How to Fix Your Wi-Fi Signal Using Cables

Listen. I do not have anything in return for Wi-Fi. Fast wireless access to the Internet is almost miraculous, and there are many situations where it makes no sense to use a wired connection. Can you imagine if your phone was connected to the wall?

But as we celebrate Ethernet’s 50th anniversary, I’d like to pitch for the humble, hard-working wired connection.

A wired connection is more stable than Wi-Fi, is almost always faster, and has much lower latency. It’s just better to send a signal through a bunch of copper wires than converting it into radio waves and blasting it through walls, furniture, appliances and people. (Wi-Fi isn’t bad for people; people are bad for Wi-Fi.) And every device you take off your Wi-Fi also helps the devices that are still on it. You need to wire every possible device, especially computers, game consoles, TVs and special your Wi-Fi access points (including home servers and network storage, but if you have them, don’t tell me about the benefits of cables).

Even a little bit of wiring can have a dramatic effect on your Wi-Fi situation and save you from springing for a mesh network system — or, even worse, a Wi-Fi extender.

Here are the two best things you can do with wired networking.

Move the router: The best place for a Wi-Fi router is in the middle of the house, but unless your house is already wired for Ethernet, your Internet connection is probably along an outside wall, somewhere that was convenient for the ISP’s installer, but not necessarily for you . By making a wired connection between your ISP modem/gateway and your router, you can place the Wi-Fi where It must be while the modem remains true It must be. Everyone wins.

As an example, my fiber gateway – where my ISP’s fiber signal comes in – is in my garage. My house is about ten years old and wired for ethernet, but the connection between the gateway and the network enclosure in my laundry room is indirect and full of connections due to some puzzling decisions made by previous ISP installers and residents, so my internet connection kept dropping. Eventually I’ll have a true direct in-wall Ethernet connection that bypasses that mess, but in the meantime I’ve run a 50-foot patch cord from my garage door to my laundry room door and to the wireless connection. router because the alternative is to put the router in the garagewhere it slowly cooks itself and I still have to use a patch cable to connect the rest of my network.

Replacing mesh backhaul: The whole reason mesh networking kits became popular is that they give you a decent Wi-Fi connection without wires, and here I suggest you put the wires right back in. Hear me out.

Mesh networking kits like Eero, Nest Pro, and Orbi use Wi-Fi to communicate between the router and the satellite nodes, as well as the client devices. Typically, they dedicate one Wi-Fi band to backhaul – the communication between the mesh nodes – and one or more bands for devices. But each node has to be close enough to the next to have good reception on the backhaul band, and you have so much more Wi-Fi signals in your airspace. Replacing even one backhaul from your main router to a satellite node with a wired connection – if your mesh system supports it – greatly improves the connection, especially for devices further away from the main router. You can space your Wi-Fi access points further apart, have better communication between them, and use less of them overall. (For example, last Christmas I fixed my in-laws’ Eero installation, to a low of applause.)

Some homes and apartment buildings, especially those built or renovated in the past decade, are lucky enough to have Ethernet built into their walls: some in just one or two places, others in almost every room. If that’s an option for you and you’re not using it yet, you don’t need much to get started, other than a network switch where all that Ethernet comes together and some cables to hook things into your wall outlets. But most people do not have ethernet in the walls, and it’s not trivial or cheap to get it there, even if you have the option of poking some holes in the wall.

Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives. In order from cheapest to best to… least good, buy a very long Ethernet cable, use existing coax cables, and finally powerline networks.

The cheapest option: just buy a very long cable

Here’s my pitch: buy a really long ethernet cable. A thirty foot cable from a reputable company costs about $25. Connect the things you want to connect. Perhaps this will allow you to place your Wi-Fi router in the center of the house. Maybe this will allow you to wire up your gaming PC and not be left behind in multiplayer matches. Maybe it allows you to use wired backhaul for one of your mesh network nodes, or maybe you want to wire your entire entertainment center with a simple network switch. This is a good option for renters and people who don’t have an Ethernet or cable wiring in the walls and won’t (or can’t) put it there.

Now you have spent $25 or $50. If you’re happy with the performance but not the aesthetics of a 100 foot long Ethernet cable lying around, do what you can to make it a little prettier. If possible, tuck it under skirting boards or the edge of the carpet, or use a cable duct with pull-and-stick strips. Is it elegant? Not really. Does it work? Yes.

The actually best option: use your cable wiring

MoCA adapters like this one convert between Ethernet and coaxial cables, so you can use your existing cable to extend your home network.
Image: Nilay Patel/MinRegion

Most older homes have coax in at least a room or two, thanks to generations of satellite TV, cable TV, and cable Internet installations. If your house or apartment was built in the 1990s or later, you may even have pre-installed coaxial cable connections in most rooms. If you have existing cable wiring, you can use MoCA adapters (that’s Multimedia over Coax Alliance) to convert Ethernet to coax and back without the complexity of Wi-Fi or powerline. Depending on your exact setup, it may not be the easiest or cheapest option, but it’s just as good as in-wall Ethernet, and you’re much more likely to already have it.

The current version, MoCA 2.5, supports transfer rates of up to 2.5 Gbps. A basic MoCA setup requires an adapter on each end. Look for MoCA 2.5 adapters with 2.5GbE Ethernet ports. Most people’s internet connections aren’t that fast yet, but 2.5 GbE ports are becoming more common on desktop and network devices, and there’s no reason to bottleneck yourself in the future with MoCA adapters with 1 Gbps ports to purchase when 2.5 GbE options are not much more expensive.

To get started with MoCA, you need a coax port near your router. Buy a MoCA adapter and connect it to one of your router’s LAN ports with an Ethernet cable. Connect the coax side to the nearest coax port. The other adapter connects to the coax port in the wall at your destination; then you can connect the ethernet end to your device or a network switch to wire multiple devices. You can use multiple endpoint adapters with one adapter on the router side, and if your router has a coaxial port, like most FiOS gateways, MoCA is already built in and you only need the endpoint adapters. The edge’The editor-in-chief, Nilay Patel, uses MoCA adapters to do the backhaul for his Eero network.

Of course, that assumes a direct cable connection between the router end and the device end, which is not guaranteed at all. I’ve seen homes over the past few decades with three or four non-crossing coaxial cable networks laid by various cable and satellite installers. You also need to make sure there aren’t too many splitters in the path between them – these can reduce signal strength – and if you’re also using coax cables for your TV or incoming internet connection, you’ll need a PoE filter, which will ensure that the MoCA network does not interfere with other signals in your network. This may require some cable archeology and the pruning of disused splitters and cables.

The most useful and up-to-date explanation of MoCA I’ve found is the one Dong Ngo just published back in April, with helpful information on network layout, splitters, and PoE filters.

It could work great: powerline networking

A powerline adapter sends your Ethernet signal through your existing electrical wiring. It may work well, although it will depend on the age of your electrical wiring and other factors.
Image: Richard Lawler/MinRegion

Powerline networking allows you to use your existing electrical wiring to expand your network. It makes a lot of sense in theory; most people have electrical outlets in every room.

But in practice, its performance depends a lot on the age of your wiring and how each outlet is connected to your electrical panel. Richard Lawler, MinRegions senior news editor, uses an AV2000 powerline network kit at home. He says he gets 700 to 1000 Mbps (on a Gigabit network) in some rooms and 300 to 500 Mbps in others. That’s better than you’ll get with many Wi-Fi routers within range, but no better than MoCA or a long Ethernet cable.

Wire cutters powerline article – which still has a GIF of my floor lamp going into disco mode during my testing in 2015 – is a good overview of the powerline options. Joel also knows his stuff.

In addition to powerline kits, Wire cutter also tested MoCA adapters, and you can see in that article how thoroughly the MoCA kits beat the powerline kits. Just say it. You’re better off with MoCA if you have it. A long ethernet cable beats powerline if you can handle it, but if that’s not an option, powerline is worth a try.

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