Network Technologies Raspberry Pi

Trying to improve my home WiFi with a range extender


My Teams meetings in the mornings had poor audio quality and sometimes I could not share my screen. My suspicions focused on my home WiFi Router, which is many years old. I decided to make an experiment and get a range extender. The results are, well, mixed at best.

Windows command

netsh wlan show interface

There is 1 interface on the system:
Name : Wi-Fi 
Description : Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 
GUID : f1c094c0-fcb7-4e47-86ba-51df737e58c8 
Physical address : 28:c6:3f:8f:3a:27 
State : connected 
SSID : DrJohn 
BSSID : ec:c3:02:eb:2d:7c 
Network type : Infrastructure 
Radio type : 802.11ac 
Authentication : WPA2-Personal 
Cipher : CCMP 
Connection mode : Auto Connect 
Channel : 153 
Receive rate (Mbps) : 292.5 
Transmit rate (Mbps) : 292.5 
Signal : 99% 
Profile : DrJohn

802.11ac is WiFi 5. 802.11n is WiFi 2, to be clear about it.

What’s going on

My work laptop starts out using WiFi 5 (803.11ac). The signal is around 60% or so. So I guess not super great. Then after an hour or so it switches to WiFi 2 (802.11n)! Audio in my meetings gets disturbed during this time.

My WiFi Extender did not really change this behavior to my surprise! But maybe the quality is better.

One morning I started out on WiFi 4, the signal quality varied between 94% down to 61%, all while nothing was being moved, and within a matter of minutes! The lower Signal values are associated with slower transmit and receive rates, naturally. But at least with the extender WiFi 4 seems OK. It’s useable for my interactive meetings. In my experience, once you are on WiFi 4 you are very unlikely to automagically get switched back to WiFi 5. But the reverse is not true. So there’s a lot of variability in the signal over the course of minutes. But I stayed on WiFi 4 for over three hours without its changing. I connected to a differ SSID, then connected back to my _EXT SSID and, bam, WiFi 5, but only at 52% signal strength.

The way I know this behavior in detail is that I happen to have a ThousandEyes endpoint agent installed and I have access to this history of the connection quality, signal strength, thoughput, etc. ThousandEyes is pretty cool.

Further experimentation

The last couple days I’ve been getting WiFi 5 and it’s been sticking. What’s the difference? This sounds incredibly banal, but I stood the darn extender upright! That’s right, during those days when I was mostly getting WiFi 4 the Extender had all its antennae sticking out, but it was flat on a table. I am in a room across the hallway. Then I managed to stand it upright – a little tricky since it is pluued into an extension cord. I’m still across the hallway. But things have been behaving better ever since.

Does a WiFi extender create a new SSID?

Yes! It creates an SSID named after your SSID with an _EXT appended to that name. However, it is very important to note that it is a bridged network so it means your _EXT-connected devices see all your devices not on _EXT, and that makes it very convenient. The subnet used is your primary router’s subnet, in other words.

This TP-Link (see references) seems to have lots of nice features. MIMO, AP mode, mesh mode, etc. You may or may not need them right away. For instance, the device has several status LEDs which get kind of bright for a bedroom at nighttime. Originally we covered it with a dark T-Shirt. Then I looked at it and saw it has an LED switch! That’s right. Just press that LED switch and those way-too-bright LEDs stop illuminating, while the device keeps on working. A very small but thoughtful feature which you would never even think to look for but turns out to be important. It might have overheated had we kept it covered with that T-Shirt.

Raspberry Pi

A good command is:

sudo iwconfig wlan0

wlan0 IEEE 802.11 ESSID:"Music_EXT"
Mode:Managed Frequency:5.765 GHz Access Point: 9C:53:22:02:6B:59
Bit Rate=433.3 Mb/s Tx-Power=31 dBm
Retry short limit:7 RTS thr:off Fragment thr:off
Encryption key:off
Power Management:on
Link Quality=62/70 Signal level=-48 dBm
Rx invalid nwid:0 Rx invalid crypt:0 Rx invalid frag:0

To be continued…

References and related

TPLink AC1900 WiFi Range Extender at Amazon (Costs about $69. I do not get promotional credits!)