Mesh routers first made a splash early in 2017, and have since become one of the fastest growing sectors of the home networking market. But what is mesh networking, and how do mesh routers actually work? Read on in our guide to mesh routers to find out!
What is Mesh Networking
By all appearances, it would be easy to get a mesh network confused with a wireless router/range extender combo.
That said, the fundamental technology underneath is what makes these two methods of getting more wireless out of your wireless router so different.
While a range extender relies on the same transmission technology that a wireless router uses to communicate with your devices to send and receive data (2.4GHz or 5GHz radios), mesh networks use each extra router in the network as an independent signal booster itself based on ad-hoc technology.
Every node communicates with the other nodes to provide a “blanket” of coverage, which can be both more reliable and more consistent than range extenders depending on the architecture and layout of your home.
Mesh networking has been around for years, but until recently was mainly used by the military, cities, and hospitals in disaster zones to get signal in areas that might be hundreds of yards, even miles from a dedicated Ethernet port. Each “hop” in the network doesn’t degrade the signal or slow it down, because as long as there are a number of mesh nodes all hooked up together they’ll always be able to pick up the slack for one node if another starts to lose connectivity.
The larger the number of nodes you have in the chain, the more dependable and reliable the connection will be.
Who is Mesh Networking For?
Even though the primary implementation of mesh networking was strictly for industrial and enterprise use for many years, now the technology has made its way into the homes of millions of consumers and the results can’t be argued with.
Although standard routers have made significant improvements to the range and power of their signals over the years, oftentimes this increased power comes at the tradeoff of buying bigger, bulkier routers with more and more antennas strewn across all sides of the device.
This can make them far less visually appealing, and cause most people to want to hide them in some dark corner of their home or leave them relegated to their home offices where technology that looks like that usually belongs.
But what does this mean for the actual use case of wireless networks?
Well, the problem starts when you consider the fact that most people prefer to use their wireless devices in central hubs of the home like the living room, their bedrooms, and the kitchen.
When you’ve hidden away your big bulky router in a more distant corner of the home, this weakens the signal to central hubs and makes it difficult to get a reliable connection anywhere else except the areas that are close to your home office.
Similarly, a home router will only work when it’s connected to the main Ethernet port of your home, a location that can differ greatly from home to home and apartment to apartment.
If your main Ethernet line isn’t located central to your home, you used to be stuck with only two options: get a super powerful main router, or use a less powerful main router with a series of range extenders hooked up elsewhere.
This means that in larger homes or homes with a lot of walls and doors between your devices and the main hub, a mesh network will always be the superior choice to maintain a strong, solid connection no matter where you’re trying to game or stream from at any time of the day.
Mesh networking is also perfect for less tech-savvy users who may not have the skill or knowledge necessary to hook a wireless extender up to their existing network implementation.
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Mesh networks haven’t just streamlined the design of traditional routers, they’ve also made it ridiculously easy to get the systems set up throughout your home. Mesh routers are the definition of “plug and play” simplicity, often relying on smartphone apps and automatic Bluetooth connections to get your network out of the box, plugged in, and running within 15 minutes or less.
Mesh Networking Makes Routers Look Good
Mesh router networking solves this problem by offering a sleeker, smaller alternative to both routers and range extenders by using the benefits of mesh networking alongside some pretty svelte design notes on top of it.
We’ve tested several mesh networking systems here at Gadget Review, and I’m happy to report that nearly all of them would look great in anyone’s home decor. Because of the ad-hoc technology, mesh nodes can be significantly smaller than a standard router, and even the base router itself can shrink down in size because it doesn’t need any large antennas to get its signal from one mesh node to the next.
These mesh systems are petite, beautiful, and would look good no matter where you hooked them up in your home. Because of the smaller form factor, systems like the AmpliFi can use a tiny little box with a gorgeous LCD display as the main hub, while any additional nodes are implemented as antennas that can be plugged directly into your electrical sockets.
Read Next: How to Setup a Wireless Router
This means that if you want to have an antenna hooked up in every bedroom of your home (as well as another in the kitchen, living room, and an outlet next to your backyard), you can do so without screwing with the aesthetic that you’ve built for the rest of your house.
If you live in a large home and have found yourself struggling to maintain a decent signal on your current router (and already own one of the more powerful base stations out there), then you might want to consider upgrading your network to a mesh system soon.
Yes, they cost a bit more than a standard router, but the benefits you get both on design and connection reliability simply can’t be competed with by standard wireless router options.