesh system, multiple adapters from the same manufacturer can be combined for Powerline. There are also adapters that establish Wi-Fi at the end point. Otherwise, Powerline can, of course, be combined with any network devices that accept a signal via RJ45.

Here are the three top-rated Powerline adapter starter sets from our store:

Magic 2 WiFi next Starter Kit (2400Mbit/s)
Devolo Magic 2 WiFi next Starter Kit (2400Mbit/s)
Magic 1 WiFi starter kit 2-1-2 (1200Mbit/s)
Devolo Magic 1 WiFi starter kit 2-1-2 (1200Mbit/s)

Solution No. 5: attach directional radio to the outer wall of the house

This option is unlikely to be effective in most cases, as the installation is complex and it can only be used if you have two windows outside your house with a clear surface between them. You'll have to buy two directional antennas and install them on the outside wall of the house. And it only gets worse, as you'll have to connect the antennas by means of cables inside. This isn't possible for every window without expending a great deal of time and energy, but it may well be possible with a ribbon cable at best. Or with additional workers.

The data throughput can be high with directional radio. digitec user Manu Outdoor stated up to 650 Mbps in their review for the Ubiquiti LBE-5AC-Gen2.

Directional antennas in our store:

LBE-5AC gene2: Litebeam AC Gen2 (450Mbit/s)
Ubiquiti LBE-5AC gene2: Litebeam AC Gen2 (450Mbit/s)
Systems AirLancer ON-D9a Outdoor WLAN-Richtfunkantenne
Lancom Systems Systems AirLancer ON-D9a Outdoor WLAN-Richtfunkantenne

Well, that's all for now. If none of them excite you, there's one last possibility I can think of: old telephone lines can be converted into a LAN cable under certain conditions. For example, with the help of VDSL converters.

What is your preferred solution for expanding an Internet network?

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Martin Jud
Martin Jud
Editor, Zurich
I find my muse in everything. When I don’t, I draw inspiration from daydreaming. After all, if you dream, you don’t sleep through life.

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