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SuperWifi - Vodafone's ambitious plan to do away with internet dead zones

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 19 January 2021, 10:09 am

As good as our broadband infrastructure is these days, frustrating internet drop-outs and patchy service remain a fact of life for thousands of Kiwis.

That is because the majority of us connect to our home broadband connection via a Wi-fi router, enjoying the convenience of having our devices untethered from the wall but constantly connected to the internet.

The vast range of hardware configurations, quirks of home design and size of our dwellings means Wi-fi network performance varies widely between broadband customers. It's for that reason that Vodafone this week introduced SuperWifi, a free offer to equip new and existing residential broadband customers on its Unlimited Broadband and Wireless Broadband 600GB plans with two mesh wifi devices to improve network connectivity in the home. 

Vodafone is so confident that the two DecoX20 devices set-up from networking hardware maker TP-Link will provide "wall-to-wall in-home Wi-fi coverage" that it is offering a $100 credit if it doesn't live up to that claim. The pair of devices would cost around $450 to buy from an electronics retailer.

Poor Wi-fi isn't just frustrating for broadband customers. It is a thorn in the side of internet providers who often face criticism for perceived poor service, when the real reason is beyond their control. As such, Vodafone's investment in SuperWifi is an effort to cut down on helpdesk queries and is in line with the company's recent push to improve its patchy track record on customer service.

The two Wi-Fi 6 compatible mesh devices resemble the Google Nest Wi-fi device that internet provider Orcon has been offering new customers of fibre plans. That package includes one mesh unit, while additional units can be rented for $5 per month.

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The DecoX20 supplying my lounge with Wi-fi

Mesh is the way

Vodafone's provision of two mesh devices is attractive in comparison and set-up takes about 15 minutes, a similar amount of time to Google Nest Wi-fi installation. The two units replaced a Google Wi-fi network in my Wellington apartment offering comparable network performance. 

If the TP-Link devices have an edge, it is in the antivirus, parental controls and quality of service features built into the network and accessible from the Deco app that you use to set up the network.

Vodafone's chief consumer officer, Carolyn Luey, said that increased demand for reliable Wi-fi in the home as a result of increased remote working and stay at home orders of 2020, was behind the SuperWifi offer.

"Thick walls, building materials such as concrete and ceramic tiling, other electronic and wireless devices, mirrors and even the neighbours' networks can cause problems with Wi-Fi in the home," she said.

That's certainly true of my 86 sqm apartment, where a concrete-lined lift shaft created Wi-fi dead zones in my apartment when I relied solely on my top of the line Netgear router. The set of three Google Wifi mesh devices solved that problem. They work by creating a dedicated network within the apartment, sending traffic between each other to improve the signal coverage. 

Wall to wall guarantee

The TP-Link set-up appears to do the same job with a pair of devices. Vodafone suggests two DecoX20 devices are suitable for a "standard 1-3 bedroom home" but will send out a third device if a Vodafone technician deems it necessary.

With many Kiwis living in larger and more complex homes with sleep-outs, loft offices and garage workshops, it is yet to be seen how Vodafone's wall to wall coverage guarantee stacks up. Vodafone is undertaking to work with a customer for up to 30 days offering remote support, an additional mesh device and even a visit from a technician if required. If all else fails, the $100 credit will apply.

I can attest to the satisfaction of not having to worry about Wi-fi dead zones - having to stay in certain rooms to get a decent signal or seeing streaming video services buffering when the Wi-fi signal drops out. SuperWifi has the potential to improve the customer experience for broadband users on those Vodafone plans - and reinforces the virtues of investing in mesh Wi-fi devices for those on lower-tier plans and signed up with rival ISPs.

SuperWifi is available on a 12-month term. Fees apply if you cancel or transfer your plan or billing account within 24 months.

Find out more information about Vodafone's SuperWifi.


Comments

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Steve Cosgrove 22 January 2021, 2:11 pm

Our little Newtown bungalow had two consumer access points, bridged with CAT6. Still had black spots. Replaced with one enterprise grade AP and black spots disappeared. Bad WiFi is an interesting variation on Digital Divide.


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