Are you experiencing WiFi dead zones in the home? Getting frustrated by the lack of whole house coverage? If so, a mesh WiFi system could be just what you need.
If you’ve looked into improving your WiFi, you will almost certainly have come across information regarding mesh WiFi and how it could be an easy and affordable solution to the problem of Wifi dead zones around the home.
For many households it is the perfect fix, but here at Broadway Broadband we’re keen to help you make well informed choices, so we’ll now run you through the details, and the pros and cons, so that you can determine whether it really is the right solution for you.
First up then, we need to get into what mesh WiFi actually is.
What is mesh WiFi?
Firstly, mesh is a description, not an acronym. Mesh networks are called this because they are connected through a mesh of signals, from one hub to another and another. Given that mesh networks are typically wireless, you can’t physically see the mesh, but you can form a mental image of the connections.
The strength of mesh networks is in the number of links, which ensures resilience. If one link fails, weakens, or is handling high volumes of traffic, then there are others in place to take over.
Mesh is not limited to just WiFi – it is a form of network technology which is used by many organisations because of its reliability, including the military. Many popular household devices also use mesh systems, including Sonos, SkyQ, house alarms, smart devices, and more. These networks can be cabled, or part cabled, but usually mesh networks are wireless.
Who needs mesh WiFi?
Mesh WiFi is designed for people who live in homes with weak or incomplete WiFi coverage, as well as those who are looking for an uncomplicated, simple set-up for their WiFi system. Because traditional routers have a limited range, they are rarely able to cover large properties completely, and so if you live in a home that is 3,000 sq. ft, has two storeys or more, interior brick walls, or an unconventional layout, then you could benefit from a mesh WiFi router.
Mesh WiFi can also be a good option for people wanting a powerful WiFi system without the hassle of dealing with the complex setup and configuration that the majority of regular routers come with. Given that mesh operates on a single network, it is useful for those who have range extenders and don’t want to switch between networks as they move upstairs or downstairs.
How does mesh Wifi work?
Mesh WiFi works by using two or more devices or “nodes” to create a mesh WiFi network. One node is connected to the internet modem, whilst the rest can be positioned throughout your home to form a powerful wireless network. Unlike traditional routers, the nodes are all part of the same network and share the same SSID and password. This means setting and scaling up your mesh network is as easy as adding another node.
What is the difference between mesh WiFi and a range extender?
Even though mesh WiFi and range extenders seem to have the same functionality on a surface level, there are a few key differences between them.
- Mesh WiFi devices come with roaming protocols (to keep you on the same network) and mesh technologies like self-healing and adaptive routing that will keep your network stable.
- Range extenders need you to sign on to a new network manually to maintain a strong connection once you are far enough away from your router.
- Many range extenders are set up under different networks, but with a mesh system, there are no other networks to worry about. Whilst each mesh node basically functions as its own router, range extenders are just duplicating the router’s original signal.
- Mesh WiFi is quicker and more efficient at delivering a WiFi signal than a range extender.
So what are the advantages of mesh WiFi?
The main benefit of mesh WiFi systems is their simplicity; they are essentially plug and play systems. With a few clicks of a button on the relevant app, practically anyone can set them up. The apps, for the most part, are well made and offer easy step by step instructions with guidance on the best placement, and clear measures on how the points are performing. No physical infrastructure is needed, the only thing required is power sockets and a free LAN port on your router/modem. Everything is provided in the box, and it can all be up and running within a matter of minutes.
Mesh WiFi can be very effective and in the right conditions there will be very little loss, with consistent speeds throughout the network. The difference can be significantly noticeable, especially if you have tried other less efficient products like WiFi repeaters or Powerline systems in the past. This is a big selling point for mesh WiFi because not only is it quick and easy to set up, but its impact is also instantaneous. For many people, it almost seems too good to be true. You can order one day, receive it the next and have it up and running with your WiFi issues fixed in no time at all.
To some, a mesh WiFi system might seem quite expensive (around £200/£300 depending on the brand), but in comparison to a cabled system, they are very good value for money. Also, they can be easily relocated, meaning you can take them with you if you move house, or even if you are going away somewhere temporarily and need a stable WiFi set up.
There are a huge amount of options on the market, which has kept the prices lower than they might have been, but unfortunately some customers learn about mesh WiFi having already spent a small fortune on WiFi repeaters, Powerline Units, and other off-the-shelf products. The good news for anyone in that position is that mesh WiFi is often significantly more effective than any of the alternatives, so it is usually still worth the additional investment. However, mesh does have some disadvantages too that we will outline below.
And what are the disadvantages of mesh WiFi?
Mesh WiFi systems are wireless, meaning they need to use radio waves to communicate. Radio waves travel well through open spaces, but not at all well through solid objects. This means that if your home has solid walls, foil-lined insulation, big mirrors, UV-protected glass, or anything else that might affect wireless performance then a mesh WiFi system could struggle to function effectively.
Older, more solid properties, often containing multiple brick or concrete block walls within the building, can sometimes struggle with mesh WiFi. Buildings which are timber-framed with multiple stud walls (drywall) are more suited to mesh systems, as the walls are fairly thin and the radio waves don’t have too many problems passing through.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking a more expensive mesh system will overcome any signal issues. It will probably be better to spend the money on extra hubs to increase the number of routes for traffic or in some instances, pay to have a cabled WiFi system fitted.
Function is better than form
When it comes to mesh systems, the placement of hubs is extremely important and it might be that the best place for the mesh is the most inconvenient, like in a corridor or on a landing.
Often homes have hidden materials that can impact WiFi performance, such as steel supports, foil insulation, or underfloor heating and to get the best results it’s important to try and find routes around them.
Fortunately, the majority of mesh systems have apps that indicate how suitable your chosen position is as well as indication lights that will change colour if the connection is negatively affected for any reason. On the downside, mesh WiFi systems don’t take your available power sockets or interior design plans into account, and they may need to be prioritised over your favourite vase or coffee table books, which might cause some tension in the family!
Mesh WiFi is named after the mesh of signals formed by the hubs, giving the system its strength. Each hub needs to have sight of more than one additional hub in order for a mesh to be created. If the hubs are used to cover a long distance in a daisy chain formation, then it is unlikely that they will be able to see each other.
In a set-up like this, the hubs will work, but the performance of the mesh will suffer, and you might find that you experience intermittent dropouts or problems caused by the lack of resilience in the links. If you want to use a mesh system to cover a distance, it would be better to add extra hubs on the route. For instance, in a three-storey house, it would help to have two hubs on the first floor to provide more than one route for the traffic.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What are the key features of mesh WiFi?
One name one password
Mesh WiFi allows you to sign into your network using just one network name and one password to get seamless WiFi throughout your home.
Smooth roaming will help you stay connected to your network no matter where you are in your home. Changing from one mesh node to another is so seamless that it is unnoticeable, even when you are streaming.
Mesh WiFi routers use adaptive routing to automatically select the best configuration and band for your data so that you are always getting the fastest speeds possible.
If one of your mesh nodes goes down, your WiFi network will automatically reroute the data to ensure you stay online.
Do I have to buy a new router to get mesh WiFi?
No, you don’t need to buy a new router to be able to access mesh WiFi. You can upgrade your existing compatible TP-Link router to OneMesh through a free firmware update, and pair it with a compatible mesh extender or powerline extender to get mesh WiFi.
Will mesh WiFi work if I have brick, stucco, or concrete walls in my house?
Yes, mesh WiFi systems will work in homes with these conditions. However, the majority of routers (including mesh WiFi) might experience some drop in connectivity due to environmental factors. If you have especially thick walls, you may be better served by getting a powerline extender.
Does mesh WiFi work with older devices?
Yes, mesh WiFi will work with older devices.
We hope this walk through the background and pros and cons of mesh WiFi systems has helped you get a better understanding, and establish in your own mind whether one could benefit you. If you’re looking for an improved broadband service in your home, just register your interest on our website and we will be in touch to discuss how we can help.