In the beginning, there was a router, and the strongest routers ruled. But the little routers revolted and, in a Lilliputian-like effort have toppled, or at least made a dent in the big guy’s supremacy. Enter Mesh Wi-Fi and you need to read this before you buy a router of any type.

Mesh Wi-Fi simply means a number of smaller Wi-Fi connected routers to cover a home with single sign-on (SSID), seamless roaming and help to extend coverage in difficult areas. 

This article seeks to show both the strengths and weaknesses of Mesh Wi-Fi.

What a router?

A router sets up a private home network. It distributes via wire (Ethernet) or Wirelessly (Wi-Fi) an internet signal two ways – down and up (anywhere from a few megabits per second on ADSL to 100/40Mbps for NBN top-tier).

But more importantly, you can share resources like a network attached storage (NAS) or streaming audio or video from a media server. Here you want the maximum internal network access speed regardless of the internet speed.

Now I need to get techy for a bit.

Currently, the fastest speed that a Wi-Fi device (e.g. laptop equipped with an AC MU-MIMO chip) can communicate with a compatible router is 867 Megabits per second (Mbps) or 108 Megabytes per second (MB/s). Remember Wi-Fi is half-duplex so in reality, you may get say 50-100Mb/s per device. And you are sharing bandwidth between all connected devices.

Traditional Router

A traditional router comes in single band (2.4Ghz offering about 300Mbps), Dual band (2.4GHz, 300Mbps and 5Ghz, 867Mbps) and Tri-band (adds an extra 5GHz band). Most these days are from AC1200 (300+867Mbps) to AC5300 (1000+2167+2167Mbps).

All you need to know is that one of the current most powerful tri-band routers is an AC5300, MU-MIMO D-Link DIR-895L or its modem/router version the Cobra. Let’s call them the V8 supercar approach, and they are great in straight lines and up hills (raw grunt).

Mesh Wi-Fi

An AC5300 router, especially one with eight antennas (think of it as an eight-lane highway), has the legs to cover most larger houses. But at about 30m (5GHz) and 100M (2.4GHz) from the router, it simply cannot broadcast a strong enough signal and black spots occur. These can also happen when building materials soak up or obstruct signals. At that time you need to use preferably a wired ethernet range extender can work.

Mesh Wi-Fi
Imagine there is an ethernet cable (or Powerline Ethernet over Powerlines) connecting the extenders to the main router.

Mesh Wi-Fi

A mesh Wi-Fi network comprises a smaller master router and one or more nodes that talk to each. Let’s call this the Tesla approach where smaller individual electric motors power the four wheels and talk to each other to get maximum speed (distributed routing).

If you have an apartment or smaller home on one level Mesh Wi-Fi can work.

Mesh Wi-Fi
In mesh the extenders can be wireless (if you can get a good signal) or wired (Ethernet or Powerline)

Companies including D-Link, NETGEAR, Linksys, Google and many more have whole-of-home mesh options.

Mesh Wi-Fi

But all mesh is not the same. What you need is a combination of three factors. Area coverage, number of devices, and speed. There are two main types

Dual-band mesh Wi-Fi?

Think of it as a two-lane highway. It transmits the signal down one lane and receives back via the other. That is fine for light traffic but gets bogged down with lots of traffic or when a large semi-trailer (video streaming for example) hogs lanes.

Each slave router may be able to transmit a signal at 867Mbps but by the time it gets to the two-lane highway, it is congested an traffic slows to a crawl.