Are we using fewer Internet-connected devices? Of course not! More devices = increased bandwidth needs. Translation? The speed of your Internet is one determiner of performance. The other is how well your network is capable of handling sending and receiving data simultaneously to that growing number of devices. And that is where your router comes into the equation. The focus of this article is on Wi-Fi and wired connections to the router.
Make no mistake, always-on mobile devices, computers, streaming services, security cameras and all the devices you expect to respond instantly to your call for information tax your network resources. Modern tri-band routers, and especially mesh routers are made to seamlessly provide the service you expect to and from every corner of your home, and even for a short distance outside.
If you are happy with how things are as regards the above, you can smile, stop reading and move on. But, if you are not, the following is a tutorial with suggestions for a successful outcome.
ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 2-pack Mesh Router System Model W121 (quite a mouthful, isn’t it?) is a new and worthwhile upgrade to any single router system, offering up as much as corner-to-corner coverage in homes up to about 5,500 square feet. Yes, you read that right.
With just two of these that communicate with each other wirelessly, all your devices will probably provide expected performance with ease. Wi-Fi 6 is the next level wireless performance built into an increasing number of devices.
It is not just about routers, though, as will be discussed later. This article is about these mesh routers and possibly upgrading your modem, and more. Keep reading!
Here is an informative and detailed article explaining Mesh Wi-Fi and related topics. While I do not necessarily agree with the author’s hardware recommendations, the explanations are spot on. Another article is good advice about avoiding mistakes when setting up a Mesh Wi-Fi system. Read them both!
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**WHAT’S IN THE BOX**
- TWO ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 wireless routers (about $300), two power supplies, one ribbon-type Ethernet cable
- Warranty and other documentation
As is common today, setup is through a downloaded mobile app called SURFboard Central at your phone’s App store. For this test, I installed iPhone and Android software. After downloading, establish an account and use a strong password.
Following the prompts, the first router, the main one, is installed and connected to the consumer’s modem using the provided flat-design Ethernet cable. If you already have a combination modem/Wi-Fi router from your ISP, this can still work, but the setup will be a little bit different.
I suggest that the modem be unplugged from power for about 15 seconds, reconnected and then, once fully restarted, connect the first mAX AX6600 to the modem using the ribbon-type Ethernet cable provided by ARRIS. Both AX6600s are identical, so it does not matter which is chosen to be first. Using the supplied Ethernet cable is necessary because of the physical design of the AX6600, with a narrow opening through which to fish the Ethernet cable and then bend it to plug in to the yellow port on the bottom of the router. Using a conventional, stiffer, round Ethernet cable with its standard connector will not easily make that bend, so do not use it.
The setup process is unfortunately full of geek-speak, including a name for setting up both AX6600 devices ultimately to be recognized in the system. ARRIS named this process “onboarding” instead of simple-folk language for us simple folk. Nomenclature aside, once the first, the main router is set up, the user is asked if there is another one to set up. There is! This is a satellite.
Set up the satellite wirelessly while in the same room as the main router. Ethernet connection is not used. Once the second device is successfully “onboarded,” it can be unplugged from power and moved to its intended location in the area that will provide the best opportunity for full-house or apartment wide signal coverage. If in a single-story home, try to put the first one at one end of the home, mindful of where the cable modem is located, and put it as close to the ceiling as possible and out in the open. Height counts. Wireless signals like to travel best with minimum obstruction, which is why it is important to avoid placing it in a cabinet or closet. Even human bodies obstruct Wi-Fi. Ideally, place the second device at the opposite end of the home, keeping to the height and obstruction rule. After plugging it in at its intended spot, wait about five minutes to see if its LED circle of light at the plastic body’s base glows solid blue as it and the main unit did after onboarding. If it’s solid blue, it’s connected. Of course, check this with the App.
If, after the move, there is no connectivity between the main device and the satellite, move the satellite closer to the main. For those on multi-level homes, it is possible that a pair of these will be insufficient due to the building’s construction and/or too great a distance between the two.
••IF SETUP IS NOT SO EASY••
There is always a solution! One of them is to try one or more tri-band Wi-Fi range extenders specific to tri-band systems. PC Magazine is a reliable source and has reviews. Note that ARRIS does not make extenders. Personal experience with extenders has not been as successful as adding a satellite, or more in systems that allow more than a total of three devices. If your head is about to explode, please bear with me and this article. Normally, setup goes smoothly, but as we all know, stuff happens.
Fortunately, ARRIS offers excellent tech support for those in need of extra help. Instead of buying another satellite or trying an extender, call ARRIS mAX Routers tech support at the number on this page. Be prepared! Have handy the following information:
- Size of the home in square feet
- How many levels?
- Approximate year constructed and the type of construction – Dry wall, steel or concrete?
- A clear vision of what the goals are – How many Internet devices now (See my own list a little later in this article)? – How many users now and anticipated in the future? – What is the current Internet speed for which you are paying your ISP? – Is higher speed available and are you willing to pay for it?
Here is THE overarching question – Can a satellite of THIS model fix my issue(s) or is it recommended that I opt for a higher performance, higher cost mAX mesh system?
How many satellites can the highest performance mAX system accept?
Each mAX system only works with another from the same series.
Though unlikely, it is possible that YOUR situation will require a different mesh system allowing more nodes or satellites. Every home and situation are different and there is no ONE system that is best in every circumstance. Sorry. I wish it was easier for me to divine the best solution for you without key information.
As I said, there is always a solution, so long as you are willing to pay for it.
••WHEN THE SETUP IS SUCCESSFUL••
When the setup process is complete with any ARRIS mAX mesh system, users can customize and rename the Wi-Fi network’s SSID, that is, the name they are seen as when looking in the Wi-Fi settings of the mobile device or computer. Fire up the app to make these or any changes.
For those interested in enabling a Guest Network for visitors, this is an available option. A Guest network allows system owners to keep visitors off the main system. If you want security, use a different passcode for the Guest than for the main system. Decide for yourself!
Tri-band routers consist of both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands for use by connected devices. There is one SSID. Devices connect to whichever band is strongest. The third band is 5 GHz and is used for communication using the mesh signal surrounding each router and between each router, referred to as backhaul. They need to talk to each other and transparently send signals as if each router “node” was hard wired as an extension of the main unit. Ah, it is a wonderful thing!
Some devices use ONLY the 2.4 GHz band. These are, typically, IoT, or Internet of Things devices. The 2.4 GHz band has longer range, that is, signals can go a greater distance and through more obstructions. IoT devices may include wireless products such as security cameras, smart thermostats and video doorbells, home security systems, and Wi-Fi – enabled vacuums. Devices using 5 GHz Wi-Fi include mobile phones, tablets and computers.
••WHAT ABOUT YOUR MODEM?••
If you’re updating and upgrading whole house Wi-Fi to tri-band mesh, your modem might need an upgrade. If Internet hardware is supplied by your cable company, it is likely not the latest and greatest. Is it included in your monthly fee? Even if it is, it is your right to supply your own.
Taking a slight detour, is your Internet supplied over cable or is it optical fiber. Fiber is the best and fastest in both directions. If you have fiber, your ISP probably supplies your modem without additional monthly cost. Use what is supplied.
If your Internet comes over coaxial cable from a cable TV company, you may purchase your own modem which can be better than what is supplied by your ISP. I always buy my own.
I suggest that if your cable modem is more than two years old, and not at least meeting DOCSIS 3.0 standards, it is time to upgrade. I fall into that category, so I also upgraded to the newest high performance and state-of-the-art DOCSIS 3.1 ARRIS S33 modem $170, and the perfect companion to this leading-edge tri-band mesh router system or to ANY Wi-Fi upgrade regardless of brand. I am a big fan of ARRIS modems, the ONLY brand I have bought or recommended for many years. It will serve me (and you) for years to come even as we increase Internet speeds and add more and more devices. Again, I prefer to own my own modems and routers, and advise the same to you, to get equipment typically better than ISPs offer and to eliminate monthly fees for ISP’s equipment rental OR for their wireless service.
Modem setup is also straightforward. Instructions are included. The process involves a call to your ISP. Ask to, “provision a new modem.”
This is a 3,000+ square foot home. The main unit is upstairs in the same room as the modem. As a reminder, it is also important that wireless routers be placed as high as possible. The satellite unit was placed downstairs next to the entertainment center, almost on the diagonal from the main unit upstairs. In the downstairs area, there are many devices that should be connected directly to the Internet, that is, wired, not wirelessly. Though the satellite of this system is wirelessly connected in a mesh to the one upstairs, it is considered to be wired for the purpose of the network.
In order to connect directly to a TV, Roku, DirecTV box, AVR (Audio and Video Receiver) and have room for game systems and future expansion to other wired devices, I bought this $22, 8-port Internet switch, TRENDnet TEG-S82G. This lifetime guaranteed plug-and-play unmanaged Ethernet expansion switch is to Ethernet what a hub is to USB. It is as easy as plug in and connect CAT-6 or greater Ethernet cables from the switch to devices. Ethernet cables are also available in varying lengths as required.
This follows the accepted basic rule of connecting everything directly, that is, WIRED, whenever possible and WIRELESS only when unavoidable.
Everything is set up. It’s time to . . .
**PUT IT TO THE TEST**
With the routers in place, it’s time to connect all the devices; smart thermostats upstairs and downstairs, video doorbell, several wireless security cameras, three wireless printers and a wireless scanner, a whole-house security system, five TVs, a Wi-Fi garage door opener, one desktop and six laptop computers, six smart speakers, a total of five Roku devices, an internet-connected robot vacuum, an internet-connected stick vacuum, three smart bulbs, three game systems, and three mobile phones. I know I’ve left out some of our devices.
Wireless devices connect seamlessly to the band required without intervention on the part of the homeowner. For example, though the printers connect to the network on the 2.4 GHz band, one would never know it. It all looks the same in the application. Therefore, we can print from 5 GHz Wi-Fi-connected computers and phones to the 2.4 GHz-connected printers. From our phones, we still get alerts from the security cameras and can see them live and in real time instantly from anywhere in the world and we can converse with anyone at the front door and anyone to whom we are alerted by perimeter security cameras. The garage door is on the 2.4 GHz band, yet we can open and close it from our phones from anywhere in the world AND speak with whoever has been let into the garage.
It takes time to set up these devices on the network, but it is oh, so rewarding when it is done.
Firmware, the internal software running the routers, is automatically updated whenever an update is available.
Administration through the app is simple. It is not possible to break out and connect ONLY to either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bands. In most usage scenarios, it should not be necessary to break out and manually connect to one or the other bands. In my tests, this has NOT been an issue, and we have plenty of IoT devices that connect only on the 2.4 GHz band. I must say that the pair of mAX AX6600s does a fine job of negotiating and connecting behind the curtain to the needed band.
One more thing! These routers are Alexa compatible. Why? The only two skills I found are, “Alexa, disable the guest Wi-Fi” and, “ask SURFboard to restart my gateway.”
After setup, I like to check speed. Two measurements can be made in the app. The first is the speed between the mobile phone on which the app is running. This measures the speed between the phone and the router. Notice that it is higher than the speed measurement between the router and the ISP. This demonstrates that this ARRIS tri-band router is capable of “speaking” faster to the Wi-Fi 6 in my phone than to the ISP. Not a big deal, but interesting nonetheless.
There is not much else to say here. Once everything is set up and connected, it just works. And that is the best outcome.
If you are upgrading your home Internet hardware for better coverage and more device connectivity ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Tri-band a good choice.
ARRIS provides a two-year warranty.