It’s time to cure that dead spot in your house, the one where you couldn’t get a good signal to browse the Internet or to continue streaming your favourite TV show.
We all know how that feels. With the increasing number wireless devices at home, use of streaming music and video services, smart home and the availability of fast Internet connection, the only thing holding you back might just be your wireless router.
Most router locations are fixed to where the phone line is, which may not be the best location to offer maximum coverage for the home. It’s time to consider a new kind of Wireless network, one that is made up of satellite access points for better coverage.
There are cheaper solutions out there in the form of wireless repeater but these simply repeat the existing wireless radio signal with performance penalty. Mesh network gives you better, faster and more sustainable connection compared to a single router. It also creates a single seamless WiFi network, eliminating the need to manually switch between networks.
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The Rise of the Home Mesh Networks
Mesh networking is a wireless networking solution created to overcome the limitations of a single wireless router. The system uses two or more access points daisy-chained wirelessly together to form a single network. This is controlled by one of the access points, designated as the router but they typically look the same differ perhaps by the ports you get on the back.
By using a mesh of access points, you can overcome WiFi coverage issues around the home typically caused by thick stone walls, ceiling insulation and proximity to devices such as microwave oven and cordless telephone. If placed correctly, these access points should offer you complete coverage. And, if you need more coverage, you can alway pick up another access point to add to your set up.
How To Choose The Right Mesh Network
When considering a mesh network to replace your wireless router, consider the following factors.
Decide how big an area you wish to cover, the number of floors and rooms. You can then pick from one of the different packages on offer be it 2, 3 or more satellites. These can offer coverage from 4000 to 10,000 square feet. An average coverage area per satellite is around 2000 square feet.
Speed and Bandwidth
The fastest of these being the tri-band mesh networks. These offers maximum bandwidth and speed. But if you think you won’t be needing all that speed, just sufficient coverage to serve up to two users, then save yourself some money and consider a dual band mesh network.
High-end mesh networking system uses three high speed wireless bands with a dynamic backhaul. The dedicated backhaul works like a tunnel between the satellite nodes. This optimises the bandwidth available to the end user. The dedicated backhaul link ensures a fast and stable wireless connection throughout.
Some satellite nodes can have up to two Ethernet port, others have only one. This is useful for connecting wired devices directly to it such as gaming console, media server, NAS, printer or streaming boxes. The limit in the number of ports mean, you may have to spread them out to the different nodes or get a network switch.
Smaller mesh nodes may not always be the best. Bigger satellite nodes have room for dedicated antenna arrays. The best we have seen is one with a dedicated 4×4 antenna array for the backhaul link and separate 2×2 arrays for the end clients. These antenna arrays are hidden inside the unit so it is best to check the specification to establish the antenna configuration.
Ease of Configuration
All mesh networking systems require you to use a laptop or download a mobile app to configure the network. This takes the guess work out of configuring the system as you you will need is to follow the setup wizard or quick step by step guide. Once installed, the app can be used to monitor status of your network and make further changes.
Work with Existing Router
The main satellite station usually comes with PPPoE which you can use to connect to your modem, completely replacing the main router. The limitation is that you only get one Ethernet port to connect your devices unlike the main router where you typically get up to 5 Ethernet port. You can get around connecting a switch to the port. Alternatively, keep your main router and add the satellite nodes to it to extend your coverage without losing the wired ports.
Reasons Against Choosing a Mesh Wireless Network
To offer a balanced view between a standalone wireless router versus a mesh network, we list the reasons why you would go with a conventional wireless router than to adopt the new generation mesh network.
The mesh network is more expensive, up to 4 or 5 times more than your conventional wireless router. Granted that it is more than one device and that the technology is new, the high cost may not justify its purchase. For example, if you have only a single area in your home where connectivity is an issue, you may consider a cheaper or free option such as a range extender or simply moving your wireless router. But if you have more than one dead spot, you may just have to suck it up and get a mesh network with multiple nodes.
The ‘trunk’ or backhaul network signal between the satellite nodes promises higher bandwidth between them but since the network is on the same radio frequency, this meant lower bandwidth for the end point connections. In other words, the packets being pass between the satellites are using up the available bandwidth that would otherwise be available to your devices. This is also true although better for high end models where tri-band mesh network is used. A dedicated channel for the backhaul meant the end points will have a connection comparable to that from a dual-band wireless router.
Lack of Wired Ethernet Ports & USB
Another reason against choosing a mesh network is the lack of wired Ethernet port. Each satellite has only up to two Ethernet ports (some has only a single Ethernet port or none). If you have devices that rely a wired connection than you are stuck. They also lack USB ports typically found on wireless router that lets share file and printer.
Lack of Features
When compared to your conventional wireless router, the mesh network is still in its infancy and lacks many advanced features. While the current mesh network systems are sufficient for the standard household, with features like guest network, port forwarding and simple parental controls, that is about it. If you are after built-in VPN, 3G failover support, network file and printer sharing, bandwidth throttling, Dynamic DNS, NAT, Advanced Routing, IP & MAC binding and wireless bridging you may want to go back to the wireless router.
Top 5 Best Wireless Mesh Network Systems
After weighing up the pros and cons above, it’s time now to look at what is out there.
Google WiFi System 45
One of the first mesh network to appear in the market, the Google WiFi System replaces your existing router and works with your modem to create a unified wireless access point for total coverage. The Network Assist technology keeps your connection fast by automatically selecting the clearest channel and fastest band.
Each node is capable of 1200 Mbps throughput and a coverage of up to 1500 square feet. The three pack Google WiFi System covers up to 4500 square feet. We like how the app lets you see who is connected, prioritise your connections, share guest network and control the family’s WiFi access.
- AC1200 2×2 Wave 2 Wi-Fi, Expandable mesh Wi-Fi.
- 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports per point, WAN and LAN on primary Wifi point and both act as LAN ports on additional Wifi points.
- Simultaneous dual-band Wifi (2.4GHz / 5GHz), Supports IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac.
Netgear Orbi Home Mesh WiFi System
Another big name in mesh networking, Netgear’s Orbi uses three wireless bands (tri-band) to ensure that data is moved between nodes using a dedicated backhaul connection. What this means is that signal to each end points i.e. your mobile devices travel through a dedicated fast lane to and front the base router unit.
Apart from guaranteeing the ability the move your device from room to room and not suffer any interruptions when streaming and downloading, the features are pretty stand. Guest network, parental controls and 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports are included on each node. The higher RBK50 model has 4 Gigabit Ethernet per node. This overcomes the number of Ethernet port limitations as a typical 2 node setup will give you 8 Gigabit ports.
Each node offers up to 2500 square feet coverage and speed of up to 2200 Mbps. Start with the 2-pack to cover up to 5000 square feet or three pack for up to 6000 square feet. Other options available are smaller wall plug variety as well as outdoor and indoor expansions should you need to add more.
- AC3000 (RBK50 model), AC2200 (RBK23 and RBK33 model) Expandable mesh Wi-Fi
- 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports per point. WAN and LAN on primary Wifi point and both act as LAN ports on additional Wifi points.
- Tri-band mesh with dedicated backhaul link. Supports IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac.
eero Home WiFi System
The mesh networking system from eero are the smallest in our list size wise. Apart from being the smallest, it stands out from the rest in that the design of the nodes are different depending on wether it is a gateway or beacon. The gateway has a desktop profile while the beacons are wall outlet profile equipped with an LED nightlight. The system replaces your traditional WiFi router with an intelligent mesh network.
It uses what the company calls a proprietary TrueMesh technology. Now in its second generation, the eero is a tri-band mesh system with simultaneous radio frequencies in the 2.4GHz, 5.2GHz and 5.9Ghz wireless spectrum. The beacon however offer dual-band connectivity with 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless for connected devices. The companion mobile app makes it easy to quickly setup and manage your mesh network including scheduling your kids Internet access.
- eero Gateway: Tri-band WiFi radios, eero Beacon: Dual-band WiFi radios
- eero Gateway only: Dual auto-sensing Gigabit ports for WAN and/or LAN connectivity.
- both: 2×2 MU-MIMO, Beamforming, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Thread 1.1 Border Router, Bluetooth LE 4.2.
Linksys Velop Tri-band Whole Home WiFi System
Like the Orbi RBK23, the Velop from Linksys are desktop units opting instead for a upright rectangle profile thereby reducing its foot print. Just don’t accidentally knock it over. Available in 1, 2 or 3 pack options, each node is capable of covering up to 2000 square feet with speed up to 2200 Mbps. This means the 2 pack option can covers up to 4000 square feet. On the other hand the 3 pack option boast a 6000 square feet coverage.
The Linksys Velop has a neat trick up its sleeve as it can be controlled by Alexa. Use voice commands to control your wireless network, such as to turn your Guest network off.
The mesh system can replace your standard home router in under 5 minutes using the Linksys App. The app also lets you apply parental controls, create guest networks, auto-fix a node and more remotely. Complete with Intelligent Mesh Technology, the network adapts to your needs, optimizing and choosing the best route to the base. Each node comes with two wired Gigabit Ethernet ports.
- AC2200 Expandable mesh Wi-Fi
- Dual Gigabit ports for WAN and/or LAN connectivity.
- Tri-band WiFi radios with Intelligent Mesh Technology,: Supports IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Ubiquiti Labs AmpliFi HD WiFi System
Here is another mesh system that uses different profile for the base and nodes; a desktop cube WiFi Router and wall outlet Mesh Points. The AmpliFi HD WiFi Router differs from other routers here in that it comes with 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports plus one WAN port. It also features a round colour touch screen display that lets you monitor the speed of your connection and manage the settings.
The two wall outlet Mesh Points, while small and compact, looks the job as it comes super antenna technology. This is reflected in the shape of the nodes, looking more like a radio antenna with adjustable base and signal strength indicator. Together, the three nodes offers up to 10,000 square feet coverage, a claim that outperforms all the three node based mesh systems here.
The system uses multiple self-configuring radio channels to deliver maximum coverage and speed to every corner of the home. As with all mesh systems, use the companion AmpliFi app to quickly setup your home mesh network, create family profile, schedule internet access and control guess access.
Use the links below to search for the Whole Home Mesh WiFi System online.