Wi-Fi has greatly improved over the years and last year we celebrated 20 years of the technology in 20 years of Wi-Fi: What did we ever do without it?

Characters from Fawlty Towers

I moved home several months ago, before lockdown happened. I perhaps naively thought that my Wi-Fi know-how would allow me to move in and get the ball rolling in terms of seamless connectivity across my new home, something I had successfully managed to provide in my previous residence. There, in a true “life hack” fashion, I used a series of Wi-Fi access points, which were strategically distributed across my home, providing that seamless connectivity for all my devices – Wi-Fi was everywhere!

I likened my router and access points to a series of “cellular base stations,” where my tablet device, for example, would “roam” from one access point to another as I moved across my home. My router, the essential hub that provided broadband to the house and all my access points used the same service set identifier (SSID) and password. This is the name you give to your router and access points to allow users to easily identify the availability of Wi-Fi connectivity within your home. Incidentally, I used – actually still use – a naming convention where all devices connected to my network are assigned a character’s name from the classic BBC television series Fawlty Towers, 

No Wi-Fi extenders or boosters

So, I named my router and access points Manuel; my tower PC Basil; my wife Sarah’s PC Sybil and my printer O’Reilly after the builder who dangerously bodged a wall in one episode. I never had any issues with devices that roamed across my former home, whether that was my smartphone, tablet or laptop – connection was always maintained although, on occasions, I did witness my tablet, for example, taking a few moments to move over to the access point that was in proximity. Nevertheless, connectivity was good and reliable. 

I know there are enterprise-grade options available for large areas that require ubiquitous connectivity but, as I said, this was a life hack based on my various experiences. My new home presents some very different challenges, since my old house was a more modern structure and was recently renovated, so I could place Ethernet across the house, which would provide fixed connectivity to the access points rather than relying on Wi-Fi extenders or boosters. As such, the modern fabric, along with its refurbishment, helped a great deal in achieving my so-called success with connectivity across the house.

xDSL or 4G for my internet backhaul

As for my new home – it’s medieval and dates back to the 16th century. The walls average one meter thick and in some other places are up to two meters in depth. The home is made up of two houses, divided in part by a stunning stone wall and sympathetically merged to offer one very large house. The floors were originally wooden, but the former owners respectively modernized the building to have underfloor heating on each level, which is great at providing warmth during the colder months. The fabric of the house is entirely different from our previous modern property and, as such, offers a different set of challenges for both fixed and wireless connectivity.

We are using a 4G Wi-Fi solution rather than a fixed line, as this surprisingly provides faster speeds. I touched upon this option in an earlier column, Achieving true wireless broadband with cellular, where I talked about the availability of either xDSL or 4G as the internet backhaul. Whilst I now have a moderate broadband connection speed averaging 30Mbit/s (far inferior to my previous speeds of over 80Mbit/s) this isn’t my immediate issue. 

Closer to zero, the better the signal

I don’t have the luxury (at this time) to feed Ethernet across my home to enable Wi-Fi access points and instead I have to rely on a Wi-Fi extender to increase connectivity to my first floor sitting room. This is sufficient to provide moderate coverage in my ground floor dining and kitchen area; however, I’ve installed a Ring Video Doorbell, since I’m not able to hear people knock on the door, as our office is on the second floor.

But the received signal strength indicator (RSSI) given by my Ring device averages between -70 to -78, which is fair, but not brilliant – the higher the number, the stronger the signal! With my previous life hack experience in mind, I thought I’d use the same philosophy in my new home, but this failed quite miserably. 

Until next time …

I decided to extend the extender (for want of a better explanation) much to the dismay of my happy-to-date network. I used the same naming convention, of course, and kept my SSID and password but, as I started up the additional extender, numerous devices became quite confused. Ultimately, I had to disconnect the extender that extended the extender and restart all my devices, which seemed to stabilize my network. 

I plan to update the kitchen at some point and install some Philips Hue lighting to showcase the brick fascias, which will require an amount of electrical work and, as a result, this may provide me with the opportunity to install Ethernet for that all-important “seamless” connection! Until then, I find myself content in the knowledge that, although my previous super-fast connectivity is not yet a part of my daily life here, the sheer beauty and history of the building I am proud to now own makes the wait for its arrival very worthwhile indeed.

So, this is where a “wanting to establish Wi-Fi ubiquity” Dr. G, signs off.