Juha Saarinen: Can Vodafone’s SuperWifi solve your internet woes?


Nobody talks about connecting to the internet any more. That’s because Wifi has become synonymous with the internet. Many devices don’t even have ports for wired networks any more.

You connect to Wifi instead. The kicker? Bad Wifi means bad internet even though there’s nothing wrong with your fibre connection.

Good Wifi can be hard to achieve, though.

Internet providers’ help desks often end up troubleshooting poorly set-up Wifi. This is really difficult remotely, second-guessing what’s wrong and laboriously figuring out where settings are on Router Brand X as opposed to Brand Y.

Not ideal, and Vodafone will from this week provide the SuperWifi Mesh Wifi system for free. If you sign up for a 24-month contract with Vodafone, that is.

Orcon similarly ships Google Wifi mesh systems, ditto Snap/2 Degrees with AVM Fritz!Boxes, which provide good coverage. Vodafone’s going further though, and backs up the SuperWifi with a remote support, technicians visits to your house to set it up, and another free node for more coverage if needed, all for free. If the technician can’t fix the issue, there’s a $100 credit available.

The standard SuperWifi system comprises two TP-Link Deco X20 units. While a bit larger than Google Wifi, the white X20 cylinders are nicely designed. Yes, you can switch off the single LED to make them even less visually obtrusive.

There’s support for the new-ish 802.11ax Wifi 6, which is faster than the older 802.11ac standard and works better with more devices connected. Wifi 6 also switches seamlessly between mesh units, picking the strongest signal instead of clinging onto weak ones further away.

The X20s also provide advanced features like beamforming, multi-user multiple input/output (MU-MIMO) and orthogonal frequency division multiple access modulation (OFDMA), although there’s some doubt in geek circles that the latter two provide much real-world benefit currently.

To use Wifi 6, client devices need to have it too; most gear sold from mid last year onwards will have it, and the SuperWifi system should be reasonably future-proof.

SuperWifi also has additional fruit like parental controls (which works; the kids hate me now), traffic prioritisation and internet filtering – I didn’t try out the latter two.

Setting up the X20s is as advertised very easy through a smartphone app. The only time I wished pox on TP-Link’s house was when the app forced me to set up an account with them. Vendors really need to stop this.

If possible, Wifi routers should be in the centre of a house. So not in far corners, in cupboards or cooking in the afternoon sun on window sills.

Having found central spots for the boxes, I used the excellent Netspot app to do a site survey, to map out on which channels inconsiderate neighbours’ Wifi points transmit on.

The first rule of Good Wifi is: don’t use the older, slower, congested and interference-prone 2.4GHz band if you can help it.

Instead, go for 5GHz which has shorter reach, but wider channels (80 and 160MHz as opposed to 20/40MHz) and many more of them to choose from, to avoid the neighbours squelching your Wifi.

This is especially important when you combine channels into wide ones like 80MHz, for best performance. Unfortunately, the app can’t be used for channel selection and you need to log onto the main X20 router’s web interface.

Adding a second X20 node is easy too: the trick is to be patient and let it connect to the main node by itself.

The X20 is a two-band mesh Wifi system. That means the boxes talk to each other wirelessly over the 5GHz channel. This takes up capacity and reduces performance between the satellite and main node. For 100/30Mbps UFB, this is a non-issue as the 5GHz link can keep up with the connection.

Customers on 900/550Mbps UFB, on the other hand, would benefit from tri-band Wifi 6 mesh systems. These have second, fat 5GHz channels for wireless backhaul, but are bulkier and much costlier.

The workaround here is to connect the X20s with Ethernet cables to your router, which frees up the 5GHz band for faster Wifi.

Speaking of, the SuperWifi’s Deco X20s provided a steady 750 to 800Mbps up and down (I tested on an Orcon 4/4 Gbps Hyperfibre UFB connection) when set up with Ethernet as per above. With wireless 5GHz backhaul, I got 250-300Mbps from the satellite after finding good spots for the boxes in a two-storey house.

Both are good figures, and it’s fair to say that the SuperWifi is a clever marketing move from Vodafone that should keep subscriber happiness up and support calls down.

Extending SuperWifi to existing subscribers next would be even better.

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