What Is Mesh Wi-Fi?
You get a fancy looking wireless router that promises lightning-fast speeds and ridiculous range, only to find that you can’t even load a gif in your upstairs bedroom. WTF, maybe you’re experiencing this right now. And trying to load content is even slower than when you had that old 56 K modem. And with our increasing reliance on mobile devices these days, like tablets and smartphones and laptops, solutions for extending the range of your Wi-Fi have become more popular than ever, including mesh networks. And I’m not talking about meet-ups of Fishnet Dorning fetishists.
No, I’m talking about a wi-fi setup that uses multiple nodes that can spread a Wi-Fi signal all over your home office, as it were. On the surface, the way it operates seems pretty simple. Just connect one of the hockey puck looking nodes to your modem and place the others around your house where you need a signal boost. Each node connects to the others in an attempt to give you a stronger wireless signal over a much larger area than you’d get with a single router. Well, hold on a second. I have a cheap range extender for my wireless networks, and it sounds like it does the same thing.
What’s the difference? So here’s the deal. Your garden variety Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters are notorious for degrading the network speed because their antennas have to communicate with both client devices like your phone and laptop as well as your main router. Your effective speed can be reduced as much as 50 percent while using one which is bunk. By contrast, nodes in a mesh network are typically engineered with separate antennas so they can talk not just with the main router but to each other.
This helps them handle network backhaul. Backhaul is all the traffic other than what’s being transmitted to and from the iPhone in your hand. Although this isn’t a perfect system and mesh networks can still slow down if you add lots of nodes, they do tend to be much quicker than simple range extenders. But hold on again. These days you can get fancy network extenders with multiple antennas and even models that support MU-MIMO, which lets the extender send and receive from multiple devices simultaneously, which you can learn about right here.
So are there still benefits to going with a mesh network instead, as it turns out? Yes, there are. You see, what an extender does is create a whole new Wi-Fi network instead of being a true extension of the one created by your router. This puts you into one of two less than ideal situations. One, if you’re extender uses a different network name or SSID, you have to manually switch to it when you want to use it. Or two, if you’re extender shares the SSID with your main network, most devices aren’t smart enough to automatically switch to whichever one is getting off the stronger signals, leading to frustration when you walk between your router and the extender mesh wi-fi.
On the other hand, it uses one single, glorious network that’s intelligently managed by whichever node serves as your primary router, making it a seamless experience as you move around your house. Additionally, mesh networks can adjust automatically if you add or remove nodes and quickly reroute the network traffic between them to account for the new node configuration, and mesh networks also come with creature comforts that are harder to find on traditional wireless routers, everything from easy network management with a mobile app to integrated support for smart home devices, making them attractive to folks who want a set it and forget it experience. However, they do tend to be pricier than extenders, so make sure that a mesh network isn’t overkill for your home.
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