These days, just about everything in your home relies on Wi-Fi. Your computers, televisions, smart home devices—even some appliances—need WiFi to connect to the Internet and Cloud services. However, unless you have a degree in network engineering, making sure every corner of your home has a solid Wi-Fi signal is a challenge.
That’s because there are countless things in modern homes that can disrupt Wi-Fi signals. And, since almost every home has Wi-Fi these days, there’s plenty of outside interference, too.
The good news is that there’s a Wi-Fi technology designed specifically to help you easily extend a Wi-Fi signal throughout your home.
It’s called mesh Wi-Fi, and it’s gaining in popularity among homeowners looking to solve longstanding Wi-Fi signal issues in their homes.
Here’s an explanation of mesh Wi-Fi and some of the pros and cons associated with using it.
What Is Mesh Wi-Fi in Homes?
Mesh Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology meant to extend a single Wi-Fi network (WLAN) over a large area, like a large home.
However, it’s not a repeater system. Instead, it relies on multiple individual access points, called mesh wi-fi nodes, which include a main router unit with several “satellite” units that create an “umbrella” wifi network for the whole home.
The individual nodes (router node + satellites) communicate with each other usually via a separate high-speed channel (called a “backhaul”), offering multiple network paths to the main router unit.
In that way, they form a mesh—a series of points wirelessly stitched together—that makes up a single robust and resilient network.
The Pros of Mesh Wi-Fi
Mesh Wi-Fi systems offer a variety of advantages over conventional Wi-Fi and other wide-area Wi-Fi networking alternatives. Here are some of the main pros associated with mesh Wi-Fi.
Better Wi-Fi Coverage in Your House
The most important advantage of mesh Wi-Fi is that it makes achieving wireless coverage inside your whole home easy.
To improve coverage in a given area of your home, all you have to do is add an additional node to your system.
Since mesh Wi-Fi operates via overlapping Wi-Fi signals, you can add as many nodes as you wish to make sure that your home has no dead spots or weak network throughput.
Single SSID on All Wi-Fi Nodes
Another major advantage of mesh Wi-Fi is that it allows you to use a single network name (SSID) everywhere in your home.
Other types of technology, like Wi-Fi network extenders, often require you to have more than one network name—or SSID.
That places the burden on your devices to hop between networks to maintain a stable connection as you move around your home.
Often, that process isn’t smooth and can lead to dropped connections or a failure to pick up on a stronger signal when available.
With a mesh Wi-Fi network, your devices don’t have to look for other networks to join. Instead, they hop to the closest node as necessary to maintain a stable connection.
It’s a process that’s more reliable and seamless than relying on multiple SSIDs in the same space.
Mesh Wi-Fi networks are also easily expandable. Most of the mesh Wi-Fi systems on the market come with full-featured control apps that make adding a new node simple.
For some, the process is as easy as scanning a QR code on the side of a new node, and the management software handles the rest.
Others include built-in Bluetooth radios that serve as a handy configuration channel.
With those, the management app will use the Bluetooth radio in your smartphone to communicate with the new node and pass it any necessary settings.
Easy Setup and Management
The management apps that come with most mesh Wi-Fi systems also make maintaining and making changes to your network a snap.
With a few simple touches of a screen, you can accomplish tasks like changing your network name or main Wi-Fi channel in seconds. And, since Wi-Fi mesh systems operate as a single cohesive network, any changes you make replicate to the rest of your nodes almost instantaneously.
Adding Nodes Doesn’t Reduce Bandwidth
The final major advantage offered by mesh Wi-Fi systems is that they don’t reduce your bandwidth when you add more nodes.
Since mesh Wi-Fi systems almost always use a dedicated set of radios and frequency spectrum (or even a wired backhaul connection) to communicate with one another, they can dedicate a complete channel to serving the devices connected to them.
That stands in stark contrast to Wi-Fi repeaters, which halve your bandwidth with each additional unit you chain together.
In that case, it’s because the repeater has just one radio in it which has to alternate between communicating with the main Wi-Fi access point and a connected device.
That means it can only send or receive data at any given time (half-duplex) because it has to talk to the main access point and your device in sequence.
The mesh wi-fi systems, on the other hand, use full-duplex connections between satellite nodes and main router node, so bandwidth is not affected.
The Cons of Mesh Wi-Fi
Although mesh Wi-Fi systems offer some major advantages over conventional Wi-Fi equipment, they’re far from perfect. Here are some of the main cons associated with mesh Wi-Fi.
More Expensive Than a Single Wi-Fi Router
One of the biggest disadvantages of mesh Wi-Fi systems is their cost. Since they’re more complex than conventional Wi-Fi routers and access points, they cost more upfront.
Plus, mesh networks also rely on using multiple nodes at once, which adds even more to their upfront cost.
In most cases, a basic mesh Wi-Fi system with a single base station and one additional node included costs around $200.
That’s more than double the cost of an average Wi-Fi router. And the larger the area you’re trying to cover, the more expensive the system will be.
So, if you live in a small apartment or a single-floor small home, the best option would be to buy a single Wi-Fi router which it can cover the whole area.
Some Older Smart Home Devices May Not Be Able To Connect to Mesh Wi-Fi
Another con associated with mesh Wi-Fi is that older devices—like smart home and IoT equipment—may not work with it.
Most of the time, this is because mesh Wi-Fi systems rely heavily on a technology called band steering.
That allows them to operate using 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency spectrums simultaneously with a single SSID (and usually without an easy way to separate the 2.4GHz from the 5 GHz band).
When a new device attempts to connect to the network, the note asks the device which frequencies it supports and connects it to the appropriate one based on the answer.
Unfortunately, older devices and inexpensive things like IoT equipment often have Wi-Fi chips that only understand the broadcasts of conventional Wi-Fi access points and routers.
Therefore, homes with incompatible devices may find themselves having to use a separate secondary Wi-Fi network to accommodate them. That robs mesh Wi-Fi of some of its biggest advantages—namely simplicity and universality.
Difficult To Find Proper Placement in Your House for All Nodes
Another disadvantage of mesh Wi-Fi is that it’s not always easy to figure out the optimum placement for each node in the system.
Since you can’t see where your Wi-Fi signals tail off, there’s a fair amount of trial-and-error involved in getting a new mesh Wi-Fi network running well.
It also increases the likelihood that end-users will end up purchasing more nodes than they need to fix signal problems caused by poor node placement.
Not as Good as Wired Connections
Lastly, mesh Wi-Fi suffers from the same problem that all other Wi-Fi does—it’s not as good as a wired connection.
On the contrary, since mesh Wi-Fi uses more parts of the wireless spectrum than a conventional Wi-Fi network would, the possibility of interference is even higher.
In the real world, that can translate into unexpected and unexplained slowdowns or connectivity issues.
Wired connections don’t suffer from that problem and offer rock-solid high-speed connections at all times.
Even other wide-area networking options like MoCA and DECA sidestep some of the problems by using a home’s in-wall coax cabling as a backhaul network.
That eliminates a potential wireless failure point and can work better than mesh Wi-Fi in homes with interference issues.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, there’s plenty to like about mesh Wi-Fi systems. They fill an obvious niche in the residential Wi-Fi networking space and make blanketing a large home with performant Wi-Fi a relatively straightforward affair.
However, they do so at a higher cost than other alternatives and sometimes suffer from interoperability issues.
In any case, the use of mesh Wi-Fi will likely continue to grow as more homeowners seek out ways to solve persistent Wi-Fi signal problems around their homes.
And as long as they’re aware of the strengths and weaknesses of such systems, doing so’s usually a smart move.