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The modern state of Wi-Fi

By Julio Franco ยท 30 replies
Feb 13, 2018
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  1. So easy to take for granted, yet impossible to ignore. I’m speaking, of course, of Wi-Fi, the modern lifeblood of virtually all our tech devices. First introduced as a somewhat odd—it’s commonly believed to be short for Wireless Fidelity—marketing term in 1999, the wireless networking technology leverages the 802.11 technical standards—which first appeared in 1997.

    Since then, Wi-Fi has morphed and adapted through variations including 802.11b, a, g, n, ac, ad, and soon, ax and ay, among others, and has literally become as essential to all our connected devices as power. Along the way, we’ve become completely reliant on it, placing utility-like demands upon its presence and its performance.

    Unfortunately, some of those demands have proven to be ill-placed as Wi-Fi has yet to reach the ubiquity, and certainly not the consistency, of a true utility. As a result, Wi-Fi has become the technology that some love to hate, despite the incredibly vital role it serves. To be fair, no one really hates Wi-Fi—they just hate when it doesn’t work the way they want and expect it to.

    Part of the challenge is that our expectations for Wi-Fi continue to increase—not only in terms of availability, but speed, range, number of devices supported, and much more. Thankfully, a number of both component technology and product definition improvements to help bring Wi-Fi closer to the completely reliable and utterly dependable technology we all want it to be have started to appear.

    One of the most useful of these for most home users is a technology called Wi-Fi mesh. First popularized by smaller companies like Eero nearly two years ago, then supported by Google in its home routers, Wi-Fi mesh systems have become “the” hot technology for home Wi-Fi networks. Products using the technology are now available from a wide variety of vendors including Netgear, Linksys, TP-Link, D-Link and more. These Wi-Fi mesh systems consist of at least two (and often three) router-like boxes that all connect to one another, boosting the strength of the Wi-Fi signal, and creating more efficient data paths for all your devices to connect to the Internet. Plus, they do so in a manner that’s significantly simpler to set up than range extenders and other devices that attempt to improve in-home Wi-Fi. In fact, most of the new systems configure themselves automatically.

    From a performance perspective, the improvements can be dramatic, as I recently learned firsthand. I’ve been living with about a 30 Mbps connection from the upstairs home office where I work down to the Comcast Xfinity home gateway providing my home’s internet connection, even though I’m paying for Comcast’s top-of-the-line package that theoretically offers download speeds of 250 Mbps. After I purchased and installed a three-piece Netgear Orbi system from my local Costco, my connection speed over the new Orbi Wi-Fi network jumped by over 5x to about 160 Mbps—a dramatic improvement, all without changing a single setting on the Comcast box. Plus, I’ve found the connection to be much more solid and not subject to the kinds of random dropouts I would occasionally suffer through with the Xfinity gateway’s built-in Wi-Fi router.

    In addition, there were a few surprise benefits to the Netgear system that—though they may not be relevant for everyone—really sealed the deal for me. In another upstairs home office, there’s a desktop PC and an Ethernet-equipped printer, both of which had separate Wi-Fi hardware. The PC used a USB-based Wi-Fi adapter and the printer had a Wi-Fi-to-Ethernet adapter. Each of the “satellite” routers in the Orbi system have four Ethernet ports supporting up to Gigabit speeds, allowing me to ditch those flaky Wi-Fi adapters and plug both the PC and printer into a rock-solid, fast Ethernet connection on the Orbi. What a difference that made as well.

    The technology used in the Netgear Orbi line is called a tri-band Wi-Fi system because it leverages three simultaneously functioning 802.11 radios, one of which supports 802.11b/g/n at 2.4 GHz for dedicated connections with older Wi-Fi devices, and two of which support 802.11a/n/ac at 5GHz. One of the 802.11ac-capable radios handles connection with new devices, and the other is used to connect with the other satellite routers and create the mesh network. The system also uses critical technologies like MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) for leveraging several antennas, and data compression methods like 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) to improve data throughput speeds.

    Looking ahead in Wi-Fi technology from a component perspective, we’ve started to see the introduction of pre-standard silicon for the forthcoming 802.11ax standard, which offers some nominal speed improvements over existing 802.11ac, but is more clearly targeted at improving Wi-Fi reliability in dense environments, such as large events, tradeshows, meetings, etc. There’s also been some discussion about 802.11ay, which is expected to operate in the 60 GHz band for high speeds over short distances, similar to the current 802.11ad (formerly called WiGig) standard.

    As with previous generations of Wi-Fi, there will be chips from companies like Qualcomm that implement a pre-finalized version of 802.11ax for those who are eager to try the technology out, but compatibility could be limited, and it’s not entirely clear yet if devices that deploy them will be upgradable when the final spec does get released sometime in 2019.

    The bottom line for all these technology and component improvements is that even at the dawn of the 5G age, Wi-Fi is well positioned for a long, healthy future. Plus, even better, these advancements are helping the standard make strong progress toward the kind of true utility-like reliability and ubiquity for which we all long.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

    Permalink to story.

  2. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,063   +1,539

    At home, I have a 1G wired network. I do use WiFi for a tablet that controls my home theater system, but the access point is in my HTPC - which is not on all the time. I prefer the wired network, and need only basic speed for the tablet.

    WiFi, to me, is a convenience elsewhere, and nothing I cannot live without.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
    SirStephen and cliffordcooley like this.
  3. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 10,765   +4,577

    wiyosaya likes this.
  4. beachbowi

    beachbowi TS Rookie

    I use WiFi to stream my TV programming to the living room and bedroom. My house phone is wired VoIP. But, my cell phone uses Republic Wireless VoIP servers to offload cellular calls to WiFi, which saves the company on bandwidth costs, who then passes the savings on to their customers. I have WiFi outlets around the house so I can remotely turn things on and off when I'm out of town. Like, when my brother falls asleep on the couch and leaves the TV on streaming ESPN all night long while he sleeps, I can turn off the Roku and the TV. Oh, yes. I also have 3 WiFi security cameras around the house. That's how I know he is asleep with the TV on. I love WiFi.
  5. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 4,414   +2,876

    Personally I'm still using a simple wireless router which work well 98% of the time, but there are times when Roku seems to act up because of signal loss. I considered the wireless mesh but currently it's still a bit too pricey for this old retiree so I'm waiting to see how long it takes for the prices to come down. Hopefully before the next superbowl! LOL
  6. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus Stone age computing. Posts: 3,613   +984

    SalaSSin likes this.
  7. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 10,765   +4,577

    I tried that but WiFi proved unreliable for me. I kept loosing connection. Finally I decided to run a wire to my TV.
    SirStephen and wiyosaya like this.
  8. Gars

    Gars TS Booster Posts: 238

    From the outside US perspective - this is so wrong
  9. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 814   +543

    I don't use Wi-Fi and I just feel fine.
    Durake likes this.
  10. nismo91

    nismo91 TS Evangelist Posts: 968   +58

    For me wifi signal strength has to be >40% otherwise it's pretty much dropping out all the time. coverage plays an important role in determining the usability of wifi.

    I'm still on N network because the new AC is expensive. I'd rather spend the money installing more routers to cover blindspots and get a high gain antenna (for the client, not the router) than to get a very basic AC router and receiver. this way I got >90% signal strength all the time in my desk.
  11. Joe Blow

    Joe Blow TS Addict Posts: 244   +77

    As expected, absolutely ZERO mention of health effects. Especially with the much feared 5G. Ditch the WiFi where possible and go wired.
    Durake likes this.
  12. DJMIKE25

    DJMIKE25 TS Addict Posts: 180   +71

    I've been very happy with my Cisco WAP371 since switching over to all cisco equipment. Amazing Range and speeds from any part of my house.
  13. Badvok

    Badvok TS Maniac Posts: 261   +120

    Don't worry, your tinfoil hat will protect you.
    SirStephen, Durake and erickmendes like this.
  14. From what I've researched, if you want anything with very good range, especially 5Ghz, you're looking to pay about $120+. I was thinking about the Portal Wifi system but currently my router works just fine for the small space we're in.
    SirStephen likes this.
  15. Peter Farkas

    Peter Farkas TS Maniac Posts: 305   +104

    The price of the 3 piece Netgear Orbi is ridiculous (850USD where I live)...
    If one spends that money only on IMPROVING home wifi speed from 30Mbps to 160Mbps then I am really sorry for that bloke. It is one thing to write a sponsored article and another to bullshit people to spend almost a grand on wifi, when you can already stream 4K on 30Mbps....
    I usually don't freak out on techspot articles but this one is shocking.....
  16. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,828   +190

    Mesh WiFi isn't perfect like with all WiFi. I use 95% here in my house. 5% is wired 1K. Although I am just using 802.11n Only in both 2.4GHz @ 20Hz and 5.0GHz @ 40Hz. 450/450 to me that's good enough with 6 ANT it has to cover. I am on WiFi right now typing this. I play heavy graphic game like Airborne and STO over WiFi not issues at all. So even stream movies via NetFlix and other sources not issues. WiFi is here and to be use. Not only laptops, as desktop have them build in along with bluetooth. I am sure the reviewer is happy with his new network gear. Good to share and teach us all new tech. I am just not going to run out and buy it just yet when current system is running smoothly. I don't see how mention on how your device is kept cool as I had so much issues with netgear network router gear would run very hot.. I am using cooling fan 120 mm at the highest speed to keep the DC3 modem and Cisco Linkys N450 EA Series cooled. I can monitor the router via my cell phone app. We live in a new era today. But what works for me good enough. My signal is so strong I can sit in my MUV and drive off before it drops! LOL
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
  17. user108

    user108 TS Member Posts: 22   +7

    Wi-fi is proprietary, closed source and buggy. Nuff said... I use wired wherever I can
  18. fktech

    fktech TS Addict Posts: 362   +97

  19. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,828   +190

    WiFi works if you know how to run and manage it.. Key to it keep it cool.. Put it near a corner of your house where it won't get much interference. Auto channel, create SSID, create a passcode, WPA2 or higher... Stick with name brands network gear companies.
  20. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,032   +550

    WiFi is the 802.11 standard laid out by IEEE, with the various A, B, G, N, AC, AX, AY, revisions. The chips that adhere to this standard may be closed source and buggy, but the standard is not.
    SirStephen likes this.
  21. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 490   +218

    I use an wifi access point/router because most of my DSL modems wifi funcion make them freeze from time to time, making me have to get to my modem (which often stis in aonther room) to just unplug/plug it from power, loosing my internet connection even on wired devices. Having a separeted wifi router I avoid this hurdle.
  22. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 490   +218

    I may agree with you that this article is too much ad for one brand, but still usefull information to people who doesnt know mesh yet. Also, I live in a house where there's no way for me to usu wired connections, and I have a lotof frustation using DSL modem's wifi functions. If I used my home network for work, I sure would pay that premium for having a reliable home network. I even use power line in my home... My point is that each solution have an scenario where it fits, and when mesh get better priced, it may become more wide spread (no pun intended).
    SirStephen likes this.
  23. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,348   +1,386

    @Jibberish18 "From what I've researched, if you want anything with very good range, especially 5Ghz,..."
    The higher the frequency, the lower the range, which is why 2.4ghz will survive.

    Wi-Fi mesh is a daisy chain, serial path back to the gateway. One of the radios is 'chatty' keeping contact with all other mesh devices. Consequently, Mesh runs at 50% bandwidth even w/o attached devices - - sigh:
    The concept and setup are ideal until you recall that christmas tree lights were once serial and it was a nightmare to find the burned out bulb. Mesh has the same issue, in that all mesh units downstream from the problem will get no service.

    Personally, I've gone to EoP (Ethernet over Power) to get access at the far end of the house.
    A secondary router is attached and a wired link to the HDTV. It's been installed for a few years now and I'm VERY happy with it.

    [note: I'm a domestic U.S. user and have 120v 60~ service to the house. The power panel wiring is simple,
    but significanly different than 240v ~50 Wye or Delta service. ALL EOP carefully qualify that "must be installed on the same circuit". For 120v ~60 that doesn't matter, but likely will impact 240v ~50 Wye or Dela service.
    SirStephen likes this.
  24. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 490   +218

    I use EoP too, but I live in an old house that I rent, with bad power circuits, still can watch 4K netflix on my living room with router installed on bedroom. Tried to used EoP on other rooms without success... That's where mesh goes to the rescue on my scenario.
    SirStephen likes this.
  25. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,348   +1,386

    interested; are you on 240v ~50 service, non-domestic?

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