November 17, 2020 by George Wong

Are Products that Promise to Boost Wi-Fi Performance Really Worth It?


If you believe the past 10 years of messaging from the consumer electronics industry, Wi-Fi is ineffective, unreliable, and inadequate. Companies in this space have made billions selling additional access points (APs)—sometimes called Wi-Fi boosters, repeaters, extenders, or mesh systems—all based on the premise that having a single gateway is insufficient to provide coverage to every part of the average North American home. 

According to a July 2019 study by Parks Associates, 22 percent of U.S. broadband households have a Wi-Fi network extender and 11 percent have a Wi-Fi mesh networking product. But, do these products result in a better experience for the consumer? Not necessarily. 

It is true that some homes—especially larger ones or those that use certain building materials—can have areas that are hard to reach with Wi-Fi signals. However, these areas, sometimes referred to as “dead zones,” are not nearly as common as you think. In fact, most Wi-Fi coverage issues can be resolved by doing two things. 

  1. Buying a single, powerful, carrier-class Wi-Fi system.  
  2. Placing the Wi-Fi system properly inside the home. 

Deploying a single Wi-Fi system has significant advantages. 

Most carrier-class Wi-Fi systems, like Calix EDGE Systems, broadcast at the maximum levels allowed by the FCC. We estimate that a single Wi-Fi 5 system should only need additional APs about 10 percent of the time. For systems that support Wi-Fi 6, that number decreases to five percent (or less). 

Adding more APs inside a home can cause other unexpected issues for subscribers. For example: 

  • Node steering can be challenging in an environment with multiple APs. Some wireless clients, for example, are “sticky”—meaning that once they connect to an AP, they can refuse future steering commands. (Even if the signal and bandwidth is better when connected to a different AP.) 
  • If the APs are each connected wirelessly to the primary RG, over-the-air (OTA) attenuation can cause significant data loss, resulting in lower throughput for the connected devices.  
  • Multiple APs in the home can diminish network reliability and complicate customer support efforts.  

Proper placement for Wi-Fi systems. 

Wi-Fi is a radio technology. To perform well, a Wi-Fi system must send out a strong signal in all directions, which means keeping it clear of obstructions. Because signals get weaker as connected devices move further away from the Wi-Fi system, systems should live centrally in the home (ideally, on a shelf, desk, or countertop).  

Solutions that require multiple APs—like the ones that need to be plugged directly into electrical outlets—cannot be optimally placed. Electrical outlets in most homes are low to the ground, so these APs often suffer from restricted coverage because their Wi-Fi signals are obstructed. 

What does it mean to be carrier class? 

In my next blog, I’ll examine the characteristics of carrier-class Wi-Fi systems, including the importance of the system’s design.  

Learn more by downloading our latest white paper, “The Science of Great Wi-Fi.”