Mesh network better distributes Wi-Fi in your home
Does your Netflix movie often freeze up due to bothersome buffering? Annoyed by how long it takes to email photos to family members? Does it feel like an eternity before your smart speaker responds to your command?
You likely have a Wi-Fi problem that, if not caused by a slow-speed internet plan, is probably due to a weak wireless signal that doesn't get to the spots you need it to around your house.
Buying and using a robust router can help. But if you want Wi-Fi on steroids, upgrade to a mesh network system, the experts agree.
"With a traditional wireless home network, your signal emanates from one location. But for a large home or a residence with concrete walls, certain areas will have low signal strength," says Joseph Stornelli, principal of JS Technology Group in New York City.
That includes the basement, where the internet cable typically enters the home and many routers are installed.
The best solution is to hardwire your devices that use internet by running Ethernet cables from your router to those devices. But that's not very practical, considering that it's time-consuming, tricky and intrusive to lay cables running across your home.
The next-best option? Set up a mesh network, which eliminates the need for hardwiring.
This involves relying on a kit that includes the main node (which either replaces or is hardwired to your existing router) and one or multiple secondary access point devices, called nodes, that talk to each other and act like extra routers.
"These access points can be spread throughout your house. They link up automatically to deliver data back to the main node or router," Stornelli says.
Sandeep Harpalani, vice president of product line management for Netgear, the San Jose, California-based maker of routers and mesh systems, notes that devices around your home that use Wi-Fi connect seamlessly to the nearest node, which provides a strong Wi-Fi signal even though it may be far away from the central node or router.
Most mesh networking systems use dual-band Wi-Fi, spreading the signal over the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, but some use an extra 5 GHz band (triband) to connect the main router to the node -- ensuring even greater coverage and faster speeds.
"These nodes work like a two-lane highway, collectively providing many more lanes for smoother data traffic," Harpalani says. "The mesh Wi-Fi system determines the best node for your device to connect to and monitors the signal strength of each device so that it can handoff connection to another node as the device moves across the house -- such as when you walk from room to room with your mobile phone."
Popular mesh networking models are offered by Google, Eero, Linksys, Netgear, TP-Link, Samsung and other known brands.
"It's best to purchase a mesh system as a kit from the same manufacturer. This will ensure compatibility and reliability," recommends Mark Rapley, director of operations at KWIC internet in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. "Mixing and matching hardware from different brands may create problems."
Most mesh kits start around $150 and include at least a primary and secondary node; additional nodes can be purchased separately if you need more coverage for a bigger house.
"A larger home where the router doesn't push out the signal far enough is a perfect candidate to employ mesh networking," Rapley says. "But small homes and small apartments won't see much benefit from mesh networking; there, a traditional router should work fine."
Determining the right kit and number of nodes best for your needs is important.
"Consider the size of your house, the internet speed you pay for, and the number of Wi-Fi-connected devices you use in your home," Harpalani says.
Most mesh kits are set up using a smartphone app; the hardware is plug-and-play ready, meaning you simply plug the electrical cord in an outlet and the software does the rest.
"Typical users can install a new mesh system in 10 to 15 minutes," Harpalani says.