Like it or not, most of us are going to be spending a lot more time at home over the next several weeks and months. Given our increasing usage of and dependence on connected devices, one almost certain outcome is that your home or apartment’s connectivity is going to be put to the test.
Whether it’s several people trying to work or attend classes from home simultaneously, or multiple overlapping streams of online video, there’s a very good chance that your home network traffic is going to be reaching levels that it hasn’t seen before.
Needless to say, that presents the perfect opportunity to assess both your current broadband internet options, as well as devices such as Wi-Fi routers that let you share those connections wirelessly across multiple people and devices within your home.
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The first step in the process is to check in with your internet service provider about their most current options and pricing, and potentially look at other alternatives. Thankfully, we’re in an age when the range of choices, speed, and price points for internet connectivity is better than it’s ever been. In addition to traditional cable companies such as Comcast, Charter Spectrum and Cox, you can now get broadband internet access from companies such as AT&T and Verizon.
In fact, Verizon has even launched a wireless broadband service based on 5G that they call 5G Home in select cities across the U.S. There have also been some significant improvements in available download speeds from many providers, with numerous options for advertised speeds of 1 Gbps, or 1,000 Mbs.
How do I test my internet at home?
The best way to test your home’s internet speed is to visit’s Ookla’s SpeedTest site and simply click on the big Go button. You may also want to try it on several different devices in different rooms around your house to test your current Wi-Fi quality and consistency.
Note that you’ll usually want to run it a few times to get an average. On smartphones, you need to be sure that Wi-Fi is turned on so that it checks the home internet connection and not your phone’s cellular connection speed.
Given the increased competition in the field of internet service providers, you might be surprised at how much faster/cheaper the current options are. Plus, many of these companies now offer a range of attractive (though often confusing!) bundles that combine multiple services, such as cell phones, landlines or TV services, into a single price.
The truth is, most people sign up for internet service and rarely check to see how plans and speeds have improved. In addition, though your current provider may have introduced better options, they rarely kick you up into these new plans without you asking. In part, this may be because the faster plans require the installation of a new device, such as an upgraded cable modem.
As a result, there may be a step or two involved in making the upgrade. Most carriers no longer charge for these connected device upgrades, however, so it’s absolutely worth asking about.
Once you’re satisfied with the speed, quality and price of the incoming internet connection, it’s time to move onto how you can share that connection. Many current cable modems and other primary internet connection devices now include a built-in Wi-Fi router that gives you basic wireless internet access without having to add any additional devices. If you live in a smaller one-story home or apartment, this integrated wireless may be sufficient for your needs.
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If you live in a larger home or apartment, or if your primary internet access device (such as your cable modem) doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi, or if you simply want to maximize the quality and consistency of your home Wi-Fi, you’re going to want to look into a Wi-Fi mesh system. These systems consist of two or more boxes (typically a “main” Wi-Fi access point and one or more satellites) that work together to provide the broadest, fastest Wi-Fi coverage that you can get in a home environment by creating an overlapping “mesh”-like connection between them (hence the name).
To make them work, you simply plug an Ethernet cable (which is usually shipped in the box) from your cable modem or similar device into the main access Wi-Fi access point for the mesh system, position the devices around the home, turn them on and they’ll automatically configure themselves. It’s significantly easier than the early days of standalone Wi-Fi routers.
Companies like TP-Link, Linksys, Netgear, Samsung, Google, Amazon and others offer these Wi-Fi mesh systems and you can find them online and in lots of physical retail locations ranging in price from about $100 to $300 or more. A few internet service provider offerings, such as Comcast’s Xfinity XFi, also offer wall plug-in mesh extenders as optional add-ons for their latest cable modems. Some of the newer systems also have built-in smart speakers, to give you wider access to Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant, while others offer support for the newest Wi-Fi 6 standard, integrated security settings, and other technical enhancements.
Given the amount of time that people are going to need to be (or want to be) spending online for everything from video-based meetings or classes to binge-watching shows or playing in gaming marathons for the next few months, any investment you can make now in improving your home’s connectivity is going to feel like money well spent.
USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wi-Fi mesh system: Bolster your in-home connectivity