Mesh

It’s been a long time since I just had one computer hooked up to the Internet.

I suppose it was probably in 2002 – just before Sarah brought her stuff home after graduating with her Master’s degree from Guelph. Then the complication began.

At that time I needed to share my broadband access with her, so I bought a wired router, snaked an Ethernet cable around the periphery of the room, and installed her desktop system on the opposite side from my own. Those two desktops constituted my first local area network.

After we moved to Almonte, I inherited Sarah’s old desktop system. I wanted to install it in the basement, but I didn’t want to drill holes in the floor to run Ethernet from upstairs. I decided to try a wifi connection.

Now 12 years ago wifi was a nice to have, not a necessary service. Internet speeds to the home were relatively low, wifi itself was in the early stages, wifi radios were rather wimpy. I could get a wifi signal in the basement but it was pretty weak since it had to go through the floor.

I fixed the weak signal somewhat by getting a wireless extender. This was a second radio in the basement that repeated and amplified the upstairs signal. It was a bear to set up, and required all my networking skills – basically it set up a second network and I connected my desktop system to that. It worked OK as long as all I had was a couple of immobile desktop systems in my network.

Things have changed utterly since 2008. Now we have laptops, tablets, smartphones, wireless printers, Roku video streaming. They are all clamoring for wifi connections. Internet speeds have increased by an order of magnitude. With only two people in the house, we still have 6-7 devices connected to the wifi net. When Sarah and family come to visit they can easily bring another six devices with them.

For many years I ran a separate modem and router combination to get wifi. Then a few years ago my Internet provider required me to get a very high-speed modem to deliver speeds of 200 Mbps and greater. This modem came with its own router built-in, and since it had superior specs to the router I was using at the time, I junked my older router and just went with the all in one solution.

This was a fine system for upstairs surfing, but I still had the problem with weaker signals downstairs. Some of my wifi devices in the basement suffered from low speeds, and – what was worse – dropped connections and disconnects. This would not be good for updating files or videoconferencing.

I didn’t want to set up another range extender. A second network is a real PITA if you have mobile devices. You have to disconnect and reconnect to a new network if you take a smartphone or laptop downstairs.

Fortunately, home wifi itself has come a long way. The answer to my problem was to go back to the future.

I am once again using a separate modem-router combination – but this time it is a mesh system.

A mesh router system uses a couple of units – one (the parent) connects to the modem. The second one (the child) sits in the basement. Both of them are mini-computers. They communicate with each other to decide which one connects to say – a smartphone, But unlike the clunky range extenders they behave as if they are on the same network. It’s a smart router rather than a dumb router and extender.

Many networking equipment makers have mesh systems including non-traditional ones like Google and Amazon. I went with Linksys – a long-trusted brand.

The parent router is the rather geeky looking black box shown above. It has a tiny white rectangular child unit in the basement to work with. Both provide excellent signals with (so far) no drops or loss of data. Speeds are great in the basement, and of course superb with the more powerful router upstairs.

Sarah will be coming out to Almonte for a few days to work remotely on her theology seminar. She’ll need to use Zoom without problems and I am confident she won’t crash or lose contact at any point.

From a wifi point of view, I have really moved into the 21st century. From meh to mesh – what a transformation!

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