Mesh Networks

Recently I had to update Mrs Answer Guy’s office’s WiFi and elected to do my own house at the same time. If you haven’t updated your WiFi in a while but have continued to update your devices you may be missing out on much faster speeds and greater support for more devices.

I have written before (back in February) about the evolution of WiFi from 5 to 6 to 6e to 7. If you’re interested in the technical differences I’d encourage you to go back and read it. This month though I’m writing about mesh networks.

I’m old school enough that every time someone uses the phrase “in the cloud” around me I think, “You mean the internet, right?” And when I was reading about mesh networks in preparation to install one all I could think was, “Oh you mean a wireless router with some WiFi extenders, right?” But there’s more to it than that.

There are two main reasons to consider a mesh network over a traditional WiFi upgrade path. The first one is the complete elimination of dead spots. A two or three-node mesh network can cover 5000 to 7000 sq ft depending on what you buy and where you’re positioning them. The second reason is the ease of installation. Setting up a second WiFi router as a wireless access point that seamlessly connects you wherever you wander indoors used to be complicated enough that most people just didn’t bother. They lived with dead zones.

WiFi mesh nodes come out of the box pre-configured. The first one you plug in becomes the boss. Each additional node can connect to it and automatically configures itself to work invisibly with it. You set up one node with your SSID and password and the rest all use that. You can’t even tell which node you’re connected to.

Mesh networks also will configure themselves to connect from one central point or in a daisy chain. This helps if you have an odd place where your modem resides. If it’s at one end of the house you can put your main node there then move halfway through the house and plug in a second node to power and it’ll cover the rest of the house. If you have a large property you can go further and plug in a third and it’ll automatically use the second node to connect to the first, and so on. 

The convenience is significant, and being able to position two or more nodes in your house will help eliminate the dead spots that are often created in multi-storey, multi-bedroom houses. A three-pack mesh node setup will likely run between $150 and $250. That’s a bit steeper than your old WRT54G that’s been in the closet for 10 years, but the speed difference and convenience may be worth it for you.

The new mesh nodes are much more aesthetically pleasing too. Instead of the big box with antennae sticking out all over, the new mesh nodes are small devices, completely enclosed, and not much bigger than an air freshener.

The other big benefit to the newer WiFi 6 and up mesh networks is their ability to support the myriad of devices that have appeared in our houses and offices. No longer is there a desktop in the study and a couple of iPhones running. Now all the TVs, the internet doorbell, multiple computers, everyone in the house streaming something different on Crave, Netflix, and Prime all at the same time, are saturating our old WiFi routers. WiFi 6 and a new mesh network will vastly improve not just the speed but the capacity to support a bunch more devices on your WiFi network.