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With more consumers than ever depending on strong wireless networks for work, distance learning and entertainment at home, Wi-Fi solutions are among the most necessary services. That’s why home network installations present an opportunity for installers.

When trying to install the best whole-home Wi-Fi system for your customer, you might encounter some common challenges, like knowing which technologies and products to use, how to increase overall coverage and reduce poor connections, and whether you can integrate new technology with the customer’s existing equipment.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the differences between traditional routers and mesh Wi-Fi systems to create the best solution for residential clients.

What to ask before installing home Wi-Fi

Before determining which products and systems you need, there are several key questions to go over with your customer. First, you need to evaluate the size of the home or apartment and how many rooms there are. Typically, in a home network, standard Wi-Fi routers operating on a traditional band reach up to 150 feet indoors and older routers cover less.

Additionally, knowing how many people typically use Wi-Fi, at what times of the day and for which purposes makes a huge difference in deciding what technology is most compatible. In a family household, several users might be connected at the same time for different activities, such as working remotely, web-conferencing, distance learning, gaming or streaming.

Knowing what type of devices will be connected to the home network is important too because it can help you narrow down on systems based on compatibility.

One common barrier to getting whole-home coverage is types of materials in the home. Physical barriers in homes like brick walls, metal frames or siding can significantly reduce the range of a Wi-Fi network or cause Wi-Fi dead zones. And, if your customers have these issues, it will impact what kind of Wi-Fi setup you'll want to install.

Types of Wi-Fi routers

One of the biggest factors in a strong Wi-Fi connection at home is reliable equipment. There are two types of Wi-Fi routers for residential use: traditional routers and mesh routers.

Traditional or standard routers are devices that make it possible for users to connect to the internet, acting as gateways between the modem and a local network. When set up in a home, a standalone router is responsible for sending out a wireless signal to the entire home. This makes it the simplest option to get Wi-Fi at home since there is just one device to worry about.

A mesh router is different in that it works together with devices called nodes that are placed around the home. Each device in this system sends out a Wi-Fi signal, so you don't have to rely on that single router to provide coverage. Mesh routers are typically sold together as a system with two or three nodes.

Pros and cons of traditional routers

A major benefit of a traditional router is that it's a single device, making it the simplest and more affordable option for residential Wi-Fi. But your customers likely won't get whole-home coverage with a single router alone, especially in larger homes. To create a true whole-home Wi-Fi setup, several add-on products might be needed.

Pros

  • Only one device is needed to provide Wi-Fi coverage
  • More affordable than mesh systems
  • You may be able to use some of the customer's existing equipment or devices
  • Generally more powerful than a standalone mesh router, with faster processor and larger antennas for better performance

Cons

  • Extenders, wireless access points and boosters have to be added to get true whole-home coverage

Getting better coverage out of traditional routers

While you likely won't get whole-home Wi-Fi with a single router, you can boost its performance by adding a Wi-Fi repeater, extender or booster, or wireless access point.

These devices expand coverage by receiving a router's wireless signal, amplifying it and transmitting a boosted signal. The device must be installed in a location where it can receive the existing signal and be plugged in; they are very easy to install.

When installed, a Wi-Fi repeater or extender can nearly double the wireless coverage to reach dead zones, outdoor areas and different floors. And this is what enables whole-home Wi-Fi through a traditional router.

If your customer gets a Wi-Fi signal in all the places they need in the home, but the signal isn't strong, a wireless access point can be installed to improve the signal. Wireless access points are connected to a router via an Ethernet cable, and emit a boosted signal. One access point offers coverage for roughly 800 square feet.

A major benefit of a wireless access point is that they can handle more than 60 devices connecting to the Wi-Fi at once without network interruptions, making it a great choice for power users.

Pros and cons of mesh Wi-Fi

Mesh Wi-Fi systems are known to be complete, whole-home Wi-Fi solutions in one. That's because there are several devices in addition to the router that make up the system to ensure seamless connectivity. With mesh Wi-Fi, the router and nodes are all part of single wireless network, sharing the same SSID and password. But these systems tend to be more expensive.

Pros

  • Kits come with main router and several nodes, so you don’t have to buy additional items
  • Simple to set up and use
  • Can be easily scaled to different home sizes
  • Ability to control smart home devices and/or compatible with voice control
  • Great speeds and connectivity no matter how many devices are connected
  • Provides coverage for large homes, often up to 5,000 square feet
  • Provides better Wi-Fi in homes with thick brick walls or metal frames than a standalone router

Cons

  • Nodes have to be plugged into outlets in multiple rooms in the home in order to get good coverage
  • Extenders, wireless access points and boosters have to be added to get true whole-home coverage
  • More expensive than a traditional router
  • You'll have to replace all routers, extenders and boosters the customer may already have; these won't be compatible with this system

What to look for in Wi-Fi equipment

Make sure that whatever router you choose will be able to handle at least the same speeds they get from their ISP. Most routers on the market today are either Wi-Fi 5 or 6. Wi-Fi 5 is still the most widely used standard, but Wi-Fi 6 offers faster max speeds and better efficiency. This is something to mention in case your customer loves the best tech and wants to be an early adopter, or if they have lots of devices and need to optimize their speeds.

One thing to note about Wi-Fi bands is that most mesh routers typically combine both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, automatically connecting a device to the frequency band best suited for it, while a traditional router will typically keep the bands as two separate networks, allowing the user to choose the frequency for each device.

Traditional router vs. mesh system: Which is the best for whole-home Wi-Fi?

Both traditional and mesh Wi-Fi devices can provide reliability and speed and work to create whole-home Wi-Fi.

A mesh Wi-Fi could be best for users who want an all-in-one solution, those who typically have many users online at once, or those who have experienced poor wireless connections in the past due to router limitations. On the other hand, a traditional router setup with extenders or a wireless access point can still provide great wireless connections, is typically less expensive and may allow you to use the customer's existing equipment.

When it's time to design and choose the best home Wi-Fi products and solutions for your residential customers, our team of experts is here to help and answer all your questions. Contact our Systems Design team today to get started.