Internet AmpliFication

I put out a plea to ease my confusion in the murky world of internet router options the other day on Twitter and Facebook. Having spent far too long researching and reading reviews my mind was about ready to go pop. Plus, this makes a much more uplifting update than my last GrumpFest (which I’m happy to say I’ve largely overcome!)

Is it a router or a teeny tiny washing machine?

Having experimented with repeaters, they half work but the change in WiFi network name makes the experience somewhat less than seamless and the performance is sketchy at times too.

My house isn’t particularly big, but as it’s a townhouse it does go over three floors, and with the obvious need to work from home over the Covid period I’ve noticed performance issues on the 1st and 2nd floors with the ropey Hub 3 that Virgin Media provided me and perhaps unhelpfully insisted installing near my TV in the bottom corner of the ground floor.

The front-running solutions proffered by my friends were actually both created by the same company, UniFi is the commercial grade option with a lot more functionality, and whilst that appeals to my inner geek it’s a little overkill for my home needs, so I’ve plumped for the domestic grade Amplifi.

Biggest appeal was the ease of set up, which is definitely true. I ordered two HD routers, my intention is to connect the second upstairs via a gigabit powerline adaptor and run it in bridge mode, so in layman’s terms, it means that if I wander upstairs and the signal is better from the slave router, my device will connect to that instead – seamlessly, with the same SSID etc.

So it’s scalable. You can also add mesh based access points which simply plug into a power socket. It has an adjustable antenna that you can direct to toward the router(s) or other access points to give the best coverage. I went for the extra router because I wanted it to have an Ethernet based backhaul (connection back to the main router) rather than a wireless one. I also like the bonus Ethernet ports I’ll have on the additional router.

I’m pretty sure the two routers will meet my current needs, but by the same token, I have the option of scalability – if the top floor is still ropey I could get a further router or access point, or indeed if the spare room that isn’t my office suddenly requires faster internet I could do the same there.

Indeed, so far, the single router I have set up downstairs is already providing a much better range than the Virgin Hub 3 which is now sitting in modem mode providing the much prettier and more powerful AmpliFi HD with juicy internet.

Set up was as easy as promised. I made a note of the current Virgin Media SSID and password, duly put the Hub 3 in modem mode and allowed it to reboot, connected it’s #1 LAN port to the WAN port on the AmpliFi box, powered it up and then used an app on my phone to configure it, using the same credentials as my old WiFi network to make life easier. After a few tests it was up and running, all my devices connected to it without complaint and those things that were relying on Ethernet points connected up too with no issue.

The funky lighting it has is still currently a novelty, which I may tire of but it’s pretty cool to have an LCD screen which can either show the time, traffic to date this month, which Ethernet ports are in use or – my favourite – a live gauge of how much bandwidth you’re using, uploads and downloads.

The only tweaks I made to the settings were to change the DNS servers, again via the app. I don’t bother with a guest network as generally I’m happy for friends who visit to just join the main WiFi but the option is there, you can leave it open or add a password – and you can restrict the number of users. Not sure if you can throttle the bandwidth or not.

I’m going to resist setting up the second box until I’ve got the gigabit powerline adaptors next week – I do have a ye olde powerline adaptor I currently use as a fallback for my main computer in case the WiFi craps out whilst I’m working, but I figured I’ll wait until I’ve got the setup I want before adding phase 2.

But yeah, in a nut shell, it was easy to set up, it looks great, it wasn’t ridiculously expensive and it appears to be performing much better than the dreadful Virgin Hub 3 even with just the single router set up. So if you’re suffering similar problems, I’d definitely recommend.

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