Wi-Fi Replacement

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Bill Boyd

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Aug 29, 2021, 4:57:20 PMAug 29
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I have the last versions of Apple's Time Capsule (802.11ac) and AirPort Express (802.11n) Wi-Fi equipment. The Time Capsule is in the basement and is the primary router. The AirPort Express is on the main floor and is slaved off the Time Capsule via Ethernet. In most of my house my iPhone Xs shows a full three arcs of Wi-Fi signal strength, although in a few places that drops to two arcs.

This equipment won’t last forever and is becoming increasingly behind the Wi-Fi technology curve. My iOS equipment consists of one Wi-Fi 6 (ax) device (soon to be two) and three Wi-Fi 5 (ac) devices (soon to be two). (My Macs use Ethernet.)

At some point I intend to replace the Time Capsule use as a Time Machine device with a NAS, such as the one Mario recommended.

Should I consider a Wi-Fi mesh system? The farthest any room is from the AirPort Express is about 40’ and at most two walls. Would it be better to just replicate what I have now with a new main router and an Ethernet slave? If so, which brand(s) and model(s)?

Since I obviously keep this sort of thing quite a while, I’d like to buy gear that supports Wi-Fi 6e, although it seems that 6e systems are still becoming widely available.

Thanks for any advice.

Bill Boyd

Allison Sheridan

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Aug 29, 2021, 7:07:38 PMAug 29
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Bill - 

I never had great success with range extenders myself but the 3-Eero Pro mesh router has been a dream for my house. I’ve got a cube-shaped house so it’s not terribly challenging but there were still rooms where the WiFi was less-than optimal, even with a range extender.

I also bought an Eero system for my daughter’s house which is WAY more challenging. It’s a 2800 square foot house, that’s basically one room deep so SUPER long.  A 3-Eero Pro has been fabulous for her.

The advantages of the Eero go beyond fantastic coverage. Some of the things I like include:
  • Super simple setup
  • Very intuitive app interface. I thought I would miss a web interface but I absolutely do not
  • I can see a really nice list of my devices with little icons for the type of device, and they’re auto sorted into categories. I can tap on any device and see which of the units it’s attached to which is nice for troubleshooting
  • Speaking of troubleshooting, the Eeros can have their 5GHz band disabled for 10 minutes while you connect a 2.4GHz device.
  • I get a notification when a new device joins my network

You may have “feelings” about having Amazon own your router, and if that’s the case, I hear good things about Ubiquity’s Unify system. It’s supposed to be pretty nerdy so if you like that sort of thing it’s a good option.  

Going for WiFi 6 will cost you a lot more right now but it’s not a bad idea.

Hope that helps,

Allison Sheridan
Podfeet Podcasts at https://podfeet.com
Technology geek podcasts with an EVER so slight Apple bias!
Follow me at @podfeet



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Pat Dengler

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Aug 29, 2021, 7:48:15 PMAug 29
to 'Allison Sheridan' via MacHACers, Bill Boyd
I second everything Allison says below. I've installed them as an Eero Professional for my clients and I’ve never had an issues. I also use them in my home.


Cheers,
Pat

Pat Dengler |  |
Apple Certified Technical Coordinator | MTC
Member, Apple Consultants Network
Certified Wireless Technician
W6PAD

Dennis Kane

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Aug 30, 2021, 10:56:25 AMAug 30
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I’ll second that. I set up an eero base station and satellite for my neighbor. You may need to disable your existing router's wifi as the setup instructions advise. Surprisingly, I got some crazy high bandwidth like 400 Mbps with the last generation device at roughly 60 feet with  a couple of walls in the way. Basically, for Internet access, your only limit will be what you pay for with your ISP.

Oh, as usual, you will get all the useful information from Allison and all I really add is the correct spelling of eero, but at least that’s something.  ;->

Dennis

Bill Boyd

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Aug 30, 2021, 12:46:55 PMAug 30
to Allison Sheridan, mach...@googlegroups.com
I try to avoid anything from Amazon or Google. I bought a Ring video doorbell before Amazon bought them, but by now I’ve bought in two Chime doorbell extenders, so I may be too invested to switch.

I looked at Ubiquiti Unify, but their Web pages are confusing in the extreme.

What are my other options?

Allison Sheridan

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Aug 30, 2021, 1:22:47 PMAug 30
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"I looked at Ubiquiti Unify, but their Web pages are confusing in the extreme.”
And that’s why my first choice is not Ubiquiti.

Dave Hamilton of the Mac Observer has done extensive testing of all of the options.  The last time he updated it was in May of 2019 but here’s his extensive report:


Allison Sheridan
Podfeet Podcasts at https://podfeet.com
Technology geek podcasts with an EVER so slight Apple bias!
Follow me at @podfeet


Bill Boyd

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Aug 30, 2021, 2:46:39 PMAug 30
to Allison Sheridan, mach...@googlegroups.com
One of my questions was whether I need a mesh system at all, rather than one main access point and one to serve as a range extender. I mentioned being interested in a mesh system to someone whose business involves supporting networks and he didn't sound impressed. Are there any drawbacks to a mesh system?

On Aug 30, 2021, at 1:22 PM, Allison Sheridan <ashe...@mac.com> wrote:

"I looked at Ubiquiti Unify, but their Web pages are confusing in the extreme.”

Dan

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Aug 30, 2021, 2:53:14 PMAug 30
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A mesh network is useful when you have a suite of IoT devices deployed around your home (for example, Ring devices) and you need high bandwidth to realize on-demand video feeds even from far corners of your property.

Sent from my iPhone

On Aug 30, 2021, at 11:46 AM, 'Bill Boyd' via MacHACers <mach...@googlegroups.com> wrote:



Bradford Miller

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Aug 30, 2021, 3:05:39 PMAug 30
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As I understand it, the principal advantage of mesh is the access points talk to each other using a (beamed) wireless channel, while extenders give you the choice of having a wired connection. Also set up is usually easier though you give up flexibility. (I used to use an extender, now I just have multiple networks. iPads and iPhones have no problem migrating between them depending on signal strength).

Sent from an iPad I found on the couch

On Aug 30, 2021, at 2:46 PM, 'Bill Boyd' via MacHACers <mach...@googlegroups.com> wrote:



Allison Sheridan

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Aug 30, 2021, 3:52:54 PMAug 30
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Bill - 

I found a good article on PCMag explaining the difference between mesh and extenders that would be good to read:


The main thing to know is that a range extender takes what already might be a weakened signal and then repeats it.  The extender only has one radio, so it listens, then broadcasts, then listens, then broadcasts.

Mesh systems have what they call a “backhaul” radio.  The backhaul allows the 2 or more mesh routers to talk to each other on a private channel and then have a separate channel to broadcast to your devices. The tri-band mesh routers (like the Eero Pro) have a 5GHz backhaul AND 5GHz and 2.4GHz radios to broadcast and receive from your devices.

The mesh systems can be smart enough to know which mesh router your device is connected to, and gracefully hand you off to the next one as you move between rooms.  Knowing which router you’re connected to helps reduce the chatter as well so it can be faster.

We don’t know enough about your house layout, what your walls are made out of (lath and plaster is the worst!), how many devices you have, whether you need/want signal on an outdoor patio - way too many variables for us to answer the question you’re asking.

However, if you put in a range extender originally because your single access point signal wasn’t strong enough all over your house, you would gain benefit from a mesh system for the same reasons. 

Hope that helps,

Allison Sheridan
Podfeet Podcasts at https://podfeet.com
Technology geek podcasts with an EVER so slight Apple bias!
Follow me at @podfeet


Bill Boyd

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Aug 30, 2021, 5:35:17 PMAug 30
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As I tried to explain in my original post, my "range extender" is connected to the main access point with Ethernet, so it doesn't have to "listen" over radio to traffic from that station. I'd like to configure the replacement equipment the same way. (I believe some mesh equipment supports that.)

My walls are made of drywall.

With my range extender unplugged at present to circumvent a problem I'm still debugging, the signal from the main router is somewhat weak in parts of the house.

On Aug 30, 2021, at 3:53 PM, 'Allison Sheridan' via MacHACers <mach...@googlegroups.com> wrote:

Bill - 

Allison Sheridan

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Aug 30, 2021, 7:23:06 PMAug 30
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Oh cool - I wish I had wired Ethernet in my house!

I don’t know about all the mesh systems, but Eero (eero) has two Ethernet ports on each so you can connect them wired to each other and you can connect a device to them over Ethernet as well.

Allison Sheridan
Podfeet Podcasts at https://podfeet.com
Technology geek podcasts with an EVER so slight Apple bias!
Follow me at @podfeet


Bill Boyd

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Aug 30, 2021, 9:46:01 PMAug 30
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If you don't have Ethernet in your house, you might be interested in Powerline networking:


On Aug 30, 2021, at 7:23 PM, 'Allison Sheridan' via MacHACers <mach...@googlegroups.com> wrote:

Oh cool - I wish I had wired Ethernet in my house!

Allison Sheridan

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Aug 31, 2021, 12:15:33 AMAug 31
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Thanks - I’ve looked into it but the performance isn’t quite what I want. We eventually had wired Ethernet dropped into our upstairs dens so now the main computers are wired.

 Allison

On Aug 30, 2021, at 6:46 PM, 'Bill Boyd' via MacHACers <mach...@googlegroups.com> wrote:



Mario Obejas

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Sep 4, 2021, 9:00:35 PMSep 4
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Whatever mesh system you get, make sure it supports wired backhaul. Wired will beat wireless everytime and it would be a shame not to leverage your existing wired investment. It's not exclusive: You could have two talking to each other over a wire and to a third one via wireless. 

The big advantage of a mesh system is *supposed* to be
a. the one time setup/configuration automation, and 
b. the handoff, during everyday operation, of a wireless client from one AP to the next as you physically move around.

Some mesh systems are better at the handoff than others. AP handoff is a feature you will most likely engage if you are using a phone with WiFi calling and you move around the house. Yes, you *could* need  it if you are in the middle of working with a laptop and decide to move to a different room. But my observation is that most people tend to use their laptop in the same place, and don't move from one room to another in the middle of a working session. Who knows, maybe covid has affected that more (e.g., "Hey, I'm starting a Zoom session in 5 minutes and I need you out of here"). 

I use two TP Link EAP225v3 AP units connected via wireless backhaul. It is a business class AP. I turn off the antennas on my old router, let it still do DHCP. The two APs then cover wireless duty in my house with ease. They can run standalone or in a mesh. I do run then as a mesh, which means I need to deploy the software controller for install and changes (I don't need to run the controller at other times, unless my geek self gets curious about connection stats).

The upside:
1. very fast speeds, 
2. Low price (currently $59), you can add another unit anytime. 
Here is a review of the $96 successor (EAP245v3) and with a chart comparing real world testing to other mesh units, including the Eepro. 
TP-Link EAP245 v3 Review: A Valuable Access Point | Dong Knows Tech



The downside is that the controller used for setup and configuration changes is not Mac native. Linux, Windows, or cloud are your options. I would consider that a no-go normally, but honestly, the number of times I run the controller in a year is <5, and only due to idle geek curiosity. As I said, the old router runs DHCP, so any static assignments are done there. The only reason to run the mesh controller is to add another AP or fiddle with the sensitivity knobs to see how you can affect handoffs. The defaults are fine. 

You can do geeky things like turn on band steering (literally, steering connections to 5GHz if they support it). After a while, you realize you don't care that much, the setup just works. 

Full disclosure: I have had to reboot my EAP225v3 APs 2 or 3 times in the last two years I've owned them. Maybe I'm getting lazy in my old age but sometimes I just want to get back online and I don't have time for the deep dive. 

Bill Boyd

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Sep 5, 2021, 3:50:03 PMSep 5
to Mario Obejas, 'Allison Sheridan' via MacHACers
Yesterday I bought and installed a Linksys Atlas AX5400 router (MX5500 series). I installed one node in place of the main router (a Time Capsule in the basement) and the other in place of an AirPort Express (on the main floor) that was extending the range of the Time Capsule over Ethernet. I have the node replacing the AirPort Express connected to the main node via the same Ethernet cable that the  AirPort Express used, but I haven't tested that it’s using that link instead of Wi-Fi.

With the new equipment my iPhone (an Xs supporting 802.11ac) shows full wireless strength (three arcs) everywhere in the house and 50’ into my back yard. In the house an Internet speed test on an iPhone 12 Pro Max (supporting 802.11ax) shows 95 Mbps, very close if not equal to what my ISP delivers.

I chose the Linksys product at least partly because if it was available locally (Best Buy). I bought a three-pack. That was $50 more expensive than a two-pack, but I would have had to order a two-pack instead of picking it up the same day. I may sell the third node or hold onto it in case I want to deploy it here.

What I bought only supports Wi-Fi 6, not Wi-Fi 6E, but it’s possible that at some point I can replace the slave node with a compatible unit that does support Wi-Fi 6E once more of my devices support Wi-Fi 6E.

I’ve reconfigured the old Time Capsule so that it serves as a non-Wi-Fi disk server for Time Machine. At some point I plan to replace that with a NAS.

Allison Sheridan

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Sep 5, 2021, 3:57:17 PMSep 5
to Bill Boyd, Mario Obejas, 'Allison Sheridan' via MacHACers
I don’t think this went to Mac HACers…

Also when you repost, the term “slave” should be replaced with some other term, like “satellite” maybe in this case? It’s a hard habit to break, but across the board terms are being replaced: master and slave for drives, and Master for the main branch in GitHub, and Master bedroom is being replaced with Main bedroom by realtors.

Glad you found something that works for you. When you repost, I’ll be curious whether this is technically a mesh system or if it’s a repeater.

Bill Boyd

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Sep 5, 2021, 4:07:53 PMSep 5
to ashe...@mac.com, Mario Obejas, 'Allison Sheridan' via MacHACers
The message I sent had this address in the “To” field: "‘Allison Sheridan’ via MacHACers", but when I click on the down-caret it shows mach...@googlegroups.com. How should I have addressed it?

Thanks for the reminder about using deprecated terms.

What I bought is marketed as a mesh system: “Linksys Atlas Pro 6 Dual-Band mesh WiFi”.

Allison Sheridan

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Sep 5, 2021, 5:59:40 PMSep 5
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Aha - I think you're right, it does go to MacHACers.

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