Prior to conducting our product review, we spent a lot of time researching all the various WiFi boosters that are available on the market. We looked not only at the power and range specifications, but also looked for differing sizes to fit the various types of situations that we felt RV'ers would encounter based on the feedback from our Product Testing Review.
The products that we short listed were 1) a 1.2W High Power external antenna for the roof, ladder or flag-pole mounting, 2) a mini-WiFi booster for it's extreme portability, 3) a High-Gain Antenna for it's unique design, and 4) a 1W Desktop Antenna for it's great price, excellent specifications and good portability.
From our Product Testing Review, the feedback that we got was that the Range and Speed are the primary considerations for a WiFi booster, followed by Ease of Use, Technical Support, Portability and then price. We wanted to conduct a test that was as realistic as possible and so tested each product at an RV campground. Although there was no high power WiFi available to test the range (remember that in order to get a good distance, you need not only a powerful WiFi booster, but a powerful WiFi transmitter, just like two-way radios). There was a good fast open WiFi network which we could just pick up in the back of our RV, but not in the front, and so this became our test subject.
Speed was tested with a number of different tests that attempted to simulate the type of tasks the WiFi might be used for. These were:
Ease of use was evaluated by considering how easily the drivers installed and how easy the WiFi control software was to use. Support was tested by placing calls to each of the companies looking for technical assistance.
- File download - here we downloaded a 19Mb file (actually the photo editing program called Gimp)
- 'Album Upload' was uploading 13 photos to a Picasa Web Album at full resolution
- Download speed / Upload speed were tested using the online DSL speed tests from the site MySpeedTestOnline.com
To try to give a feel for how the products performed, each of the results was normalized by comparing it to how my Sony Vaio laptop performed on its own, without the booster. The graph therefore show how much faster (or slower) the speed was using each product. A couple of points to note are that the upload speeds are all fairly similar. This is because they were not really fast enough to stress the WiFi connection (notice how the download speeds show a much bigger difference).
So here's the results in order (best first):
Although the High-Gain Antenna is nicely made and sounds like a good idea, it really fails to deliver across the board. It's too big to fit in a pocket or briefcase, and is hard to direct towards the signal. During the testing, it wasn't clear exactly where the signal source was. Each time an adjustment was made to the antenna, you needed to refresh the signal, quite a lengthy process. Of course, each time you switched signals, you would need to go through that process. In our opinion, this meant that the product was pretty hard to use. The mini-WiFi booster appeared nicely made, was easy to install and use, but really failed to impress technically. Our two favorites from the testing were the High Power External and the 1W Desktop Antennas. They both performed extremely well technically, were easy to use, and seemed to do a great job of hitting the two main requirements of long range and portability.
- High Power External - This unit performed best in every category. Normally it would be mounted higher up on top of your RV or on a flag pole. For my test, it was only 6-8 feet up and so my expectation is that it would do even better than these tests suggest, especially at larger distances.
- 1W Desktop Antenna - Scored extremely well across the board, but especially in upload speeds
- Mini-WiFi Booster - Performed well, but disappointing download speeds
- High-Gain Directional Antenna - Struggled across the board, especially with download speed.