Standard Wi-Fi can work great in smaller houses and offices, where the signal doesn’t have to travel too far, but what about larger homes and workplaces with multiple floors and lots of rooms?
What is the best way to get strong Wi-Fi throughout larger buildings? This can include, residential homes, offices, hotels and so on. There are a couple of solutions to to this problem.
Here a summary of some things to try:
- Reset your router and devices, or move closer to it.
- Make sure your router is in the open and move any clear obstuctions
- Use a Wi-Fi Mesh system to spread coverage over a larger area.
- Powerline adapters are also an alternative to provide wired and wireless access points.
- Set up a wired ethernet network in your home instead.
If you want to stay on Wi-Fi , then mesh systems are a good alternative to help spread more reliable wireless coverage over a larger area. Wired and wireless powerline adapters are also a potential option and cost considerably less, though their effectiveness can be reduced in larger buildings.
In summary, modern mesh system are more reliable and consistent solutions to spread Wi-Fi over a larger area, but can be quite expensive, whereas powerline adapters are more hit and miss over larger areas, but can be much cheaper than mesh systems.
Which solution you go for depends on what your budget is and whether you prefer wired or wireless connectivity for your devices.
Standard single plug “Wi-Fi boosters” or “range extenders” are a slightly different product to powerline adapters and are not recommended for delivering widespread wireless coverage. Mesh systems do a far better job at this over larger buildings.
Let’s look at the issue in more detail below.
The Problem of Weak Wi-Fi Over Large Areas
Unfortunately, degrading signals over distance is something which is largely built into the way Wi-Fi operates; see our full article on why Wi-Fi drops out.
Wi-Fi uses radio frequency or RF waves, which always degrade in strength and concentration the further they get from the source, in this case your main wireless router.
The more obstacles wireless signals have to travel through to get to the device being used, like walls, floors and furniture, the more likely the signal is to weaken and be far less strong than if you were right next to the router.
In smaller buildings, like apartments, small or standard sized houses or small offices, this is not so much a problem. The Wi-Fi from the main router can often get the signal everywhere it needs to go to make sure all users have at least a good enough signal to browse, stream etc. For gaming, wired connections are always better then Wi-Fi regardless, to keep latency down.
However, in larger homes and workplaces, just having the signal from the main router sometimes isn’t enough to give everyone a good reception. Further away from the router, users start to get a weaker signal, which can lead to buffering videos, slow loading pages and downloads and lag when gaming.
Some people even find this problem in smaller properties, since Wi-Fi connectivity can be fickle and perhaps not work in a specific corner or a single room in a building when everywhere else is fine. Either way there are networking solutions to this problem; let’s look at some ways to solve this problem targeted towards larger homes and offices.
Mesh Systems as a Wireless Solution For Large Homes
Wi-Fi mesh systems are an excellent solution to extend stronger wireless coverage across a much larger area than a standard router can manage on it’s own. Mesh systems are kits which consist of 2, 3 or more pods or “nodes” which are placed at strategic points through a larger building to spread wireless coverage more evenly and reliably across the property.
The idea is to connect your first node to your existing router; this now becomes your main new main router. You then place the other one or two nodes around different parts of the house, close enough that they can catch the signal from the main node, and far enough away that they can amplify and boost the Wi-Fi to more remote parts of the home.
In this sense they can be ideal for larger homes, perhaps with three stories instead of two, or lots of bedrooms which cover a large area, since they can spread a stronger Wi-Fi signal to and more bandwidth to all devices in the home, even ones which are a long way from the main router and may have got a poor signal before.
The Netgear Orbi RBK40 Mesh System is an entry level kit which will spread reliable wireless coverage for an average 4 bed, 2 floor property up to 3000 sq ft. Click here to view the model on Amazon. See our Mesh System page for links and product reviews for more brands and models of mesh systems which can cover larger properties.
Different mesh systems are available to fit different sized homes from 2000 sq ft (standard 3-4 bedroom home) right up to 4000 sq ft or more (really large, multi-floor properties with 5-6 or more bedrooms). More nodes can also be added to further increase the range of the system.
Wi-Fi mesh system should be distinguished from simpler “Wi-Fi booster” or “range extender” models” which consist of a single plug which attempts to “capture” and amplify the signal from the main router.
These are lower end cheap products and will likely not be much in spreading reliable coverage in large homes. We recommend staying away from these for larger buildings and sticking to mesh system or more advanced powerline adapter models, which we will cover in the next section.
Powerline Adapters as Another Alternative For Large Buildings
There is no denying however that mesh systems can be quite expensive pieces of kit, running into several hundred dollars or more for a good system. Powerline adapters are another home networking solution which may do the same job in some cases and can be quite a bit cheaper.
Powerline adapters consist of a pair of plugs or adapters, one of which is plugged in and connected to your router, the other of which is plugged in and connected to your device. The two adapters then communicate through the existing electrical wiring of the house to deliver a strong, wired internet connection to your device, even if it is several rooms or floors away from the router.
They can be an excellent solutions to bypass Wi-Fi from the main router and deliver a strong wired connection, even to rooms at some distance from the main router. For those who prefer Wi-Fi, wireless powerline adapter models are also available which have ethernet ports but also produce a cloned wireless access point at the receiving end.
Your devices can then connect to this closer and stronger access point for a better signal. See the video below for demonstration of how powerline technology works.
The TP Link Nano TL-PA4010 Kit model is an entry level, best selling no nonsense powerline adapter model with just one ethernet port and no passthrough. Click here to view on Amazon. It will provide a solid, wired ethernet connection to your router using the existing electrical wiring of your house. See our Powerline Adapters page for more models, with passthrough plug sockets and more ethernet ports. Our Product Comparison Table compares all the wired and wireless powerline adapter models at a glance by feature and functionality.
There are some resources out there that claim that powerline technology is “no good” or “useless” for extending internet coverage across buildings. This is an oversimplification.
It is true that in some buildings, powerline adapters do not work very well if the electrical circuitry is such that the adapters cannot communicate very well, ie. the wiring is worn, or the building has totally separate circuits running off different meters in different parts.
Here is a quick summary on powerlines and house circuitry:
- Powerline adapters will not work between separate residences and apartments within the same building that are on separate feeds.
- Powerline adapters may or may not work across different circuit phases within the same house. Most of the time they will, but there are exceptions.
- When they do work across phases, there can sometimes be a drop in speeds each time they cross over to a new phase.
- They will not work when trying to connect two places supplied by separate meters/feeds.
- See our full article on using powerline across different circuits for a very detailed breakdown of this issue.
In these cases, it is certainly true that powerline technology won’t be very effective, since there will either be no signal delivered a greatly weakened and unreliable signal which is perhaps worse than if you had just stayed on Wi-Fi! The adapters need to be able to communicate to work effectively.
However, it is also true that powerline technology does work very well for many people who try it, in both large and small buildings, delivering a very strong and consistent internet connection and providing options for both wired and wireless connectivity with the more advanced models.
Some people end up returning them but the TP Link range of powerline products are generally quite favorably reviewed on Amazon.
The issue is it can be difficult to tell in advance whether a powerline adapter will work in your home or office, since electrical wiring can be done differently and in varying conditions in different buildings. In many cases though it can be a very effective solution in delivering wired and wireless access points to different parts of a building.
When is Each Solution Better?
If you want something that has the best chance of working, then a mesh system is indeed probably the best option to try right out the gate, even though good kits with 3 or more nodes to cover a large area can be very costly.
If you want to spend less money but take a bit more of a gamble, then a wired or wireless powerline adapter might be an option worth trying, since they may do just as good a job but cost a lot less money than a full Wi-Fi mesh kit.
You could however buy one pair of adapters to try out, and if they work you can easily purchase additional adapters to add more wired and wireless access points across the building.
1. Mesh systems may be better if:
- Your budget is not really an obstacle and you want a solution that you can be pretty sure will work right away. Powerline adapters may work but they may not either in larger buildings and despite the lower initial cost some people don’t want to messing around ordering a powerline adapter, realizing that it doesn’t work and then returning it and ending up buying a mesh kit anyway.
- You want to stay on wireless only for all your devices.
- You have loads of devices you want to connect, and using wired connections wouldn’t be feasable.
- Your house or office is really large and it wouldn’t be efficient or cost effective to install powerline adapters in every room.
- Your house or office has quite complex circuitry which may make it difficult for powerline adapters to communicate properly.
2. Powerline Adapters may be better if:
- You only need to spread internet access to one specific room, or one specific corner of the house and perhaps not to every single corner of a large home or office. A powerline adapter can turn your wall socket into an internet connection and provide wired and/or wireless connectivity only in the specific rooms or areas where it is needed.
- You prefer wired connections for some or all of your devices, either for delivering maximum bandwidth (eg. Netflix streaming) or minimal latency (eg. gaming). Wired connections are always better than wireless on both counts, as long as you can get powerline adapters to work; see below point.
- You are confident the circuitry in your large building is such that powerline adapters will be able to communicate. It is a good idea to borrow or buy a test pair of adapters to see if they work around the building and then extend coverage if you are happy with the performance. Powerline adapters can be installed in multiple rooms to create a powerline network around the home.
- The circuitry in your house is in good condition and not too long for adapters to lose range (needs to be less than 300m). Powerline adapters cannot communicate across completely different circuits (ie. ones running off a separate meter); they can communicate across phrases but there may be a drop in performance each time they cross over onto a new phase. See this excellent FAQ guide for more on this.
See our article comparing powerline adapters and mesh systems for a more complete breakdown of the pro’s and cons between the two different products.
3. Another Option:
- Paying a networking or office IT company to kit out your building with wired connections in every room, using a combination of discreetly fed ethernet cables and installing multi-port switches in each room to provide wired access points everywhere they are needed. This is sometimes what is done in schools and university campuses for example, but is obviously very costly and cumbersome work to undertake.
- See our article on creating a wired home network for links to some resources on this, as well as our article on using switches to add more wired access points on a home network for more on this.
Click here for wired and wireless powerline adapter models compared at a glance; click here for mesh systems at a glance; click here for our article comparing mesh systems to powerline adapters for more information.