In order to construct and share a single, seamless Wi-Fi network that can be expanded to span even the largest homes or buildings, a mesh Wi-Fi router or mesh Wi-Fi system connects two or more Wi-Fi access points together. A mesh Wi-Fi router system can be the ideal answer if the Wi-Fi router you used in your flat is unable to provide you with the wireless connectivity you need in a larger home.
You’ll probably experience Wi-Fi dead zones if you live in a large home (at least 3,000 square feet), one with an odd layout, one that climbs more than two floors, or one with brick walls inside. This suggests that a mesh network instead of a conventional Wi-Fi router would be a viable option for your home.
Modern mesh Wi-Fi systems offer incredibly easy setup via their specialized apps and enable you to permanently eliminate internet dead spots by filling in the gaps in your home coverage. Once it is set up, you can use wireless internet throughout your home, even in the backyard.
Everything you need to know about the top mesh Wi-Fi systems is provided here, so you can decide if you need one for your house.
While mesh networks connect two or more access points (also known as nodes) together, a typical Wi-Fi router only produces a single access point that broadcasts Wi-Fi signals across a small region.
One access point serves as the router or base station for a mesh Wi-Fi network and is connected to one of the top cable modems to access the internet. The other nodes serve as satellites in the meantime, rebroadcasting internet to nearby devices after receiving it from the base station.
All of these units share data back and forth and provide multiple sources of Wi-Fi. One of the best things about a mesh system is that, unlike Wi-Fi range extenders, they all share the same network, so you won’t have to switch to a new network as you move throughout your house.
Several of the big players in consumer networking equipment offer mesh-router solutions. Google’s Nest Wifi used to be one of our top picks thanks to its excellent performance, easy setup and the fact that each access point also works like a Google Home speaker. However, its new Nest Wifi Pro loses its predecessor’s’ smart speaker capabilities in favor of adding Wi-Fi 6E support.
The Netgear Orbi line is another long-time favorite, delivering great performance across a growing ecosystem of products from the latest Netgear Orbi WiFi 6e to the original Orbi RBK50.
For more affordable mesh networking, we really like the TP-Link Deco X20 as it provides great Wi-Fi 6 speeds for the whole house without costing much more than a standalone unit. If you want to upgrade to the latest wireless standard though, the TP-Link Deco XE75 supports Wi-Fi 6E at an affordable price.
Given their increased popularity, you may be wondering whether a mesh router might work for you. If that’s the case, here’s an overview of this new take on home networking to help you decide if a mesh Wi-Fi system is the right choice for your needs.
The Basics of a Mesh Wi-Fi Router
At the center of all traditional Wi-Fi networks is the router which broadcasts a wireless signal to all the devices you want to get connected online.
A router, as its name suggests, seamlessly routes internet traffic between a connected modem and Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets like computers, tablets or smartphones. Most people completely forget about their routers though, until their Wi-Fi signal goes down.
The main issue with traditional routers is that the reach of the Wi-Fi signals they send out is limited. Large buildings that require internet access on multiple floors often have areas with little or no service, often referred to as dead zones, when the main network uses a standard single-point router.
Mesh routers can help eliminate dead zones though. Instead of broadcasting Wi-Fi signals from a single point, mesh router systems feature multiple access points. One node links to the modem and acts as the router, while the other access points or satellites, capture the router’s signal and rebroadcast it to each other.
For those who aren’t sure if they need a mesh Wi-Fi system, or plan on moving into a larger home soon, you don’t have to commit to a pack of two or three mesh units to benefit from the expandable coverage of mesh Wi-Fi.
Many of the latest standalone routers can actually be set up as base stations for mesh coverage which lets you expand your Wi-Fi further by adding more nodes from the same manufacturer down the line. This way you don’t have to get rid of your current equipment.
Applications for Wireless Mesh Networks
Cities and municipalities: With wireless mesh networks, cities can connect citizens and public services over a widespread high-speed wireless connection.
A growing number of downtown areas are installing public WiFi hotspots. Mesh networks allow cities to inexpensively and simply link all those hotspots together to cover the entire municipality. Municipal networks aren’t always created and maintained by the cities or communities themselves. Some are ad-hoc networks created by local residents. Others launch with funding from nonprofit or government projects. The U.S. State Department has funded mesh networks in some foreign locations to offer dissidents a way to communicate without their own government’s surveillance.
Read Also: Does Mesh Wifi Replace Router?
Some advantages of open municipal mesh WiFi networks:
- Commuters can check their email on the train, in the park or at a restaurant.
- Public works officials can monitor the diagnostics of the city’s power and water supply by installing wireless nodes in water treatment facilities, sewers and generators. There’s no need to dig trenches to run cables.
- Public safety and emergency workers can access secure virtual networks within the larger network to keep communication lines open, even when regular phone or cellular service is down. With mesh nodes mounted on streetlights and stoplights, police and firefighters can remain connected to the network, even while moving.
MuniNetworks.org, a project of the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, maintains a map showing hundreds of communities in the United States with municipal networks, many of which use mesh networking to distribute broadband access. Municipal mesh networks are not just available in the U.S. They’re becoming popular around the world in places such as Berlin, Singapore, Buenos Aires and Melbourne.
Mesh networks are even coming to neighborhoods through corporate channels. Retail giant Amazon is using its Ring branded smart home devices to create mesh networks between nearby houses. Announced in 2019, Amazon Sidewalk became active in the summer 2021. Amazon’s stated intent for the service is to support customers’ smart home devices, and unlike municipal WiFi networks, Amazon Sidewalk’s mesh network uses the 900 MHz spectrum to communicate.
Not all municipal wireless networks use mesh technology, however. Some use a technology called WiMAX, which has the ability to broadcast signals over large distances using powerful microwave transmissions. Other municipal networks use a combination of mesh, WiMAX and others.
Developing countries: Wireless mesh networks are useful in countries without a widespread wired infrastructure, such as telephone service or even electricity. Solar-powered nodes can be connected to one cellular or satellite internet connection, which could keep a whole village online.
Isolated locations, rugged terrain: Even in developed countries, there are rugged locations too far off the grid for traditional high-speed internet service providers. Wireless mesh networks are being considered for these areas. A series of nodes would be mounted from the nearest available wired access point out to the hard-to-reach area.
Education: Many colleges, universities and high schools are converting their entire campuses to wireless mesh networks. This solution eliminates the need to bury cables in old buildings and across campuses. With dozens of well-placed indoor and outdoor nodes, everyone will be connected all the time.
Mesh networks also have the capacity to handle the high-bandwidth needs required by students who need to download large files. Schools can also rig their entire public safety systems up to their network, monitoring security cameras and keeping all personnel in constant communication in emergency situations.
Health care: Many hospitals are spread out through clusters of densely constructed buildings that were not built with computer networks in mind. Wireless mesh nodes can sneak around corners and send signals short distances through thick glass and other materials to ensure access in every operating room, lab and office.
The ability to connect to the network is crucial as more doctors and caregivers maintain and update patient information — test results, medical history, even insurance information — on portable electronic devices carried from room to room.
Hospitality: High-speed internet connectivity at hotels and resorts has become the rule, not the exception. Wireless mesh networks are quick and easy to set up indoors and outdoors without having to remodel existing structures or disrupt business.
Temporary venues: Construction sites can capitalize on the easy set-up and removal of wireless mesh networks. Architects and engineers can stay wired to the office, and ethernet-powered surveillance cameras can decrease theft and vandalism. Mesh nodes can be moved around and supplemented as the construction project progresses.
Wireless mesh networks can be set up and torn down quickly in other temporary venues like street fairs, outdoor concerts and political rallies. And in Hong Kong, protesters have been using peer-to-peer mesh networks created by smartphone apps to avoid surveillance and to get around internet shutdowns.
Warehouses: There is simply no effective way to keep track of stock and shipping logistics without the handheld scanners used in modern warehouses. Wireless mesh networks ensure connectivity throughout a huge warehouse structure with little effort.
Future applications: The U.S. military, which helped develop wireless mesh technology, foresees a day when thousands of microchip-size mesh nodes can be dropped onto a battlefield to set up instant scouting and surveillance networks. Information can be routed to both ground troops and headquartered personnel.
Carmakers and telecom companies are working to develop intelligent transport systems (ITS) using technologies including street and highway-based wireless mesh networks. Using an automated network of surveillance cameras and in-car sensors, public safety officials can tightly monitor traffic accidents and dangerous road conditions.
As they have become more common, wireless mesh networks have become valuable for powering internet of things (IoT) devices with applications of all kinds, including security, smart agriculture, manufacturing, public utilities and environmental monitoring equipment. Newer technologies, such as Bluetooth wireless mesh networks, also support large IoT networks. The future applications for wireless mesh networks are limited only by our imaginations.
The Benefits of Mesh Routers
Besides creating a strong, reliable Wi-Fi signal throughout your whole home, mesh Wi-Fi systems have a few other notable benefits which include:
1. Easy Network Management: One main feature that distinguishes mesh routers from traditional routers is the easy network access they provide. Many mesh routers are totally automated which allows for easy management through a mobile app, even when you’re not at home. Setting up a mesh router with a smartphone app is far easier than plugging a computer directly into a router and configuring it through a connected browser.
Many mesh router apps allow users to quickly scan their speeds, cut off Wi-Fi access to certain networks, create guest networks, test the quality between various connection points and even connect to smart home devices. Some high-end traditional routers have similar features, but you’ll usually need to be connected to the local network using a desktop web interface to turn them on.
2. Streamlined connections: With traditional routers, range extenders are often used to repeat the signal so a Wi-Fi connection can reach even further. However, even the best Wi-Fi extenders require you to create a separate network (with a separate name) for the range extender. This means you’ll likely have to manually switch Wi-Fi connections as you move around your house.
A mesh router on the other hand, doesn’t require constant reconnections, even as you move from room to room. You also won’t have to deal with as much lag as the access points all broadcast the same signal, rather than having to route requests through multiple networks.
3. Tight security: Along with easy management, mesh routers often come with improved security. Thanks to the aforementioned easy network management, it’s not hard to keep your devices safe as many automatically check for and install firmware updates.