Mesh Wi-Fi networks, or Wi-Fi mesh networks are the next evolution of conveniently connecting to the world wide web from just about anywhere in your home or office. Falling under the same networking umbrella as routers and extenders, Wi-Fi mesh network systems are the user-friendly and can offer great speeds.
If you’ll allow us a quick but appropriate insertion, cast your mind back to the pre-Wi-Fi days of the late 90s when logging onto the internet meant connecting a cable from your computer to a modem and then from a modem to your phone line. For households that only has the one phone line, this meant you couldn’t be on the internet while someone making or waiting or a call; it was a perfect storm for low-key sibling squabbles and other family resentments.
The introduction of Wi-Fi, though we kind of take it for granted now, changed the game. No longer were eager web surfers limited by cable length and restricted to certain rooms. No longer did accessing the internet mean coordinating with all the other phone and net users in the house. Wi-Fi precipitated a new-found freedom in the exploration of cyberspace.
But before we get too carried away espousing the wonders of Wi-Fi mesh networks and what they do, let’s hit pause for a moment to make sure we know the definitions of some of the key technical jargon that will pop up frequently within this article.
Wi-Fi has been around so long now that we just kind of accept it as a given, never stopping to think about how and when it came about or how it works. If you’re reading this article, you probably know what Wi-Fi (also written as wifi or wi-fi) does and why you need it, but in the spirit of thoroughness, Wi-Fi is a radio signal that allows computers, smartphones and other smart devices to connect to the internet and communicate with each other without the need for wires.
This one extends much further back than the dawn of the computer age and simply refers to a group or system of interconnected things. The “things” in this context being computers and related machines and/or devices. Networks can be simple or complex, private or public, and can be made secure so that only approved parties can connect.
This one is a bit more recent, but it its nicely with the above term. The traditional definition of mesh is a material made of a network (see!) of wire or thread; picture a fishing net, for instance. In the realm of information technology, the fishing net you’re picturing is the complete network, so each computer is connected to a number of others in a multi-dimensional framework of sorts.
This one brings us back to the radio waves mentioned in the explanation for Wi-Fi. A band, to put it simply, is a range of frequencies or wavelengths in a spectrum. This range encompasses everything from very low to extremely high frequencies, with both upper and lower having a defined limit. The information or data shared via a network is transmitted via these frequencies.
Keeping the above in mind, bandwidth, at least when it comes to computing, refers to the maximum rate of data transfer across a given path. Basically, this tells you what the maximum throughput of a computer network is, or how much data you can send.
This is essentially your network name. Standing for Service Set Identifier, a SSID is a unique sequence of characters that identifies a particular wireless local area network. For all intents and purposes, this is the name/number you need to ensure you can connect to your desired network when there are multiple independent networks operating within the same physical area. And that’s something that occurs a lot these days.
Why do I need a Wi-Fi mesh network?
We think the best way to answer this question is by splitting it up into a series of smaller questions, then answering those questions in a way that isn’t overly technical but still gives you all the information you need. Sound fair?
If it helps, try to imagine the core question of “why do I need a Wi-Fi mesh network” as the central hub of a web of questions related to mesh networking, with the following sections acting as satellite questions. The answers to these satellite questions will go a long way to strengthening our overall argument in favour of setting-up a home mesh network.
Just quickly, your standard Wi-Fi router is a short-range wireless device, hooking you up to your home network and allowing you to browse the internet, stream videos and manage your smart home devices. The key term here being “short-range”. This means that, even though your connectivity is no longer curtailed by cables, you still have a limited range in which you can connect to your network of choice. Not only that, but there remains a possibility that, especially when you’re accessing your network whilst on the move (think mobile phones) you will lose connectivity.
A mesh network uses several networking components – a router as well as multiple satellite modules, nodes or Wi-Fi points – to not only extend the range of your network, but to avoid any drop in bandwidth that commonly occurs when you rely on range extenders. It also removes the need to create a new network SSID for every area of your home or office. Simply put, a mesh network is the simplest, most aesthetically pleasing (we’ll touch on this again later, too) way to ensure that you have a consistently strong connection to your network, wherever you are in your home.
Who are the “Big Names” in Wi-Fi mesh networking?
If you’re the type of consumer who likes to stick to established and trusted brands, particularly when it comes to tech products (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach) then you will be pleased to hear that the market leaders in the Wi-Fi mesh network game have all been doing this and doing it well for a long time.
The most well-known brands in this space include Asus, D-Link, Netgear and TP-Link (and Google, of course, but we’ll get to them later). Those outside the tech bubble might not be all that familiar with every one of these brands, but trust us, they know what they’re doing when it comes to ensuring you can get consistent wireless coverage throughout your home or office.
In answering some of the key questions regarding Wi-Fi mesh networks, we will attempt to highlight the pros and cons of the best mesh network products on offer from each of these brands. Plus, recognising that the cost of mesh systems can range from under $200 to over $1,500, we will do out best to offer recommendations to fit every budget.
How to shop Mesh Wi-Fi
What are the best Wi-Fi mesh networks for the home and/or office?
In terms of the size of area a mesh network is required to cover, there really isn’t a lot of difference between the best option for the office and the best option for your home. Homes, like offices, come in all shapes and sizes, so there isn’t a lot of point splitting this question up into a home vs. office comparison. That said, there are other features that make certain systems better suited for use in the home or office, so we will touch on those features as and when we come to them.
Available as a one, two or three pack, so that you can utilise as many units as you need to get full home coverage, the Netgear Orbi AX6000 Mesh WiFi 6 System is a high-performance, ultrafast mesh system that gives you approximately 230m² of coverage per satellite. It has its own smart app for easy network management as well as 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports on both the router and the satellites, so you plug in all your local devices and save even more bandwidth.
In terms of value for money, it’s hard to go past the TP-Link DECO S7 C1900 Dual Band Mesh Wi-Fi System can provide lag-free connectivity to over 100 devices. Coming as a 2-pack, the Deco S7 offers speeds of up to 1900 Mbps and the convenience of automatically switching from one device to the other and back again as you move about your home. It is super-easy to set-up thanks to the Deco app and covers areas of up to 520m². Plus, the units are easy on the eye.
One brand we haven’t mentioned yet is eero, which falls under Amazon’s innovative technology umbrella. As you would expect from any brand associated with Amazon, eero is reliable, reasonably priced and offers something for all budgets. We have a look at their entry-level system in the next section, but it is worth keeping in mind that they also offer “plus” and “pro” models of their single, double and trio packs.
What are the best Wi-Fi mesh networks for someone on a budget?
As we’ve mentioned, there is a substantial difference between the least and most expensive Wi-Fi mesh systems on the market, with the most affordable options sitting somewhere between $150 and $200. Here are three options we would recommend for consumers who don’t want to spend the world on their set-up.
An ideal entry point as far as ease-of-installation, excellent coverage, and in-home integration go is the eero Mesh WiFi Router. As mentioned above, eero is an Amazon brand, one of the most well known on the planet. This simple and affordable device has a maximum data transfer range of 1,000 Mbps, more than enough to cover multiple users at a time, offers up 140m² coverage, so you can wander fro one room to the next without losing touch, and the kind of robust security updates you’d expect from Amazon.
The D-Link Eagle PRO AI AX1500 Smart Mesh Router gives you those next-gen Wi-Fi 6 speeds paired with an AI-enabled traffic optimiser that ensures you’re always getting optimised performance. Its range can comfortably service three-bedroom homes and is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It is ideal for web-browsing, streaming music and video, and occasional gaming.
And you get even more bang for your buck, TP-Link AX1800 Whole Home Mesh WiFi 6 System Deco X20 3 Pack, which provides you with three standalone units that can work together to provides seamless network coverage in areas up to 520m².
Is Google Nest a type of mesh network?
The short answer to this question is: yes, Nest Wifi by Google is a type of Wi-Fi mesh network. But you probably want us to talk a little bit more about how Nest compares to some to the competition before we wrap up this section, right?
Google’s tagline for Nest Wi-Fi is Strong Connection. Every Direction and, rhyming convenience aside, that’s a pretty good summation of the device. It’s not the most powerful performer on the market, but that’s not where its appeal lies. The unique selling points of Google devices are their broad compatibility, their reliability, their ease-of-use and their generally agreeable aesthetics. Nest Wi-Fi gets a big green tick as far as all these things are concerned.
From a more technical standpoint, the Google Nest Wifi 3 Pack, which includes a router and two satellite nodes, has you covered in areas up to 5,400 square feet (approx. 500 m²) and its 4×4 AC2200 dual-band router can reach maximum data rates of 400Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band. It offers parental controls that allow you to block access to websites of your choice, can be managed through an easy-to-use mobile app and fully integrates with Google Assistant, meaning that much like with Google Home, you can control settings with just your voice.
On the downside, Google Nest does not include any anti-malware tools, meaning you will need to look into acquiring and installing this separately if you want to avoid the possibility of your network contracting and subsequently sharing viruses and other malware.
How do I set-up a Wi-Fi mesh network?
Here’s the thing, installing a Wi-Fi mesh network in your home or at your office is… well it’s remarkably simple these days. The collective IT I.Q. of the population has risen dramatically over the past 20-something years. You probably don’t even notice it, but everyday you’re performing tasks on your laptop, your tablet, or your smartphone that would have had past-you reaching for the phone directory in search of the closest and cheapest expert. And even if you’re still not all that confident when it comes to all things internet related, the process of super-charging your home network through mesh technology is one we’re confident you can master, with just a little help from us Geeks.
Look, setting-up a Wi-Fi mesh network isn’t quite as easy as some other “plug and play” technologies like keyboards, monitors et al. but it’s definitely not something you need to stress over. In fact, it’s much closer to “plug and play” than it is to say, creating a profile for a dating app, so all-in-all we’re pretty confident that you’ve got this.
How do I avoid a Wi-Fi dead zone?
There is nothing worse than when your Wi-Fi constantly disconnects (okay, there are MUCH worse things, but it is annoying). The thing is, a traditional Wi-Fi router has limited coverage, the signal growing weaker the further you move away from said router. Range extenders, as the name would imply, extend the range of this signal, but do so at the cost of reduced bandwidth speed. A Wi-Fi mesh network is the solution to this issue because
Are there any disadvantages of a Wi-Fi mesh network?
For some people, cost will be a barrier to entry when it comes to upgrading from a single router setup to something more advanced. This won’t be the case for much longer, however, and, depending on your budget and your coverage requirements, chances are there is already a mesh network option that suits you to a T.
Look, we know that this section is supposed to be about the disadvantages of Wi-Fi mesh networks, but it’s our article so you’ll just have to allow us to break the rules on this occasion.
Do you need help choosing and installing the best Wi-Fi mesh network for you?
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