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What is Mesh Wi-Fi?

A hugely popular solution in Wi-Fi today, mesh Wi-Fi systems are flexible, easy-to-use, and powerful network solutions that deliver a robust network to existing homes. They allow your home to have Wi-Fi in every corner without having to run wires to all the locations you need a signal. With sleek designs, impressive performance, and total flexibility, it’s no wonder the biggest brands are offering these systems (Google, Netgear, Linksys, Amazon, and more).

Google mesh wifi
Google's first Mesh Wi-Fi System

In the past, a Wi-Fi system in a house would be a single router in a room that would broadcast to the main parts of the house, and that would be sufficient. But as Wi-Fi demands increase, that poor little router can’t handle sending a signal to all the locations you need. Enter the Wi-Fi range extender.

One of our LEAST favorite technologies, Wi-Fi range extenders were once a go-to solution for people looking to extend their network to the far reaches of their house. After installing them, people would quickly realize that these range extenders would create a separate network (with “_EXT” on the name) that you would have to reconnect to every time you wanted to go to that corner of the house. A serious pain.

Mesh Wi-Fi systems have the best of both worlds. One device acts as a router, establishing the network in your home and providing security. The other devices (we call them “nodes” or "access points") broadcast another signal for your devices while still being wirelessly connected to the original router. The result is a single seamless network that covers your home in Wi-Fi.

As you move away from one node and closer to another node, your devices will automatically switch to whichever node has the best signal. No separate networks or switching manually: everything is on one network and your devices already know how to switch between nodes. These nodes connect to each other wirelessly, so you don’t need to run wires between each node.

One challenge with mesh Wi-Fi is speed. The nodes use a portion of their energy to connect to each other and manage traffic between all the devices. The result is that the devices connected to a distant node don’t get quite as much speed as devices connected to the main router. Especially as you get into higher speeds (600 Mbps and above), most mesh Wi-Fi systems struggle to push that speed to all the nodes. Some providers like Netgear’s Orbi have extreme models that can push high speeds to all the corners of the house, but expect to pay a premium for these devices.

The other challenge with mesh Wi-Fi is optimization. Since the nodes connect wirelessly to each other, that wireless signal can be blocked just like a regular Wi-Fi signal. If they are too far apart, they’ll lose connection to each other. Too close, and they’ll interfere and won’t cover as much space. It can be difficult to find the perfect balance of coverage and distance from the router.

We help our clients most by selecting and installing mesh Wi-Fi systems that match the speed and coverage needs of their home. The marketing terminology for these systems can be misleading and confusing, especially with square-foot coverage claims.

When comparing mesh Wi-Fi to wired networking, there are several pros and cons that will make us use one system or another. In general, a wired connection is ALWAYS more reliable, faster, and has more bandwidth than a wireless connection. If clients already have ethernet wired in their home, we will absolutely want to utilize that infrastructure to maximize the reliability of the network. Many mesh systems, like TP-Link's Deco system, allow for "wired backhaul," using wired connections to communicate with each node instead of wireless. This combines the flexibility of mesh Wi-Fi with the performance of wired connections.

For new construction, we typically recommend running Cat5e or Cat6 ethernet cable to at least the main areas of the home. The cost difference is marginal, but it can drastically improve the reliability, security, and performance of your network for many years. Even as technology changes, have a wired connection between two devices won't be beat anytime soon.

Looking for a better Wi-Fi solution? We’re happy to help.

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