Is Telstra's Smart Wi-Fi Booster Worth The Money?

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Tackling black spots around your home, Telstra's Smart Wi-Fi Booster ensures your wireless gadgets are never caught offline.

Troubleshooting home Wi-Fi woes is a dark art; sometimes dead zones are caused by solid objects like double-brick walls, while other times you're at the mercy of interference from other wireless gear around your home which can mess with streaming music and video.

Things become even more complicated if you live in a multi-story home. Even if your Wi-Fi isn't dropping out completely, you might struggle to make the most of your broadband speeds when you're far from the wireless base station.

Rather than simply cranking up the signal strength or adding Wi-Fi extenders to bounce the signal around your home, the best option is to upgrade to a "mesh" network. These work by spreading a few smart wireless base stations around your home to work in unison. They all share the same network name, letting your Wi-Fi devices seamlessly roam between base stations as you move around the house, just like a mobile phone roams between towers.

Here's where Telstra's $180 Smart Wi-Fi Booster comes in, offering two mesh base stations and the option of adding up to two more. You can pay it off over 24 months and there are no ongoing subscription fees, but you still need a Telstra ID so you're locking yourself in as a Telstra customer.

Telstra's mesh base stations don't actually "boost" your existing Wi-Fi network, they replace it. You plug the primary base station into an ethernet port on your broadband modem/router and then set the base station up using the Telstra Home Dashboard app on iOS or Android. Thankfully you don't need to use a Telstra-issued modem and the telco doesn't need to be your home broadband provider.

Next you place the secondary base station a few rooms away, using the Telstra app to ensure it has a strong wireless link back to the primary base station. Once they're linked you can disable your old Wi-Fi network and enjoy the improved coverage.

You can use the ethernet port on the back of Telstra's secondary base station to connect devices to the internet at the other end of the house, yet you miss out on USB ports for connecting printers or storage.

You still need your broadband modem/router to play household traffic cop, handing out network addresses and routing traffic. The Telstra gear doesn't insist on sitting at the heart of your network, unlike the rival Google WiFi mesh system.

Telstra's $180 mesh network is considerably cheaper than rivals like Google WiFi, Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi and D-Link Covr, even when you allow for the fact that some rivals include three base stations instead of two. In return for Telstra's low price tag you miss out on some advanced features, but these might not be a deal-breaker if your needs are simple (and you're happy to stick with Telstra).

While the mesh network appears to your devices as a single 802.11ac Wi-Fi network, each base station generates both 2.4 and 5GHz signals to ensure your newer devices can take advantage of faster Wi-Fi speeds. While 5GHz signals offer faster data speeds than 2.4GHz they don't reach as far, so the network uses "bandsteering" to automatically shift devices between them depending on the signal strength.

Bandsteering can cause problems in homes plagued by interference on the 2.4GHz band, as devices which are far from the base station can be pushed to 2.4GHz when they would have been better off sticking with the weaker 5GHz signal. Upgrading to a mesh network tends to solve this, as there's always a base station nearby so the 5GHz signal stays strong and you're less likely to be shunted onto 2.4GHz in the remote corners of your home.

Telstra and Google's mesh networks are dual-band, while most rivals are tri-band adding a second private 5GHz network which lets the base stations talk amongst themselves to reduce wireless congestion. This is great for power users who push their Wi-Fi to the limit but it drives up the price and is perhaps overkill for your average home.

Another shortcoming is a lack parental controls, which is understandable considering that it's not designed to be your household traffic cop. Thankfully you can still take advantage of any parental controls built into your broadband modem/router, or perhaps sign up for the Telstra Broadband Protect service.

At the end of the day Telstra's mesh network is light on advanced features compared to its rivals but, considering the price tag, it's still an attractive option for homes that need to fix their Wi-Fi without breaking the bank.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


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