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Wi-Fi extender vs. mesh network, and closing Android apps

Tech Talk

Don't give up if your home Wi-Fi signal doesn't reach the other side of the house, upstairs, or out to the garage. Wi-Fi extenders and mesh networks can improve the Wi-Fi signal coverage in your home.

How did it get this way in the first place?

The installer from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) probably installed their connection and your Wi-Fi router next to your computer. Unless your computer is in the middle of your house, the walls, and the pipes and wiring inside the walls knock down your Wi-Fi signal strength the farther you are away from the router.

Wi-Fi extenders were the first attempt to fix this problem. Extenders work by plugging into a wall outlet in a location where the Wi-Fi signal is strong and re-broadcasting the original Wi-Fi signal. You may also see these things marketed as Wi-Fi repeaters and Wi-Fi boosters. Don't worry; they work the same as Wi-Fi extenders. Some extenders have antennas sprouting out of the top of the extender, and some don't.

Wi-Fi extenders usually add an "_ext" to the Wi-Fi network name they're extending but use the same password as the original Wi-Fi network. So, for example, if you name your Wi-Fi network MothersMaidenName, your extender network will be MothersMaidenName_ext.

If you need to use two extenders to reach that AirBNB you're building in your attic, you could end up with MothersMaidenName_ext_ext. Not pretty. The best way around this is to use mesh networking.

Mesh networks work by creating a new Wi-Fi network, separate from your ISP's network. Mesh networks can also offer more security and manageability than using an extender.

Some mesh networks use their own router, and some use your existing router. To create a Wi-Fi network, mesh networks use hardware called nodes or mesh points. The nodes connect wirelessly and broadcast the same Wi-Fi name everywhere. Mesh networks also combine the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks into one network and connect your device to whichever band is stronger at your location. So as you move around the house, the mesh network will adapt and connect you to the strongest node and band around you.

Tri-band mesh systems use a separate frequency band for the nodes to communicate while your TVs, phones, laptops, tablets, and computers use the other two bands. A dual-band mesh system connects to other nodes on one of the bands your devices connect to.

A good Wi-Fi extender will cost around $75, while mesh systems run from $200 to $700.

Closing Android apps

If you have an Android phone (Samsung, Motorola, and others) or tablet (Amazon Fire, Samsung, ONN, and others), you may have heard that you should close any apps that you're not using. Unfortunately, a quick search in the Google Play store shows many apps that will "kill" tasks on your device.

It seems like a good thing, closing apps you're not using. They're probably taking up resources; if you're not using the app, close it, right?

Nope. Android isn't like Windows or macOS. When you click on the red X or Cmd+Q on an app or a program on a computer, the app or program ends and releases resources back to the operating system. But in Android, when you finish with an app, you typically go back to your Home screen, leaving the app running but not in the foreground. Tapping the square icon on your navigation shows Android is still running the apps. You can close them from here by swiping up on each app or by tapping on the Close All button if there is one.

Unlike Windows or macOS, Android needs those apps to be running. An app running in the background launches much more quickly than one opening from scratch. Opening an already running app saves battery life and processor usage.

If you have lots of apps open and Android needs their resources, Android will automatically close the least-used app for you.

Green thumb

If plants had Wi-Fi, we'd be planting them everywhere. Too bad they only make the oxygen we need to live.

Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at [email protected].