What is a mesh network and what do mesh Wi-Fi networks do?


Mesh networks solve many of the problems of traditional Wi-Fi. From more coverage to stronger signals, mesh Wi-Fi may be a great option.

If you have dead zones in your home where computers or other devices can’t connect to your Wi-Fi network, a mesh Wi-Fi system may be the solution. So, what’s a mesh Wi-Fi system, and how does it differ from a typical setup?

Mesh networks solve many of the problems of traditional Wi-Fi. With a traditional wireless network, the router is the only link broadcasting the wireless signal between your modem and the devices throughout your home or building. The farther a device is from that one router, the greater the chance your connection will be spotty — or nonexistent.

As opposed to relying on the one router, or access point, in a traditional Wi-Fi system, a mesh Wi-Fi system can give you multiple access points. While one access point may be closer to the modem and act like a gateway, the other access points can rebroadcast this signal to each other. This group Wi-Fi coverage helps to eliminate the connection problems commonly associated with traditional Wi-Fi, ensuring access to and the strength of your wireless signal.

How a mesh network works

A typical home Wi-Fi network has a traditional router that connects to your modem, the device that brings your internet connection into your home. Your router then broadcasts a wireless signal as far as it can.

Sometimes that’s not far enough. If your home is large, your signal may not be able to reach all rooms or floors — or the signal may be spotty. If there are concrete walls or other structural impediments blocking your Wi-Fi signal, you will have dead zones.

A mesh Wi-Fi system, on the other hand, isn’t impeded by distance or direction, so these factors won’t hurt your Wi-Fi coverage. Rather, mesh networking uses a series of nodes that act like satellites and are able to communicate with each other.

In doing so, these nodes can amplify your signal and expand your Wi-Fi coverage throughout a larger area, reaching those distant or blocked spaces in your home and likely eliminating any dead zones.

Do I need a mesh Wi-Fi network?

If you have a small single-story home, and it doesn’t have thick walls made of concrete or stucco, for instance, a traditional Wi-Fi system may work just fine. But if Wi-Fi dead zones are a common occurrence, no matter how many times you reset your router or move it to a potentially better location, then you may want to consider setting up a mesh network.

Advances now make it possible to bring mesh technology home at a price that’s more expensive than traditional Wi-Fi, but still affordable for many households.

Unsure if you need a wireless mesh system? Here are several factors that suggest you could benefit from a mesh network.

Large home

If you have a larger home, the traditional single router simply may not be able to reach all spaces or floors in your home. This is where the expansive coverage of a mesh network and its satellite-like nodes are helpful.

Dead zones

Dead spots in your home can be annoying at best. Certain spots in your home may not be close enough to be reached by a traditional router. Or concrete walls may block your router’s access. Mesh networks can often circumvent these dead zones.They’re able to provide so-called blanket Wi-Fi coverage over your entire home. The broader coverage is enabled through the nodes that act as satellites and can broadcast your wireless signal to each other.

No central location

If you’re unable to move your traditional router to a central location that will reach all spaces in your home, mesh Wi-Fi may be your answer. While the quality of your internet connection with traditional routers is dependent on where your router is and how close you are to it, distance and direction aren’t factors with mesh Wi-Fi coverage.

Structural blocks

If you can move your traditional router toward the center of your home and away from dense walls, that’s great. But if you can’t move your router out of the basement, for instance, or your home was built with material that kills Wi-Fi signals, a wireless mesh network can help.

Awkwardly shaped home

If your house has an unusual layout, you may experience all of the inhibiting factors above, particularly the lack of a good central location for your router and the existence of structures that block your wireless signal. Mesh networks can work around this due to the ability of the nodes to communicate with each other.

6 benefits of a mesh Wi-Fi network

In addition to expanding your home Wi-Fi network to reach a larger area, mesh networks have other benefits that make them appealing to some consumers. This includes giving you more control and enhanced security.

1. You’re in control. With many mesh networks, you have a lot of power in the palm of your hand — an app on your smartphone. These apps can help you with the network setup process and also ensure that you’re creating a secure password.

Such apps also typically allow you to manage network issues, check data speeds, set parental controls, and much more. Some systems also allow you to see what devices are connected to your network at any time.

2. Automatic updates. You’ve no doubt heard that it pays to keep your computer and smartphone software updated, in part, to help protect those devices against new security vulnerabilities. The same applies to routers. Mesh networks typically update themselves, leaving you one less thing to worry about.

3. Increased device security. You may have to pay a subscription fee, but some mesh systems provide enhanced security features to help protect your router, Wi-Fi network, and devices connected to that network from security threats. These threats could include malware, viruses, hackers, and cybercriminals.

If you have a smart home, filled with network-connected security cameras, thermostats, speakers, and other “smart” devices, a mesh wireless system may be a natural addition. The security features of some mesh systems can help protect vulnerable devices from cyberattacks.

A mesh Wi-Fi system will likely cost you more than a traditional Wi-Fi router, so if dead zones aren’t a problem in your home, you may want to think twice before investing in one. That said, the security features might be reason enough to offset the cost, or you might look for a traditional Wi-Fi router that also has such enhanced security for your home network.

4. Easy to set up and use. Mesh Wi-Fi systems can be easy to set up and use. Rather than struggling through your router’s admin page, as you might with a traditional router or wireless extenders, you can manage your mesh Wi-Fi network through an app.

You also don’t have to be technologically savvy. Mesh systems often can be installed within minutes. The app will have user-friendly instructions that not only tell you where to place each node for the best coverage, but also help you choose the best Wi-Fi channel.

5. Stronger signal and faster Internet speed. Wi-Fi mesh also should give you a stronger wireless signal and faster internet speed, because the nodes don’t have to be close to or rely on a single access point. The nodes act like little satellites, optimizing Wi-Fi coverage for all of your devices by allowing them to communicate with whichever node or access point works best.

6. Allow for network priority. If you have a lot of family members and devices in your home, you may struggle with network priority. A mesh system can help solve this problem by allowing you to disable Wi-Fi access to certain devices with the press of a button. For instance, if you have an important call coming in, you can give your smartphone network priority.

How expensive is a mesh network?

The cost of a mesh network may be an important consideration. How expensive is it? Mesh networks can range from the more expensive Linksys Velop for around $349, to Google Wi-Fi at around $97*.

The cost of a mesh network will depend on a number of factors, including your home set-up, the number of nodes you want, the number of devices and users in your home, the type of users, the design, the security features available, and the number of wired LAN ports.

If the cost of a mesh network isn’t prohibitive, you have several options available. From better coverage to stronger signals, a multi-node mesh system may be a great choice if your traditional router isn’t getting the job done.

* The inclusion of products, websites, or links does not imply endorsement or support of any company, material, product, and/or provider listed herein.

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