Any suggestions for resolving patchy WiFi in a big four-floor stone-built house???

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
Hi All,

Just arrived here, first hop searching for a networking forum. Hope someone can give me some solid advice to the WiFi problems that have been bugging me for...... a LONG TIME already :rolleyes::)

OK, so here's my setup. The broadband comes in via a cable into a small "office" (formerly a spare bedroom) on the first floor of the house. So normally no problem for the PC that is connected in there, but that's unfortunately very rarely used these days, and everything else in the house is relying on the WiFi. The router that I have is this one: TP-Link AC1750. It cost much more at the time than that deal on Amazon, maybe because I had to buy it at the height of the Covid shortages, not sure, but that makes me feel a bit stupid now..... I was hoping that it would provide a good strong reliable signal across the house, but of course I was wrong about that. To be fair, it's a pretty big house, with four floors, and fairly solid stone walls in some places, so I suppose that even the most powerful router would struggle.

But here's the bit where this gets very frustrating: in a previous house I had successfully used one of these WiFi repeaters, which I got for £15/20. I was having a lot of trouble with the WiFi dongle on my PC, so I just set the repeater up in my room, and connected it directly with a netwok cable to the PC. Since that was a pretty decent experience, I bought three more to extend the signal around this house. The brand is Aigital - some Chinese brand, I suppose, so I guess maybe only vaguely known. You can't get them on Amazon any more, so I got a couple on eBay. The setup procedure was slightly different, but I guess they're more or less the same. So I've now got them like this:
  1. in the entrance to the front of the house, on the ground floor, more or less directly under the room where the router is
  2. in the dining room at the back end of the house, also on the ground floor
  3. in the cellar (where I do quite a lot of work, so it's necessary) - again more or less directly underneath the previously mentioned repeater in the dining room
  4. in the attic, attached with a cable to the PC, like I had it before.
Well, the experience is sometimes OK, but unfortunately there are days when things don't work smoothly at all, and I have to go around the house restarting the router and/or the repeaters. Also, it seems to me that these devices aren't at all integrated into one seamless network, and when I move around the house while on a WhatsApp voice call (say from the attic to cellar, for the extreme case) it always gets disconnected and I have to disconnect and reconnect in order to get things back. So I suppose that my question is simply whether this is normal with this level of hardware, and if the only way to have a seamless and reliable mesh setup is to start again. I suppose that the question is whether I've even understood properly the concept of what a mesh is, and whether the setup I have is something that doesn't approach that.

Another thing is that I don't seem to be able to hide the SSID on the repeaters (which of course I can do on the router itself), and I've noticed that they actually broadcast on a different subnet - 192.168.10.X, as opposed to the router, which is on 192.168.1.X. I don't know whether or not that affects the performance/reliability of it all!

Of course the problem with all this is not knowing half the time if it's the WiFi or the ISP that is the problem. I know for sure that it's pretty patchy service round here (anyone in the UK will surely understand!!!), so more often than not I also restart the hub when I'm restarting the router and repeaters. But I just feel like I shouldn't have to do that so often!

Sorry, TMI, I know, but I suppose there's no quick way to summarise all that. Hope someone can give a little advice. It will be much appreciated :D
 
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tgl

Senior Member
I think you need to break down your problem a bit more. Some ideas:

1. Try to eliminate the ISP connection as the source of the issue. Set up a job on the directly-connected PC that's constantly checking whether your internet connection is good -- maybe ping some remote site every few seconds. See if that detects problems, and whether they're correlated with the issues you see on the wifi clients. If they are, you have evidence with which to complain to your ISP. If not, then you have wifi problems, and you came to the right place.

2. When you've got more than one wifi AP (repeater), then clients that can detect more than one have to choose which one to connect to. The clients will reconnect to another AP if the signal strength situation changes, and that often results in service glitches. You said you notice glitches while moving around --- do they persist if you just sit in a spot where only one AP is nearby? (For this sort of test, it might help to turn off all but one AP.)

3. It sounds like your placement of the APs wasn't too scientific. Get a wifi scanner app and use it to map the signal strength you have in different parts of the house, then move APs around to cover the dead spots better. Try to get decent coverage with as few APs as possible; the more you have, the more prone you are to handoff problems. (You'll see a lot of people on these forums diagnose problems as "too much wifi", and what they mean is using more APs than you absolutely have to.)

I'm not sure whether to recommend getting a set of less-off-brand APs. That might well help; particularly if your problem seems to be mostly #2. One of the ways in which well-engineered APs are better than el-cheapo gear is that they're better at handing off clients to the next AP. But if #2 is not the issue then you might be spending money you needn't.

There are people around here with far more experience than I, and some of them might have other ideas for you. But those are the basic things to think about.
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
Hey, thanks so much for replying so fast....
1. Try to eliminate the ISP connection as the source of the issue. Set up a job on the directly-connected PC that's constantly checking whether your internet connection is good -- maybe ping some remote site every few seconds. See if that detects problems, and whether they're correlated with the issues you see on the wifi clients. If they are, you have evidence with which to complain to your ISP. If not, then you have wifi problems, and you came to the right place.
Ironically, that PC doesn't actually get used very often, but for sure I can try that. I suspect that there are WiFi and ISP problems, but the wifi stuff is what I'm here for of course :)
2. When you've got more than one wifi AP (repeater), then clients that can detect more than one have to choose which one to connect to. The clients will reconnect to another AP if the signal strength situation changes, and that often results in service glitches. You said you notice glitches while moving around --- do they persist if you just sit in a spot where only one AP is nearby? (For this sort of test, it might help to turn off all but one AP.)
Well, I'm not sure about the answer to that last question. I have tried to test scientifically sometimes, like you said, turning one access point off and all that, but generally I haven't had the patience to sit around waiting for it to come back. I just turn the phone's wifi off and on again. But of course that's pretty annoying, and I would like to find some elegant solution to this. It would be helpful to understand which AP it's connected to at a particular moment, to see
3. It sounds like your placement of the APs wasn't too scientific. Get a wifi scanner app and use it to map the signal strength you have in different parts of the house, then move APs around to cover the dead spots better. Try to get decent coverage with as few APs as possible; the more you have, the more prone you are to handoff problems. (You'll see a lot of people on these forums diagnose problems as "too much wifi", and what they mean is using more APs than you absolutely have to.)
OK, that makes sense. By a wifi scanner app, do you just mean something I can download on the phone? If so, is there any particular recommendation? I can see a few here on the Google Play Store, all with similar names. "WiFi Analyzer", "Network Analyzer", etc.
I'm not sure whether to recommend getting a set of less-off-brand APs. That might well help; particularly if your problem seems to be mostly #2. One of the ways in which well-engineered APs are better than el-cheapo gear is that they're better at handing off clients to the next AP.
Yes, that somehow resonates. Although of course there's nothing scientific about what I'm about to say, it does kind of feel like the phone (obviously it's normally the phone when I'm moving around) gets "stuck" to one of the access points (say in the attic), and of course the signal is lost completely by the time I'm in the cellar. Well, I'll have a look at these apps tomorrow, and/or await further instructions from here! Thank you so much again. Much appreciated :):):)
 

tgl

Senior Member
OK, that makes sense. By a wifi scanner app, do you just mean something I can download on the phone? If so, is there any particular recommendation? I can see a few here on the Google Play Store, all with similar names. "WiFi Analyzer", "Network Analyzer", etc.
Right. My phones are Apple gear, so I can't recommend anything specific in the Android ecosystem. Hopefully somebody else can fill you in there.
 

Relative

New Around Here
I used to live in a larger house trying this and that to make it work with a single router and various other kit, but found it to just be a giant pain in the ass. Once I moved to a three point mesh setup everything just worked.

I currently also have an XR1000 and a Netgear extender and even keeping that working right is a giant pain in the ass, so it's largely collecting dust. Fortunately, I still have my mesh kit (Eero 6 set with only one that has ethernet.)

I don't know how well it'd work with that house, but they're well supported and definitely the best kit I've purchased.
 

Tech Junky

Very Senior Member
I use an nwa210ax AP and no issues at all with android staying connected. On the LAN I can hit 1.5gbps if speed is a concern. But a single AP covers 1300sq ft comfortably. It would be worthwhile to run Ethernet to each floor where you want to place an AP for the best experience.

Repeaters and mesh are the lazy way of doing things and typically result in the issues you're having. If you want things to just work then you have to invest a little more time and money but the payoff is things work properly. Certainly a you get what you pay for situation when it comes to networking.
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
I suppose there's no quick way to summarise all that.

There is no quick way to give you the solution either. I use 4x access points in my 600m2 house in North America and also 4x access points in my 140m2 house in Europe. Different building materials require different approach. Call local professional and let him take a look. Do it once properly and forget about it.
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
Hey Guys,

Sorry, I didn't check back for a while! Thanks for all the suggestions. For sure I can see that the only way to make things really reliable is to run a load of cables around the place, but aaaaaaaaaaaah...... big house, big job :eek:

I've actually just been walking around the house for the last hour or so, testing with one of the wifi analyser apps that I downloaded. There are many screenshots to look at, and I don't have the energy now to check in great detail, but I can see another network very close by, which is quite often much stronger than mine, and seems to have as many as six/seven/eight separate access points. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that that belongs to our immediate next door neighbour, who is an IT guy, so I'm going to try to catch him for a little advice. I shall report back! But first I'm just going to write specific comments/questions ensuing from the individual replies that I've had.

Thanks so much, and all the best,

H
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
I currently also have an XR1000 and a Netgear extender and even keeping that working right is a giant pain in the ass, so it's largely collecting dust.

This one here? That's an awfully expensive thing to have mothballed!!!

Fortunately, I still have my mesh kit (Eero 6 set with only one that has ethernet.)
So that's these guys here? That doesn't seem cheap for only 3 access points. Or am I fantasising about how much I should expect to pay for this stuff?

Do you use those Eero 6 thingies with the Netgear router? I didn't quite understand whether you are using the Netgear one.

Thanks so much!
 
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heatopher

Occasional Visitor
I use an nwa210ax AP and no issues at all with android staying connected.

OK, so that's this one, is it? I understand the "get what you pay for" stuff, but wow, that's expensive!!! And do you have one of those on each floor?

Thanks for the advice. Plenty to think about!
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
There is no quick way to give you the solution either. I use 4x access points in my 600m2 house in North America and also 4x access points in my 140m2 house in Europe.

And is it all completely wireless in both houses, or do you run cables between the floors, as one of the other guys suggested?

Different building materials require different approach. Call local professional and let him take a look.

Hopefully the neighbour will help me save money on that!!!

Thanks so much for your reply!
 

Tech Junky

Very Senior Member
OK, so that's this one, is it? I understand the "get what you pay for" stuff, but wow, that's expensive!!! And do you have one of those on each floor?

Thanks for the advice. Plenty to think about!
That's the one but, in the US they're only $150/ea. There are other models though that may be cheaper in the UK. Not sure what that listing is double plus shipping making it almost 2.5X the price here.


I would say if you have 2-3 levels you should start with 2 APs on opposite ends of each floor for best coverage.
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
And is it all completely wireless in both houses, or do you run cables between the floors, as one of the other guys suggested?

I have wires all around. Access Points are wired with PoE.
 

Tech Junky

Very Senior Member
If you want something stable you need to run Ethernet to the locations or you will have headaches trying to diagnose "mesh" systems. A couple of quality AP's should provide the correct coverage and handoff between them as you move around. Maybe ask your neighbor to assess things as well for any other ideas or maybe he's willing to part ways with some gear to help.
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
Hi Guys,

Thanks for all your comments. Much appreciated. To cut the long story short, I'm going to accept the inevitable truth of what you've told me, and put aside the blind faith which I've held to until now, that wifi should just work. I will try drilling two or three holes in the necessary places, and will then trail a few wires around the house. Since I have five existing pieces of infrastructure that I can use as access points off the ISP's modem (which also serves wifi, of course), those five pieces of infrastructure being the existing router and the four cheap Chinese "repeaters", I can turn the router into an access point (maybe in the attic, let's see) and the little Chinese things can be used on the ground floor and in the cellar. Since those little things all come in one small gadget that plugs straight into the mains, there doesn't seem much point trying the PoE stuff with them, but of course I'll be able to try that later on, if this still isn't satisfactory.

By the way, the level of my ignorance about this stuff up until now is neatly illustrated by the fact that I had to look up what PoE stands for. Anyway, it's understandable enough, and I'll definitely think about using it eventually.....

One big question, though - what is the MINIMUM standard of cable that one needs for a home network? I can see that cat 8 cables are about (or slightly less than) twice as much as cat 5e. I'll assume that cat 8 is future proof, but at what point in the future would I ever need it? It's not a big deal, I suppose, because I'm only going to end up getting an absolute maximum of five or six 10-20m cables in the near future, so I guess it's OK.

The guys in this video use cat 6. Should I just go with that? For sure I'm not going to worry about hiding the cables behind skirtling boards. Far too much hastle for now. I'll just find a way to run the cables as elegantly as I can.

Thanks again for the help guys, and I guess I'll wait to hear about the category of cable before ordering a couple. I'm guessing that you're going to agree with those guys using cat 6, but I'll wait for confirmation anyway :~)
 

tgl

Senior Member
Yeah, cat6 cable is probably what to use. cat5e would likely do just fine in your current situation, but it's not terribly future-proof: it might not work for better-than-1Gbps connections, should you want to upgrade to that. Pulling cable is enough of a PITA that you won't want to do it twice, so I think that's a good place to spend a little extra cash on future-proofing. Having said that, cat7 and cat8 are mostly marketing things at this point, so I wouldn't take those options seriously. If you can't get cat6 at a reasonable price, just do 5e and be happy.
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
Hi, and thanks again for writing back :~)

I've ordered a few cat 6 cables, so I'll have a first go at this soon. I discovered subsequently that you can buy the "raw" cable, as it were, and cut it to the exact length that you want. I might experiment with that at a later date, assuming that it's not toooooo much of a faff to fit the plugs onto them. I'll assume that there are plenty of YouTube videos to learn how to do it!

My first task will be to get a wire up into the attic (where I do the most intensive work) from the first floor "office" where the modem is. I've realised that there's actually a fairly wide gap between the ceiling of the first floor and the attic floor, and not entirely sure what's in between (don't worry, I'll be careful!!!) I'm guessing that this gap (which is at least 30cm, or a foot if you don't speak in metric) goes a long way to explaining why the wifi signal is so bad up here.

So what I'm thinking, since getting a wire through a narrow hole is going to be more than just difficult, is to pass a relatively wide PVC tube between the two floors, which I can then seal with putty and cut off neatly. First advantage - of course it will be easier to pass the wires through, this time and any other time in the future of course, but also it might hopefully deter any little rodents that find their way into that area between the floors, of which we know little, from nibbling through the cables. Is that a decent idea, and if so is PVC strong enough for that? I'm wondering if maybe this reinforced PVC would be better. Or is there a smarter solution than that???

Thanks in advance, of course :~)
 

heatopher

Occasional Visitor
Stage 1 completed - I've run a wire up to the attic, using the PVC tube that I mentioned in my previous post, neatly sealed with putty and not too obtrusive at all. And guess what - there's a BIIIIIIIIG difference in connectivity up here!!!!! I'll use D-line trunking, suitably spray-painted, when I've finalised the layout of things, so that no-one will notice holes in the ceiling!

So now I'm thinking about the rest of the house. No rush at all, but IF i'm going to have a go with PoE connections, are there any strong objections to this switch? It's cheap enough for an experiment, right? Is it a problem, by the way, to use a PoE port for a device that is already powered by the mains? Let's say I've got two or three PoE access points connected, and then one or two ports left over and something like - whatever, I don't know.... a network printer for example. Would it be OK to connect the printer to a PoE port, or would that cause something to blow up/burn out????
 
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tgl

Senior Member
Stage 1 completed - I've run a wire up to the attic, using the PVC tube that I mentioned in my previous post, neatly sealed with putty and not too obtrusive at all. And guess what - there's a BIIIIIIIIG difference in connectivity up here!!!!! I'll use D-line trunking, suitably spray-painted, when I've finalised the layout of things.

Cool.

So now I'm thinking about the rest of the house. No rush at all, but IF i'm going to have a go with PoE connections, are there any strong objections to this switch? It's cheap enough for an experiment, right?

It's cheap all right, but if I'm reading the description correctly, the port speed is only 100Mbps ... sure that's enough for you? I'm a little worried about the 63W total power budget too, although that might be plenty depending on what you intend to connect to it.
 
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