What is a Mesh Router?

A mesh router, also known as a whole home Wi-Fi system, is a wireless system that uses multiple access points to blanket your home in strong, reliable Wi-Fi coverage. Unlike a traditional wireless router that broadcasts Wi-Fi from a single point, mesh routers use multiple units placed throughout your home to form a mesh network.

What is a Mesh Router

How Mesh Routers Work

A mesh router system consists of at least one main router that connects directly to your modem, and a series of satellite units or nodes that plug into power outlets around your house. The satellite units communicate with the main router and with each other to extend the wireless coverage throughout your home. This eliminates dead zones and provides a strong signal to all your devices.

The components of a mesh network communicate using a technology called mesh topology. This allows each satellite unit to not only broadcast its own signal, but to relay signals from the other satellites and main router. By transmitting signals via multiple access points, mesh routers provide redundancy. So if one unit goes offline, the others automatically compensate to avoid coverage gaps.

Benefits of Mesh Routers

Mesh Wi-Fi systems provide superior wireless performance compared to a single traditional router. Benefits include:

  • Whole home coverage – Multiple access points work together to eliminate dead zones and provide strong coverage to every part of your home. No more spotty connections.
  • Seamless roaming – As you move around your house with a mobile device, it automatically transitions between access points without dropping the connection.
  • Easy setup – Mesh router systems are plug-and-play without much configuration required. An app walks you through the simple installation process.
  • Parental controls – Mesh systems often include robust parental controls to limit access to certain sites and control screen time across all connected devices.

Mesh Router Components

A mesh router kit contains a few key components:

Main Router

This is the core router that connects directly to your cable or DSL modem. It controls the other satellite units and handles primary router duties like DHCP, NAT, firewall, etc. Main routers feature:

  • Ethernet ports to connect wired devices
  • Cable/DSL modem port
  • Power button
  • Sync button to connect satellite units

Satellite Units

These are the secondary access points that plug into power outlets around your home to extend coverage. Satellites relay signals via mesh topology to provide strong Wi-Fi throughout large areas.

Base Station

The base station serves as the central hub of the mesh system. It’s the unit that controls and monitors satellites. Some systems have a dedicated base station while others use the main router as the controller.

Mesh vs Traditional Routers

How do mesh systems compare to traditional wireless routers? Key differences include:

  • Range – Mesh routers provide significantly more coverage and range than standalone consumer routers. A few satellites can cover up to 6,000 square feet.
  • Speed – Multi-point signals often deliver faster throughput since devices can connect to the strongest satellite signal rather than one far-away router.
  • Capacity – Support for hundreds of simultaneously connected devices thanks to channel optimization and band steering technologies.
  • Reliability – Redundant Wi-Fi links means great signal reliability. If one node fails the others automatically compensate to avoid interruptions.

So mesh systems beat traditional routers in whole home coverage, speed, and supporting multiple connected devices. But mesh routers are more expensive so they need to be worth the premium over a single consumer router.

Types of Mesh Routers

Mesh router systems fall into a few main categories:

Consumer Mesh Routers

These are the typical mesh router kits targeted at everyday home users rather than large enterprises. Leading consumer models include:

  • Google WiFi
  • Amazon Eero Pro
  • Netgear Orbi
  • Linksys Velop

Consumer mesh systems focus on easy installation, app management, and core networking features for home environments at an affordable price.

Commercial Enterprise Mesh Routers

Robust mesh router solutions designed for large businesses, campuses, hotels, etc. Commercial systems include:

  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi
  • Datto Networking
  • Ignition Design AirMapper
  • Open Mesh

Commercial mesh routers provide higher-scale coverage for dense user environments and more advanced features like VLAN tagging, dynamic path selection, etc. But at a higher cost.

Outdoor Mesh Routers

Outdoor mesh systems are designed to provide campus-wide Wi-Fi deployments across large outdoor areas:

  • Ubiquiti UniFi AC Mesh
  • EnGenius Neutron Series
  • Firetide HotPort 7000 Series

These systems feature weatherproofing and are optimized to provide strong Wi-Fi coverage across large campuses, municipal Wi-Fi networks, etc. Making them idea for last-mile infrastructure.

How is a Mesh System Installed?

Installing a mesh router system is quick and straightforward:

  1. Place the main router next to your cable/DSL modem and connect them via Ethernet. This serves as the controller access point.
  2. Ideally, the main unit should be centrally located in your home to wirelessly reach as many areas as possible.
  3. Plug in satellite units in far corners of your house and spaces with poor router coverage. Most systems support 3-6 satellite nodes.
  4. Download the mesh system’s app on your phone and follow the on-screen instructions to set up the network and sync all the units.
  5. The app uses Bluetooth to automatically discover the satellite nodes. It then creates one unified network with the same Wi-Fi name across all access points.

And that’s it! The app handles all the complex mesh networking tasks for you. Then you can use the app to manage parental controls, test network speeds, troubleshoot, etc. It’s the easiest way to create an enterprise-grade wireless network.

Key Takeaways

  • Mesh routers use multiple wireless access points working together to provide seamless Wi-Fi coverage throughout your entire home. This eliminates dead zones which are common with standalone routers.
  • Mesh networks feature intelligent mesh topology which allows decentralized connections. So if one node goes down the others automatically compensate to avoid coverage gaps.
  • Whole home systems are the gold standard for home Wi-Fi – delivering stronger signals, faster speeds, more range, and greater capacity compared to traditional routers.
  • Leading options include consumer-focused systems like Google WiFi and Eero as well as higher-end commercial mesh routers for large businesses. Outdoor mesh routers are also available.
  • Setup takes minutes thanks to a dedicated app that handles the complex backend configurations. And the app lets you easily monitor and manage your network.

Conclusion

Mesh routers beat traditional routers in nearly aspect. By blanketing a home with strong Wi-Fi using multiple access points, mesh systems provide reliable connections to all your devices. Redundant links means great signal reliability. Easy app-based setup means mesh routers are ideal for everyday users frustrated with dead zones. With unmatched range, speed, and devise support mesh routers are the best way to build a solid home network.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the difference between a mesh router and Wi-Fi extender?
    Wi-Fi extenders simply boost the existing Wi-Fi signal from a single router. Mesh routers use multiple access points to create an entirely new network with much more coverage. Extenders are band-aids while mesh Wi-Fi covers your whole home.
  2. How many satellites do I need?
    For up to 2,000 sq. ft, you typically only the main router unit. Between 2,000 to 4,000 sq. ft normally requires a 2-piece system with one satellite. Over 4,000 square feet requires a 3-piece kit or more satellites.
  3. Where should I place the satellite units?
    Satellites perform best around 25-35 feet away from the main router node or another satellite. Prioritize far corners or areas with poor coverage like a backyard, upstairs rooms, garage, etc.
  4. Do satellite nodes require an Ethernet backhaul?
    Most consumer mesh systems use wireless backhauls meaning satellites connect wirelessly to create redundancy. But wired backhauls are more reliable. Some commercial systems require Ethernet runs for the satellites.
  5. Can I combine my ISP router with a mesh system?
    Yes, most mesh systems allow you disable the routing features if plugged into an existing router from your ISP. This uses the ISP hardware while leveraging the mesh units for wireless distribution only.
  6. Is mesh faster than Wi-Fi 6?
    Not inherently. Wi-Fi 6 supports faster top-end speeds thanks to technologies like OFDMA. But a mesh network provides faster speeds across larger areas which is more important. And mesh routers often have Wi-Fi 6 built-in now.
  7. What routers work with Fios?
    The latest Wi-Fi 6 or WiFI 5 routers from Netgear, Linksys, Asus, TP-Link and other brands will work perfectly fine with Verizon Fios internet. You just need one WAN/Internet port.
  8. Do satellites work wired?
    Yes. For the strongest backhaul connection use Ethernet runs to some or all satellites instead of defaulting to a wireless daisy-chain. This creates a wired failsafe if nodes drop offline.
  9. Can old routers be used as satellites?
    Unfortunately not. To create a mesh network all nodes must use similar radios and technologies allowing them to communicate. Mixing router hardware won’t work. All nodes in a mesh must be from the same system.
  10. Do satellites need to be near power outlets?
    Mesh satellites need constant power so ideally you should place them within reach of outlets you can safely power them 24/7. Some models offer optional power adapters for more flexibility.
  11. Can I use routers from different brands?
    No, interoperability between mesh systems does not yet exist. While standalone Wi-Fi routers can work together, mesh nodes must all be from the same manufacturer using the same firmware and configurations.
  12. How many devices can mesh support?
    Over 100 devices on some mesh systems! The distributed design means great capacity for simultaneously connected devices. Compare that to the typical 10-15 device limit for standalone consumer routers.
  13. Do walls impact performance?
    Yes. Concrete and masonry walls as well thick insulation can degrade Wi-Fi signal strength between router nodes. So optimize placement to minimize obstructions for best performance.
  14. Can I use a VPN service with mesh?
    Absolutely. Installing VPN clients like NordVPN or ExpressVPN on your devices will encrypt your data and mask your IP address even when connected to a mesh network.
  15. Is mesh secure?
    Mesh networks support all modern wireless encryption like WPA3 to fully encrypt Wi-Fi signals between nodes and client devices. So data transmission is just as safe as standard routers.
  16. How long do mesh routers last?
    Approximately 3-5 years with moderate usage. The internal circuit boards can eventual fail just like a traditional router. But the modular satellites designs does mean you can swap out only failed units as needed rather than replacing everything.
  17. What happens if the main unit fails?
    Mesh systems are designed with failover capabilities so Ethernet-wired satellite units and take over routing duties if the main nodes goes offline until its replaced. This redundancy means great reliability.
  18. Can I use old and new satellites together?
    We don’t recommend mixing satellites models. While backwards compatibility exists, you’ll get better performance if all nodes use the same chipsets. Upgrade by replacing the entire mesh system simultaneously.

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