The Synology MR2200AC Mesh tri-band router has a difficult task ahead. Convincing me that tri-band mesh delivers enough bandwidth to cover a typical Australian home. Or to put it positively what is it best at?
Perhaps it was my disappointment with the coverage area and speed of dual-band mesh routers like the NETGEAR Orbi, Google Router and D-Link
Mesh 101 – or why it is hard to convince me of the value of mesh in a typical Aussie, 3-4 bed, single or dual level home.
Wi-Fi signals transmit in a circular ‘dinner plate’ coverage with the signal strongest at the centre where the main router is. It gets weaker as it moves out to the edges (5GHz/2.4GHz line-of-sight is 30-100m, but in a home, it is typically 10-30m).
Mesh needs to overlap those dinner plates to get a strong enough signal to retransmit. Placing a mesh repeater at the edge of a dinner plate only lets it transmit the weakest signal. Mesh cannot turn a bad signal into a good one! We usually find that a mesh slave needs to be no further than 7-10 metres from a master router.
The term ‘mesh’ only relates to routing – communication with the main router. Each slave unit handles retransmission of whatever signal it can get over 2.4GHz, and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands then send it back to the main router via the backchannel.
Dual-band mesh equates to a two-way road. If an ambulance needs to get through you all pull over to the sides and stop! If heavy users want bandwidth for streaming or games, these are not up to the task.
Tri-band mesh is a two-way road with a service lane so if even if there is congestion on the two-lanes things can go around and get through.
Router placement is key to performance
There is no substitute for the correct placement of the router. Unfortunately, most routers hide away in the wrong places like utility cupboards, under stairs etc. If the main router is in the wrong location mesh will not improve it.
The main router (Mesh or not) must be at the nexus where most smart devices are – not where your NBN (or steam-driven ADSL) connection terminates in the house. If the two locations do not correspond, get a sparky to lay an Ethernet cable between the two and place the main router where it must be! I repeat, this is inalienable and just finding the right position will fix 90% of all issues.
So, the main router needs to be within a few metres of most of your PCs, smart TV/Blu-ray/Set-top-box/soundbar/and smart home hub. Most of these devices must connect via a full-duplex Ethernet Switch/hub to the router LAN port leaving Wi-Fi clear for portable devices like smartphones, smart speakers, lights, IoT, laptops and tablets.
The right router for the job
If you have a small one-bed apartment and perhaps ten Wi-Fi or Ethernet devices then you can get away with AC2200 and a small routers processing power.
If you have more devices or a larger area to cover then moving to AC3200 to AC5600 (currently the fastest) with lots of processing power and multiple antennae makes sense. But, you still have the limitations of the dinner plate transmit area 10-30metres.
The best whole of home Wi-Fi coverage (in my opinion) is the fastest AC5300 router (more like a V8 supercar) as a base station and range extenders (or access points) using Ethernet cable or Ethernet over Power Powerline Adaptors.
Why the lecture on Mesh 101?
Because I have yet to see a mesh router perform over the coverage area claimed.
And, don’t forget the internet. It is the router’s job to share that precious resource among all users and devices.