What is the Fios Network Extender?

The Fios Network Extender does two things:

  1. Extend your wireless network
  2. Extend your wired network

I separated wireless and wired because I cannot stress enough the importance of wired networking.

It makes everyone better off to use wired Internet when possible.

Wireless communication happens on a shared medium, where devices take turns to talk or otherwise nobody can get his message through. Just like if the person next to you starts talking while you are having a conversation with your friend, it becomes difficult for you to hear your friend. Nowadays, there are many devices trying to have a conversation around you. Laptops, desktops, smart phones, tablets, your Apple TV, Nest thermostat, smoke detector and even your rice cooker.

Why does it help others?

More devices means less capacity available for each device, and this is why it always helps people around me when I use an Ethernet cable to connect my laptop. It reduces the load off the wireless network, so fewer devices are fighting for capacity, which in turn results in higher data rate for each device.

Why does it help me?

It helps me because an Ethernet cable carries data much faster than what is realistically achievable on a wireless link. It is also because when I take my laptop off the wireless spectrum, it leaves more capacity for my iPhone and iPad.

Simply put, you should always use wired Ethernet whenever feasible/convenient. For example, if you use a desktop computer,  it makes sense to plug in an Ethernet cable if the wiring in your home permits. Even with a laptop, there are probably locations in the home where you spend more time than you do in other locations, like a studio desk, dining table, etc. As long as the wiring permits, you should by all means run an Ethernet cable to those locations and plug your device in.

What are the alternatives to Fios Network Extender?

1. Wi-Fi range extender/repeater/booster

You might have heard of alternative approaches to extend a home network. The most popular solution is to use a Wi-Fi range extender/repeater/booster.

The main difference between the Fios Network Extender and a traditional Wi-Fi range extender is in how the extender connects to the primary router. The Fios Network Extender uses a wired connection (Coax/Ethernet) with all the benefits I laid out above, while a typical range extender uses a wireless connection. A typical Wi-Fi range extender has significant performance limitations, because it needs to split its time talking to client devices and to your primary Wi-Fi router and cannot do both at the same time due to limited hardware resources.

A new generation of products has less of this issue but at the same time costs significantly more. See for example Netgear orbi. It in essence serves the same purpose as traditional range extenders. Netgear has apparently done away with the name “range extender”, in part because, I believe, that they know we know range extenders suck.

2. Router as access point

Another option is to set up a router as an access point. Many routers offer that function. To do that you need to run an Ethernet cable from your primary router to the second router serving as the access point. Performance should be much better than a traditional range extender due to, again, the use of a wired link between the extender and the primary router. The main drawback is that setup could be a little complicated for the less experienced. You would need to log into the administrative panel on your second router, change its operating mode (where different manufacturers might use different names for “access point” to confuse you), and manually configure the SSID and password to match those of your primary router.

Aside from configuration challenges, the biggest hurdle for most users in practice probably comes down to wiring. Running an Ethernet cable across your home is not always easy and/or desired. This is in part why Wi-Fi range extenders remain popular despite the sub-par performance.

The is where the Fios Network Extender comes in. Although Ethernet wiring is less common, many homes are already wired with coax cables from previous cable TV installations. This is what makes the Fios Network Extender approach, which is based on the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) standard, particularly attractive.

The Fios Network Extender is not your typical Wi-Fi range extender/repeater/booster, although Verizon needs to market it better

The Fios Network Extender approach is superior to a typical Wi-Fi range extender/repeater/booster. But Verizon’s product description is a bit confusing (and disturbing):

The device receives the wireless signal from your current router and recasts the signal so it can reach areas of your home beyond the reach of the router alone.

WRONG!

This description makes it sound like the FiOS Network Extender works the same way as a Wi-Fi range extender/repeater/booster, which is NOT what you want. Fortunately that is not the case. A more accurate description is available in the Fios Network Extender (WCB6200Q) FAQs:

Will the extender work if connected back to router via Ethernet?
Yes. Extenders can be connected back to the router via coax or by an Ethernet cable. The Fios Network Extender does not communicate with the router wirelessly.

Can I connect my extender to my router wirelessly?
No. Fios Network Extenders support WPS (Wireless Protected Setup) to replicate the Wi-Fi Names (SSID) configuration from the router, but once SSID’s are configured, the extender requires a connection back to the router via coax or Ethernet in order to pass data traffic back to router and on to the Internet.

The following table is quick summary of network extension options.

Fios Network Extender (MoCA in general) Wi-Fi range extender Router as Access Point
Ease of Setup Easy Easy Complicated
Required Wiring Coax/Ethernet None Ethernet
Performance Good Bad Good

The Fios Network Extender obviously only works with Fios Internet, but its underlying technology, MoCA, is widely available in other products as well. The Fios Network Extender column therefore applies to MoCA-based solutions in general, although the ease of setup is not guaranteed when you use an aftermarket MoCA device with your cable Internet provider.

It is plug-and-play.

Typical homes and apartments aren’t wired with Ethernet but are with Coax. We have FiOS Internet service with an Actiontec Fios™ Advanced Wi-Fi Router (MI424WR rev. I) as the gateway router. It is placed in a corner bedroom on the second floor. Signal strength is decent throughout the house. I find no blind spots. However, I still desire a wired connection on the first floor to connect video game consoles and/or gaming computers. Because our home is already wired with coax, using the Fios Network Extender is the simplest solution.

The user experience turned out even better than I expected. It is plug-and-play. Once connected, the extender will automatically register with your Fios gateway router and copy its Wi-Fi settings. No manual configuration required. The setup is so easy that I am now surprised that Verizon does not aggressively promote the product, since most homes can benefit from one.

Unboxing

The FiOS Network Extender includes two coax cables and one coax splitter, but they are separate from the extender unit. The extender unit has its own brown box packaging, just like any other router.

That Darn Wall Bracket

This is the most confusing part during shopping for the Fios Network Extender. Verizon produces a wall bracket specifically for the Fios Network Extender. Here is the product page, on which it says:

  • For customers who prefer to attach their extender to a wall rather than place it on a desktop.
  • Please note that for optimum performance, Verizon recommends that the Fios Network Extender be maintained in an upright position using the attached stand and not be wall mounted.

Verizon does not explain why wall mounting is not optimal. But regardless, if you don’t recommend it, why offer it at all?

I happen to be one of those who don’t want a router on my desk, for two reasons:

  • I want as much work space as possible on my desk.
  • I want to elevate the extender to create line-of-sight for as many devices as possible, which is also a Verizon-recommended practice.

Verizon offers no a reason why I should not use the wall bracket. Neither do they explain what I have to give up if I do use a wall bracket. So now I am in speculating mode. The bold text in the quote above seems to suggest that, when wall-mounted using the provided bracket, the Extender would not be “in an upright position” and thus not optimal. However, from the only picture of the bracket provided by Verizon, it seems that the Extender would in fact be upright when mounted on the wall bracket. This goes back to the reason why Verizon recommends against wall mounting, which I don’t know because it was not explained. It might have nothing to do with “upright position” at all even though Verizon makes it sound like that. I guess it could be the way internal antenna are configured in this device. But again I do not know.

I called and chatted with Verizon several times and even visited a local Fios store, but nobody knew what they were talking about. Worse, some Verizon employee doesn’t even know what I was talking about – they had no idea Verizon sells a wall bracket for the extender.

Finally I had enough and decided to just buy the wall bracket and see it myself.

It turned out great. As I expected, the Fios Network Extender stands in a upright position when mounted on the wall bracket. The bracket seems well-made and comes with mounting hardware. It is sleek and low-profile, and the size matches the extender perfectly. I just wish Verizon did a better job explaining why it is not recommended.

 

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