Question WiFi for brick triplex

fball922

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I have what I think might be a unique situation. I am trying to get adequate coverage for a triplex I own with my siblings. Coverage and moderate speeds are far more important than top speeds. If I can get 25-30mbps reliably, that would be fine for our most of our needs.

The layout of the building is two twin units on the bottom and a unit on top. The bottoms units are all brick. Interior and exterior walls are brick. The upstairs is all lumber construction. The internet comes in upstairs and that is the only coax to the house. Upstairs has better coverage characteristics than the downstairs, obviously.

Here's what I've tried
  • pure wireless mesh with tp-link deco M5. Coverage issues and connection issues abound between 3 APs. Main unit was upstairs, satellites downstairs.
  • pure mesh with tends mw5. Combined two kits for 6 access points. Still had connections issues at times, and abysmal speeds. I think there were too many access points that certain areas were swamped by signal and others had too little.
  • current setup is 2 Linksys routers and an extender all "hardwired" together with oowerline adapters. The adapters provide 30+Mbps, so are an adequate backhaul. Still dealing with dropped connections, but more so poor handoffs/hanging in to weak signals for too long.
Looking at my wifi signals, they are pretty bad everywhere, but even looking at the wifi analyzer app provides a muddied picture as some moments I only see my network, and other times I see all of our neighbors and ours and things look crowded. Maybe it's my phone and I need to borrow my wife's for different test.

Here is the hardware I have available
  • tenda m5 kit
  • 2x tp-link mw5 kits
  • 4 powerline adapters
  • Linksys ea6700 router
  • Linksys ea6400 router
  • Linksys extender
  • Asus ac68 router
  • Mostly functional brain
I have funded this stupid venture myself, so you can see I have been hesitant to buy anything top end because my siblings just want it working and don't want to pay for it (don't get me started). I am looking for the most efficient way to do this.

Here are the things I am most curious about
  • Does "fast roaming" as I see the tp-link supports appear in other routers that I can hardwire together? I know ubiquity has some features to boot off "weak signal" clients, has that propagated to more economical solutions?
  • is my best bet to just buy the strongest signal cheap routers I can find and convert some to APs?
  • does anyone know of cheap APs that are surprisingly good for signal strength?
  • can anyone cheaply and freely replace all of my brick walls with signal amplifying next-generation materials?
Obviously a strong signal from the AP is only half of it, the clients need to be able to respond. I am open to reasonable suggestions and ideas, so fire away.

This is a lake house so anything requiring testing will take time as I'm not there all the time. Sorry for typos, typing on a phone.
 
You seem to have much more knowledge than most people coming here asking for some magic "mesh" system.

You are already on the correct track. You want to use wired back hauls to remote AP. This is the gold standard used large enterprise, none use the silly mesh wifi repeater systems. Using powerline like you do is a valid alternative when you do not have ethernet. I assume you also know about MoCA if you happen to have coax tv cables in the rooms, moca can run full gigabit speeds.

So the first problem is to put AP in all the rooms so you get good coverage.

The next and much harder problem is the so called "roaming". Wifi was never designed to roam unlike say a cell phone network. With wifi the end devices not the network control what they connect to and when. They are pretty stupid they will stay locked to a signal until it drops below a certain level. They can not really look for other "better" sources because they are using their radio to transfer data. You can change this level but you then run the risk of the device constantly bouncing back and forth.

Many of the systems you see work similar to what ubiquity does. They try to guess what the signal level the device to the various AP. They can't actually tell because the end device would need special software support to tell them. They then just blindly force the device off an hope it selects a better signal.

There really is no true fix for this until wifi is redesigned to be more like a cell phone network.

The way this problem is reduced in commercial installs is to actually adjust the signal levels to reduce the amount of overlap. You turn down the power of the radios on the AP. This alone many times will allow the end device to properly roam just because the signal level will drop more quickly as you pass between AP.

I suspect your current collection of equipment will work as AP. Most units have setting that allow you to reduce radio power

Still there is really no such thing as seamless roaming without loading software on the end device. You will always take a very short period of time of packet loss. For most people this does not matter but I guess you could have someone who actually is trying to play his fortnite while he falls down the stairs.
 
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fball922

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Thanks for the response.

I have always been a bit confused about how beneficial mesh systems are... They need to be close enough to get a good signal back to the other points, which doesn't do a whole lot for you and causes a lot of overlap.

I think my next course of action will be to try the following-
  • Replace the "wifi extender" access point and see if it corrects an issue where we are seeing a strong wifi connection, but is then dropped for some reason.
  • If the doesn't work, get a couple more PL adapters and use a wired backhaul to see if mesh endpoints work better that way. Further reading last night suggested they actually do support a wired backhaul, whereas I had thought they didn't. My hope is they try to coordinate channels, or at least will be a little better about not stepping on one each other's toes when in close proximity.
I think one of the biggest issues is this mixed construction. While the signal will hardly get through the brick, it will happily move up a floor and flood them with signal from various APs. No bueno.

Unfortunately, it seems not much can be done about the roaming issue, and what doesn't help my troubleshooting of problems is I tend to hear after the fact (such as when my sister is leaving) "our internet wasn't working earlier" and can't even investigate. Sigh.

I laughed at your comment about playing fortnight while falling down the stairs! Good stuff.

I at least have some more things to try this weekend to see if things clear up. I will report back next week with progress.
 
Mesh is almost all marketing hype. They try to pretend they have invented something new. It really was just something to try to get people to buy new equipment before wifi6 came out. Now they want all those people to replace their "old" mesh systems with wifi6 ones. They will of course keep very quiet about wifi6e so they can sell everyone wifi6 units first and then get them to upgrade.

In most cases they are simple wifi repeaters with all the problems of older wifi repeater. Some very expensive ones have a extra radio chip they use for the backhaul that eliminates some but not all the issue with using a wifi repeater. It actually makes the over crowding of the wifi channels even worse because it is now using every available channel for 1 unit.

The wired backhaul is again mostly marketing. They are just running the unit as a AP and that has been done for 20 years. It does not magically somehow make roaming work.

Your best form of roaming tends to be the human running the device. If they know that there is a better connection and the unit did not automatically switch all you have to do is stop and start the wifi and it will connect. It really isn't that much different than what the fancy software thinks it does and in general people are not running around their house constantly moving from AP to AP so it easy to do manually.

You are better off setting the channels manually yourself and again turn down the power to reduce the overlap. The channel selection is very hard becuase you have to give up so much speed. On 2.4g if you use 40mhz channels only 1 will fit since there is only 60mhz. On 5g if you use 80mhz channels there are only 2 blocks and if you use wifi6 at 160mhz it makes it even worse.

My falling down the stairs comment is because I think it is tplink has a animation of someone staring at their phone while they go upstairs. I am surprised the lawyers allowed it, we already have idiots walk into traffic.
 
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fball922

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Or falling through open manholes 🤦‍♂️

Yep, I have been manually setting the wifi channels to allocate them as best as possible. I have left the channel width on Auto, but maybe I would be better off selecting the slimmest channels to reduce the overlap (though wifi analyzer has not shown much of that going on- they seem to mind each other's space fairly well).

Here is another idea: I split the wifi by unit, giving each their own SSID with one AP as centrally located as possible in each unit. That would keep devices from incorrectly selecting which AP to connect to.

I am going to investigate if there's a pathway to fishing some CAT5E/6 into the lower units. That would go a long way in making sure the backhaul is reliable. Then I can use the powerline adapters to fix specific issues (such as a TV being fussy). It would also let me use the powerline adapters within each unit, resulting in shorter runs and better signal/speed (each unit is already on a separate panel, all seem to meet at 100amp service fuse set... Its honestly amazing these adapters work at all, let alone with the speeds I am seeing).
 
I generally like different SSID because then I can force things to connect where I want. It seems I am in the minority here most people don't want to deal with this stuff. You see many routers coming with the 2.4 and 5g radios set to the same SSID which I feel is stupid when you consider a weaker 5g signal is still going to be faster than a stronger 2.4g

Ethernet cable is always the best option. I am lucky and every room in my house has a port. The av2 based powerline adapters are the best option they tend to work in more houses. They use both power wires as well as the ground wire to send signals over.

I would check if you have any coax tv cable. I have been seeing moca adapters that have 2.5gigabit ports on them. I know you can actually get 1gbit using moca not too sure about 2.5
 

fball922

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I am kicking myself because we did have a bunch of coax running in the lower units, but took it out during renovations. Had I been using my whole brain, I would have run some ethernet around... We even had the ceilings down! Oh well, getting ethernet to the target area only requires a short run outside, should not be too bad to do if I so choose.

I will give the separate SSIDs a shot as well, can't hurt at this point.
 

fball922

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I was able to get up here last night and start tinkering with the network, to much success.

The winning formula was to use wireless AC bridges (forgot I had these in my big 'ol box of junk) that the APs then attached to. It is my own "mesh" implementation that uses a wireless backhaul, but it works pretty well. This is enabled by using separate SSID's on the APs.
  • AP 1 is the router, SSID "Cottage"
  • AP 2 connects to AP 1, SSID "Cottage_Unit1"
  • AP 3 connects to AP 2 (due to distance from AP 1), SSID "Cottage_Unit2"
I am able to get 80Mbps from Unit 2 and pings are great, connections seem stable. Hopefully I will be able to use the powerline adapters to get a little internet to the shed to cover the yard, we will see.
 

gggplaya

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I have funded this stupid venture myself, so you can see I have been hesitant to buy anything top end because my siblings just want it working and don't want to pay for it (don't get me started). I am looking for the most efficient way to do this.
I know all too well what you're talking about. My family all have their own homes but I do all the IT work for them. They don't want to spend any money on good equipment and don't want to pay rental fees either. I gave them very old hand me downs, some equipment doesn't work well. They don't want to invest in good stuff, and just want me to fix it.

You said this is a lake house, so there's probably no basement? Maybe even a crawl space underneath? It might be easiest to run ethernet down the outside of the building and into each unit through the floor. I use this product to run wires through the floor: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00W9SIYXQ I just cut a 1gang box in the drywall and use this to make an outlet: https://www.amazon.com/VCE-Voltage-Mounting-Telephone-Cables-Black/dp/B07J4YS51F then use the shank bit to drill straight down through the floor to a basement or crawl space. Then run the wire across to another part of the house. Then finish it professionally with an ethernet cover plate and punch down keystone jack.
 
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fball922

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That flexbit is awesome, something I should just have on hand because I can think of a million times I could have used it.

Unfortunately, there is no basement or crawl, we are on a concrete slab. I think what I have concocted is fine for now... Spring and Fall are when I tackle larger efforts around the units, and when that time comes I am going to re-evaluate the wifi situation. Ideally, I would make two runs around the outside of the complex to the closets and plop the APs in there. The joists run parallel with the entry point from the exterior, so I can get the APs fairly close to the center of the bottom units fairly easily.
 
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