Do you live in a large home or operate a large office space? Perhaps you live in a house with an odd layout, filled with concrete walls or bricks? If so, the chances are high that you have experienced frustration with Wi-Fi dead zones.
Moreover, at a time when most of the global population are working from their homes because of the pandemic, having good Wi-Fi coverage in every corner of your house is more essential than ever. Having a dead zone in that room you were hoping to convert into a workspace would be highly annoying and could hamper productivity. If you want to avoid being in such a situation, getting a Wi-Fi mesh router system could be just the solution you need.
What is a mesh Wi-Fi system?
You’re probably already familiar with a traditional Wi-Fi networking system which consists of a main Wi-Fi router that connects to your modem. The router then routes internet traffic between the connected modem and Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as computers, mobile phones and tablets.
The drawback here is that traditional Wi-Fi routers have a limited reach in the signals they send out, creating weak or completely non-existent signals in certain areas of your home, otherwise known as dead zones. Large homes or buildings with multiple floors are prone to experiencing more dead zones since the internet broadcasting signal only comes from one single access point via the main router.
Here’s where a mesh router, the latest technology in Wi-Fi networking, can help eliminate dead zones. Instead of broadcasting Wi-Fi signals from a single point with a traditional router, mesh router systems have multiple access points. Each satellite module, or node, uses mesh technology to communicate with the router and each other. Hence, each node serves as a transmission point for other nodes in the network system to project Wi-Fi signals instead of relying on one-to-one communication with the main router.
Alternatively, you don’t even need to get a traditional router to serve as the main router (although some models can be compatible) because you can have one dedicated node to act as the main router by linking it to the modem while one or more other nodes capture the main router’s signal and rebroadcast it at strategic places in your home or building. Most mesh router models in the market typically come with 2 or more nodes.
Mesh router systems function as multi-band networking devices that operate on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands and use 802.11ac wireless technology.
Mesh router benefits
An often compared alternative to the mesh router is to use a Wi-Fi range extender. While the latter may be cheaper, many mesh router systems are only slightly more expensive than a range extender but with a whole lot more convenience and features that come with them.
Aside from the obvious extensive Wi-Fi coverage and elimination of dead zones, a mesh Wi-Fi system comes with many advantages and upgrades from a traditional router or Wi-Fi range extender.
Network set up and management via your smartphone app
Say goodbye to the days of plugging directly into a Wi-Fi router and configuring your network through a web interface on your computer. With mesh routers, they typically come with a user-friendly smartphone app to set up and manage the network.
Setting up a mesh router system is as easy as downloading the app on your smartphone and going along with easy to follow set up instructions. Most mesh router apps will illustrate each step for you and might even suggest the best placements for maximum Wi-Fi coverage. The installation process is typically complete within a few minutes, and you don’t have to be a savvy tech whiz to figure it all out.
Once the setup is complete, you can start managing your mesh router system through the smartphone app on your mobile phone, even when you’re not at home or in the place where you’ve set up the mesh router. With one glance, you’d be able to tell which devices are connected to your network.
Most mesh router apps also include features that will allow you to do a scan on your internet speeds, restrict Wi-Fi access to specific networks or devices, put parental controls, create guest networks, prioritize internet connection for specific devices, test the connection quality between the various connection points, as well as connect to smart home devices. You can also throw in enhanced security features to protect your network into the list of things a mesh router’s app can do as well. All this with just a touch on your smartphone!
Seamless Wi-Fi connection
Mesh routers are usually designed and built to be as user friendly as possible with maximum ease of use. Aside from the app, having a mesh router system as your network means you will be able to have a seamless connection throughout your home or office without having to reconnect or switch Wi-Fi connections every time you go to a different room or move to another floor in your home or office.
This is not the case with a Wi-Fi range extender, which may require constant reconnection every time you move around the house or go to a different room. The seamless Wi-Fi connection that is possible with a mesh router system is done over a single network access point, as opposed to a range extender’s need to route connection requests via multiple networks.
Mesh router drawbacks
There aren’t many drawbacks to a mesh router system other than its high cost, but as mentioned, some mesh router models really don’t cost that much higher than a Wi-Fi range extender. The good news is that as the market for this equipment becomes more competitive, with various models offered by different manufacturers, the prices are slowly coming down.
Generally, the cost is higher because you’re paying for at least two devices, the router and another router node that makes up the mesh. Some systems also come with two additional nodes, so you could be paying for three devices.
Do you need a Wi-Fi mesh router setup?
So do you really need a Wi-Fi mesh router system in your home or office? If you’re living in a small home or work in a small office space of less than 2,000 sq ft, then it might be excessive to have a mesh router system set up. A mesh router system usually covers about 2,000 – 6,000 sq ft, so it would be a good option only if you live or work in a space of that size. Otherwise, a Wi-Fi range extender or a traditional long-range router would be sufficient to patch any dead zones.
Another factor to consider would be obstructions to Wi-Fi signals caused by the layout of the space you’re in. There’s no convenient way of testing out Wi-Fi dead zones caused by the home or office layout other than to try it out yourself with a Wi-Fi device. Dead zones caused by layout obstructions usually happen when there are multiple floors and large concrete walls in the house or office. If this is happening to you, a Wi-Fi mesh router system would be the best solution.
Now that you’ve considered whether a Wi-Fi mesh router is needed or not, it’s time to look into some of the available mesh router systems available in the market today. There are plenty of models from various manufacturers, each with its own added features to sweeten the product offerings.
Google’s Nest Wifi is an all-rounder mesh router system because it fits all the criteria: it’s easy to set up, provides reliable Wi-Fi range and connection throughout your home, has a reasonable, affordable price, and even comes with a smart speaker on each node which you can use to summon Google Assistant, Google’s AI-powered software, to do your bidding.
The Nest Wifi supports WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization, and 4×4 MU-MIMO technology, which streams data to multiple compatible wireless clients simultaneously rather than sequentially. The only drawback here is that it’s not Wi-Fi 6 compatible, but this is definitely one for smart home lovers.
Wi-Fi 6 is an advancement of the 802.11ac technology that promises increased throughput speeds of up to 9.6Gbps, reduce network congestion, greater client capacity, and better range performance. If you’re looking for a Wi-Fi mesh router that is Wi-Fi 6 compatible, look no further than the Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8).
It is one of the more expensive options in the market and comes with only two mesh routers, but it offers incredible speeds, performance, reliability and can cover up to 5,500 sq ft. This tri-band mesh router comes with a unique antenna placement that can deliver strong Wi-Fi signals up to a total wireless speed of 6600Mbps.
It also features a dedicated backhaul for transmissions between the router and the satellites, which keeps the system transmissions separate from your network traffic, allowing for ease of management. The Asus app is extremely user friendly and can go to great depths in managing your network.
The Netgear Orbi AX6000 WiFi Mesh System is going to be the most expensive entry in this list. If you want the fastest mesh router in the market that money can buy, this is it.
Aside from the usual features that cheaper mesh router systems also provide, what really sets the Netgear Orbi AX6000 apart is its ability to take incoming ISP speeds of up to 2.5Gbps. It has full support for Wi-Fi 6 and a second 5GHz band that serves as a dedicated backhaul connection for the router and satellites.
The $699 pricing comes with a router and 1 satellite, and you can buy any additional satellite for another $300 to extend your coverage by an additional 2,500 sq ft. Your incoming internet speeds should be at least 500Mbps and above to optimize and make the best out of this device. Otherwise, all that capacity of up to 2.5Gbps would just be a waste, given what this bad boy can do.
Eero was one of the earlier pioneers of Wi-Fi mesh systems before being bought over by Amazon. And thus, the Eero Pro 6 was born. It’s priced at $229 for a single router or $599 for the router plus two extenders and is by no means cheap.
But compare this with the Netgear Orbi AX6000, which costs $1,000 for a router plus two satellites, the price does have a competitive edge. Though not as fast as the Netgear Orbi AX6000, the Eero Pro 6 has its strength in Wi-Fi coverage of up to 6,000 sq ft with its 3 pack offering.
If that’s not enough, you can get an Eero pro 6 extender which adds 1,500 sq ft of coverage. It is not that its performance is bad either, as the Eero Pro 6 can take incoming internet speeds of up to 1Gbps and does relatively well compared to the other high-end mesh router systems. If you live in a large home and want reliable coverage and internet speed, the Eero Pro 6 will be your best bet.
If all of the above is too pricey for you, but you’d still like to get a reliable mesh router with decent performance, you should look no further than Netgear’s Orbi AC1200.
It’s priced at $135 for a 3-pack, which makes it by far the best bang for your buck if you want to get robust Internet coverage around your home on a budget. The AC1200 is a dual-band mesh WiFi with coverage of up to 4,500 sq ft with a 3-pack system.
It’s not compatible with Wi-Fi 6 and foregoes the dedicated 5GHz backhaul band, but the price you are paying is well worth the coverage and performance: it can take up to 1.2Gbps of incoming internet speed. This is a great option for those of you who can do without blazing fast speeds and just want a reliable connection for light web browsing around the home.
While it may sound excessive to have a mesh router system installed when you don’t live in a huge mansion or work in a large office space, know that this latest tech in Wi-Fi networking is much better than a traditional router or Wi-Fi range extender.
A mesh router is currently the best option for eliminating dead zones while ensuring a seamless, fast and reliable connection in your home and work space. Even its installation and management has been made easy with a smartphone app. It’s only a matter of time before Wi-Fi mesh routers become the norm in households and offices, and it’s predecessors made obsolete.
Timothy is a news broadcast producer with a keen eye for television and a pair of tuned ears for the dulcet sounds of radio. Besides exploring new ways and mediums to tell a good story, he is also a passionate writer and musician who could play a sleazy guitar riff on the fretboard at any given moment.