The saying “Different strokes for different folks” really is a universal truth.
For instance, some people love their steak medium rare with red wine. Others want it well done with ketchup. Some love the Beatles, and others prefer Elvis. Heck, there are even a few folks out there who won’t even eat ice cream, as surprising as that sounds.
As the Digital Revolution continues at its lightning pace, there’s an inundation of various service options to meet specific needs.
With Wi-Fi, for instance, most internet users used to prioritize having something reasonably quick and reliable. A bonus would be if it didn’t slow down too much when a connection was being shared across several devices. Well, those days are slowly but surely becoming a distant memory.
Nowadays, various Wi-Fi products are being developed and fine-tuned, catering to all types of users. This continual forward momentum means it’s challenging to differentiate which connections and systems are the more superior ones.
After all, whether it comes down to pricing, signal strength, user needs, or other factors, products exist to bolster your Wi-Fi service.
Two options for improving your online experience are the Wi-Fi mesh system and Wi-Fi range extenders. In this blog, we’ll compare and contrast these approaches.
Wi-Fi Range Extenders Merely Repeat a Signal
Typically, Wi-Fi extenders perform the following functions:
- Connect to your current wireless network.
- Broadcast a new name for your network.
- Blindly direct traffic back to your wireless router.
Often when using an extender, you end up seeing two network names. Your wireless router is one of them, and your extender is the other.
Here’s an example of what we’re talking about:
Imagine you’ve named your Wi-Fi “TheCoolestConnection.” That’s what it would be called upstairs. With an extension, it would be called “TheCoolestConnection_EXT” downstairs. Until you’re completely out of range, your devices will stay on one of those connections.
One common issue with this is that Wi-Fi is typically slow in several areas in a home.
The only remedy to this problem is manually switching between networks while moving around. Clearly, however, that’s inconvenient.
Beyond that, it’s inefficient to repeat the entire Wi-Fi signal with extenders, as they listen to individual packets before rebroadcasting. No internal logic exists to send those packets on the correct path.
Another detriment is that range extenders can slow down your connection. Wireless devices can’t send and receive information simultaneously. The respective devices on the same channel must wait their turn to talk. This extends to your neighbours’ networks as well.
The reason for this scenario is that wireless is a “half-duplex.”
Unfortunately, since range extenders repeat everything that they “hear,” they actually make the whole situation worse. It’s as though someone is shadowing you all day and echoing what you’ve said before anyone else speaks.
We realize we’re taking a long ride on the negativity train here. Still, it is important that you have accurate information before making a purchase decision.
With that said, it would be remiss to neglect the fact that maintaining and managing extenders is a significant headache. Oftentimes, you must visit a webpage to download updates or alter settings for the router. And, provided your extender isn’t the same brand, you must navigate between two separate software sets. Lastly, these products seem to be a bit older, and the software isn’t user-friendly.
A Good Fix For Small Dead Zones
Despite the unflattering information we’ve shared about extenders, there’s value in unique scenarios.
For one thing, it’s a straightforward, in-the-moment upgrade. All you need to do is attach the extender to your current network. Of course, the caveat is that this isn’t always effective throughout all areas of a home.
But what if your house is a bit smaller? Extenders are a frugal and savvy way to boost your Wi-Fi’s performance and add functionality to dead zones.
On top of these advantages, some range extenders implement more updated software to offset bandwidth issues. The stipulation exists that this equipment should be paired with routers from the same manufacturer for compatibility reasons.
There’s no avoiding the fact that you pay for quality. All the same, there’s no point in blowing your budget on a mesh network system when you’re in an environment where extenders can thrive.
Mesh Network Systems Are More Seamless, Efficient, and Quick to Update
Replacing your router has become much more rewarding than ever before.
Nowadays, it’s far more commonplace for routers to possess Wi-Fi 6 compatibility—the highest functionality standard available.
With Wi-Fi 6 comes enhanced bandwidth and security.
Therefore, doing away with your older hardware and upgrading to either a Wi-Fi 6 router or a compatible mesh system is an irresistible offer.
It’s also worth noting that prices are dropping fast. Plus, with mesh systems, you don’t necessarily need Wi-Fi 6 to eclipse the functionality of extenders.
Your phones, laptops, and other Wi-Fi devices can roam freely between mesh access points because they broadcast the same network name. Thus, compared to extenders, the handoff is much more seamless.
Best for Whole-Home Coverage
Mesh units intelligently relay traffic in a manner that vastly outdoes an extender’s capabilities. This is a result of everything running on the same software.
Say that you’re connected to the second node on the far end of your house. In this circumstance, packets will only get rebroadcasted when the client connects, not before or after the connection is started or completed.
Mesh systems (like the Google Nest Wi-Fi Router) are consistently much faster than extenders because they leverage multiple radios, allowing information to be sent and received at the same time.
Wired Connections Can Help
Ethernet connections are wired. As a result, this option gives you the fastest available speeds.
A home office far from the router will benefit if you place a plug-in range extender or mesh router satellite in the room. You’d then wire your computer to it.
Why Would I Choose a Wi-Fi Extender Over a Mesh Network or Vice Versa?
As mentioned earlier, an extender is beneficial for anybody on a budget and/or living in a smaller space. It gets the job done at a fraction of the price. Moreover, if you’re only using one device in condensed living quarters, this option is best.
Alternatively, the mesh is ideal if you have tons of devices. In this scenario, you’re placing rigorous demands on your network. Of course, given what was stated in the above paragraph, more sizeable homes also benefit from this option.
Which One Is Easier to Manage and Use?
Regarding system management, a mesh network is the unparalleled victor against an extender.
We previously highlighted how you often need to visit the extender provider’s website if you wish to change your settings or download updates. Plus, the new network (usually called “EXT”) won’t necessarily have the same password as the first one. And the Wi-Fi devices must still reconnect whenever they move from one network’s coverage sphere to the next.
Mesh systems require little management, and their usability is as straightforward as it gets. They broadcast only one Wi-Fi network. You never need to connect to anything else.
By leveraging tools available online, finding the correct spot for your range extender isn’t all that challenging.
Your Wi-Fi extender should sit right on the edge of the imaginary coverage sphere. The tool mentioned above will determine that precise point for you.
Mesh networks are very much the same. Installation is no sweat, but you’ll require a tool to help you find the best available location in the given space.
Verdict: Mesh Wi-Fi System
Provided you’ve read the entirety of this blog, one thing is obvious: Overall, extenders don’t compare to mesh Wi-Fi systems when it comes to functionality.
There are even mesh Wi-Fi systems on the market built with three separate radios. This feature allows them to simultaneously broadcast two 5 GHz networks and one 2.4 GHz network. As a result, you’ll benefit from the highest possible data transfer speeds.
Such firepower is lacking with range extenders. They are often slow and suffer from signal latency. This causes problems for gamers and those trying to have a video/voice chat.
Verdict: Wi-Fi Range Extender
We’ve referred to this already, but Wi-Fi range extenders are irrefutably less strenuous on the wallet than mesh systems. It’s possible to find a reliable extender on the market for under $50 to bolster the internet signal of a smaller home or a section of a larger home.
On the other end of the spectrum, mesh systems cost a minimum of several hundred dollars.
Conclusion: The Choice Is Up to You
In terms of overall functionality, it’s obvious that mesh networks are the undisputed Wi-Fi champion in this blog. However, there are instances where they might be overkill. Provided you aren’t putting a massive strain on your network and you live in a small space, an extender will do the trick.