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Daniel | 12/11/2018
Whole home mesh WiFi is transforming the way we connect to the internet. As broadband and fibre-optic speeds get faster and faster, traditional routers simply can’t keep up. The technology of these routers was designed for much slower speeds. If you continue to use one, then you aren’t utilising the full power of your connection. What’s more, they only have limited range, and aren’t ideal for those using multiple devices at once. Thankfully, mesh WiFi routers can solve all of these issues. In this post, we’ll be examining exactly what is mesh WiFi, and taking a closer look at some of the benefits that it brings.
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As time goes on, the internet is becoming even more integral to our daily lives. When traditional WiFi routers were first launched, homes would typically have only one or two computers to connect. Nowadays, though, most properties have a whole host of internet-enabled devices. As well as smartphones and tablets, we stream Netflix on our smart TVs and play online video games, too. Smart home technology is fast becoming commonplace as well, so add your lights, thermostat, and even doorbell to that list. You even have the option of using your home phone to make calls over the internet with VoIP, too. Phew- that’s a staggering number of gadgets that require a connection.
For that reason, whole home WiFi coverage really is essential in the modern era. Yet a traditional router can only provide so much. You might find that you struggle to get a connection when you move further away from it. Depending on the thickness of your walls, whole rooms might be taken up by WiFi blackspots. Up until recently, your only option was to use WiFi boosters. However, these come with their own set of problems. Most significantly, they typically only provide half the bandwidth of your main router- not ideal if you’re not a fan of buffering. They also operate as a separate network, so you need to switch from one to the other as you move about the house.
Thankfully, mesh WiFi solves both of these issues- and more!
Standard WiFi extenders connect up to your router via a 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio band. This is why they are such a drain on overall bandwidth; in essence, the router treats the booster like any other connected device. On the other hand, mesh WiFi routers are specifically designed to communicate with each other. By using special mesh technology, each unit- or “node”, to give them their technical term- provides full power to the others in the network. This allows them to achieve the maximum possible range while still providing a strong WiFi signal.
Thanks to this unique method of communication, many mesh WiFi networks can be expanded to an enormous degree. For instance, Google WiFi can support up to a whopping 32 nodes on a single network. You’d need to live in a castle to take full advantage of such a network, but it just goes to show how much you can get out of mesh if required.
Not all whole home WiFi solutions use mesh technology. Some tri-band routers use a dedicated radio channel for communication between the nodes. In practise, though, this has the same effect as mesh.
Most traditional routers put functionality before design. They typically come with unsightly antennae sticking out, and a range of flashing LEDs to show connectivity status. In short, they’re not the sort of object that you want sitting in plain sight. In contrast, most mesh WiFi routers tend to have a much nicer design. The antennae are always kept inside the node’s case, and the majority come in an unobtrusive white to better blend in with your home decor. While some have LED indicators, they are nowhere near as noticeable as those on a traditional router. Instead, they glow faintly to show you the mesh router’s status at-a-glance.
Mesh WiFi routers are also incredibly easy to use. Each model comes with its own accompanying app, which is used both for setup and controls. The settings options in these apps tend to be less in-depth than those of a traditional router. However, they are much easier for the average user to get to grips with. Within the app, you’ll have access to features like parental controls and guest networks, so that you can take complete control over who can access the internet. Some of them also include the option to give certain devices priority for bandwidth. If you find your streaming experience gets constantly interrupted by someone else sapping your internet speeds, then this can be very useful indeed!
As well as being really easy to control, mesh WiFi routers are simple to set up. The specific process varies from one model to another, but they generally follow the same basic steps. Most mesh routers don’t include a modem, so if you don’t have a standalone modem, you’ll need to plug the main node into your old router. With that done, the app will typically guide you through connecting the other nodes and tell you where to place them.
This might seem like a minor feature, but it actually represents a major benefit over WiFi boosters. With the latter, there’s a fair amount of guesswork involved in where you place each node. In most cases, it will simply get plugged in wherever there is a free socket. However, it’s unlikely that this will give you the best possible connection with the main hub. The only way to test this is to manually move the booster around and check the bandwidth- a very time-consuming process.
Since mesh nodes communicate with each other directly, they cut out any guesswork. As smart devices, they know how strong the signal is between each node, and where is the best place to put each one. They then communicate this to the user through the app, so that you can enjoy the best possible performance from your network.
Whole home mesh WiFi is still a fairly new technology, but there are already a wide range of options out there to choose from. As with any product, the precise specs of these vary from one model to another. However, there is one important distinction to make- dual-band vs. tri-band. This refers to the number of radio signals that the mesh router uses to connect with other devices. Both are an upgrade over older single-band routers, as they can comfortably support more connected devices.
Dual-band should be plenty powerful enough for most medium-sized homes, especially given the extra oomph that comes with mesh WiFi. Tri-band is the better option if you require something stronger, or live in a larger property. While tri-band mesh WiFi routers come with a higher price tag, they make up for this in performance. As well as being able to accommodate more connected devices, they also have a superior range. That makes them a better fit for larger homes, as you won’t need as many nodes to get full WiFi coverage. You also tend to get more control over things like signal-steering with tri-band routers. They are also a smart choice for business users, since your staff won't be slowed down by low bandwidths.
Additional range is by far the biggest advantage of mesh WiFi networks. Traditional routers can only push out their WiFi signal so far. Many medium-sized properties suffer from fairly sizeable WiFi blackspots, and may struggle to get any connection in certain rooms. Mesh WiFi networks have been specifically designed to solve this issue. By linking up with each other, the nodes are able to provide a reliable signal that stretches much further across your home.
When connected up to your main router, WiFi boosters will create a separate network with its own name and password. This means that if you’re walking about the house while using the internet, you might find that the connection cuts out as your device switches from one network to another. With mesh WiFi, though, that’s not a problem. By working together, they create a single network that blankets your entire home.
If you’re still using the router sent by your WiFi provider, and paying for superfast broadband, then it’s unlikely that you’re getting the most from your connection. Since such routers are often given away for free, it’s not surprising that they aren’t the fastest out there. Mesh WiFi routers typically come with much more powerful tech. Many can rival high-end traditional routers in terms of speed. Coupled with the other benefits listed here, it’s clear that mesh is a serious step up.
Mesh nodes work together by nature. In fact, many of them allow you to link a great deal of units together. Google WiFi, for instance, can support up to 32 nodes as part of a single network. One thing to note, though, is that bandwidth will get weaker the further you go from the source. If you’re planning on building a large-scale mesh network, then you’re best to stick with one of the higher-end models. These use advanced mesh technology, and therefore don’t see as much of a dropoff in bandwidth throughout the network.
Virtually all mesh WiFi nodes use the same signal frequency to communicate with each other. You would think, then, that you’d be able to use different models with each other as part of your home WiFi network. Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case. If you want to add more range onto your current setup, then you’ll need to stick with the same brand or invest in a whole new set of mesh nodes. This is one area where standard WiFi boosters have the edge over mesh.
Most mesh WiFi routers cost significantly more than their older counterparts. There’s a simple reason for this- as the industry as a whole shifts towards mesh, traditional routers are no longer as popular as they once were. As a result, prices have dropped by an enormous amount. On the other hand, mesh routers are more in-demand, as well as being more modern tech. It’s certainly true that a triple-pack of tri-band mesh routers is going to be outside most people’s budgets. That being said, a number of more affordable alternatives are available.
As mentioned above, a number of mesh WiFi routers will still lose a certain amount of bandwidth when you chain a lot of nodes together. That’s because they still use a similar radio frequency connection to standard routers. That being said, this isn’t the case with all of them. Many tri-band routers use true meshing technology to link up with each other. That means they don’t experience this issue- although they do come at a higher price
Most mesh WiFi systems intended for casual users. Their main purpose is simply to provide better range than a standard router, in a package that’s easy to use. For that reason, many of the apps that come with these systems are fairly light on features. There’s the ability to set guest networks and parental controls, and some allow you access to basic firewall settings. However, things rarely go much deeper than this. This won’t be an issue for most people, but can be frustrating for more technically-minded users.
This entry was posted in Advice, WiFi and tagged Mesh WiFi, Whole Home WiFi on 12/11/2018 by Daniel.