Wifi Repeater vs Mesh

Alright, i’m no networking expert, but i do know just about enough to be able to get WiFi to every corner of my house, and i’m sure every household wants to achieve this.

These days, Mesh networking is a popular tagline, helping manufacturers get products off the shelf, the most notable of which is Google Wifi, one of the cheaper options available. “Mesh” certainly sounded cool enough for me to want to do some research on it. What i wanted to know was, besides being able to blanket the entire house with Wifi, whether it gives me the full Wifi speed. The answer, sadly, is negative! Your Wifi speed is halved, just like any other Wifi extension schemes that were available before Mesh networking came into the picture. Besides ease of setting up (which is a big deal to some i suppose), the advantage with using Mesh networking is the ease of setting up, with only a single SSID throughout. Besides, you may already have Mesh capability on your existing routers – if it supports WDS. I have no experience setting up WDS, so i can’t really comment on its effectiveness.

When i signed up my broadband internet plan, i was given a brand new router (thankfully i did not take up the option to upgrade to a Mesh router system). That leaves me with 2 extra old routers that are still working perfectly. I was able to reconfigure these routers to be used as repeaters, and my entire house has good Wifi coverage. When i say good, i mean speed in excess of 10Mbps, which is more than enough for streaming videos and general browsing. By the way, repeaters work because you’re able to place them at a location that has better Wifi reception than where you actually want to use the Wifi, and also because it has stronger reception and transmitting capabilities than your phones and tablets.

For the record, the old routers i have are the ASUS RT-N56U and TP-Link TL-WR841N. To use these as repeaters, the firmware needs to be replaced. It is not as daunting as it sounds – all you need to do is to upgrade the firmware as you would normally do, except, you upload the alternative firmware. If one has the courage to do so, one need not spend a single dime to purchase repeaters nor throw away still functioning hardware, and i think this makes a lot of sense. I installed DD-WRT on the TP-Link and Padavan on the Asus. Update: i’ve been running the DD-WRT in client bridge mode for years without problem, but the Padavan firmware stops working after a week or so, and rebooting didn’t help, so i had to decommission it.

I won’t specify the exact steps i have taken, but here are some important considerations when you configure a router as repeater.

Administration page IP address

All configuration is done through the administration page. There will be a problem if the administration server IP address for the router intended for use as repeater is the same as your main router – you will not be able to connect to the repeater but will be redirected to the main server administration page. What you should do is, connect to the repeater through wired connection only and change the administration server IP address. For example, i changed the default IP address from 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.1.2.

Choice of SSID

It is actually possible to use the same SSID as your main router on the repeater, but doing so may have the unfortunate consequence that your phone/tablet connects to the weaker signal. This happens because a device will usually try to connect to the Wifi with the same SSID as it was connected to previously, and it may be “tricked” into thinking that it is connecting to the same network, when it is actually connected to the repeater network. As such, i prefer is to use a different SSID.

Access Point and Powerline Ethernet

With my router configured in the AP Client + AP mode, i noticed that end devices are confused by the two sets of DHCP and NAT servers running on both the main and the repeater routers. One more step was necessary to make the setup work correctly – switch the operational mode of the repeater router from “router” to “access point”. This turns off the DHCP and NAT servers on the repeater router. However, having performed this step, one will have to find out the IP address of the repeater from main router, which can be a hassle, so always only do this as the final step.

Powerline Ethernet is another way to extend Wifi coverage, and it is useful for those situation where a suitable location for placing a repeater cannot be found. In this case, the router simply needs to be configured to run as an access point.

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