Mesh Networks: Everything you need to know
Mesh networking is the latest buzz word in technology. From Google to DLink, everyone is rolling out “Mesh Network” kits that promise to fix WiFi dead zones. MyRepublic, Singtel and StarHub also offer mesh network equipment as part of their Internet packages. But, do mesh networks really live up to all the hype?
We are here to help you understand how mesh networking works and explain the pros and cons to help you decide if this solution could work in your home.
Traditional Vs Mesh Networks?
At the centre of traditional WiFi network is the WiFi access point (usually combined in the router), the key piece of equipment that broadcasts the wireless signal to which your devices connect. An access point, as its name suggests, seamlessly carries internet traffic between a connected modem and WiFi enabled gadgets such as computers, phones and printers. The main issue with traditional access points is that the reach of the signals they send out is limited. If you have a large or unsual shaped house, or mutliple levels, if you only have one access point you are likely to have areas with WiFi dead zones.
Mesh networks can help eliminate dead zones. Rather than broadcasting WiFi signals from a single point, mesh router systems have multiple access points or “nodes”. One node acts as a gateway and connects to the internet through your modem. Then each node piggybacks off another, expanding your wireless coverage everytime you add a new node. Instead of communicating with a single access point like a traditional network, each node of a mesh network talks with the other nodes within reach and re-transmits the signal, which creates a blanket of strong WiFi coverage.
Where the quality of a WiFi connection varies depending on your distance from a traditional access point, a mesh network claims to expand that coverage so distance and direction shouldn’t matter, no matter where you are in the house.
The benefits of mesh routers
In addition to creating a strong and reliable WiFi signal, mesh router systems have a few other benefits. Here are the biggest pros:
- Easy to set up & manage the network: The setup process of most mesh networks is relatively easy and user-friendly. It is important to position the nodes so that they are within WiFi range of each other – more on this later….Once configured the majority have a user-friendly mobile app, allowing easy management via your phone, even when you are not at home. You can test speeds, set up guest accounts, deactivate certain mesh nodes (good for parental controls) and test the quality of connections to each node.
- Sleek and discreet look: Unlike traditional routers which can be quite bulky and often unsightly with their antennas, mesh routers look more modern, are genrally smaller and many are available in white!
- Relatively cost effective: Mesh network kits usually come with 3 units and are available for $360-650, depending on the brand. Taking into consideration the cost of a decent router is around $280, getting three units for $200 each or less is a cost effective option. MyRepublic, Singtel and StarHub all now offer mesh network kits for a supplement which equates to the retail price over a 24 month contract period.
Would you benefit from a Mesh Network?
If you have a large home, or one with an unusual layout or more than two stories, you probably regularly encounter Wi-Fi dead zones. Your home could well be a good candidate for a mesh-router system. Before you rush off to buy this “miracle cure” it is important to consider the following:
- Can you get a wired connection?: Wired internet connections are always going to provide faster and more stable internet connectivity. If you have data cabling in your home (or telephone sockets we can convert to data points), then a far better result would be to add additional wired access points in the areas of your home with poor coverage.
- Positioning of the mesh nodes: For a mesh network to work, it is essential that the nodes are within WiFi range of each other so that they can “talk” and piggyback the wireless signal throughout your home. The construction of many homes in Singapore means there are thick concrete walls through which wireless radio waves are unable to penetrate. It may be necessary to install additional nodes in corridors and stairwells to bridge the signal between rooms or floors. This can be tricky finding a place with a power socket to position the nodes and can become quite costly adding in additional mesh nodes.
- Network function limitations: If you have more complex network requirements, as mesh router functionality is limited. They often lack the ability to perform things like supporting a static IP address, port-forwarding and changing the DHCP settings – such functionality is desirable if you run IP cameras and a NAS. They also only have one port on each unit to directly plug in equipment such as AppleTV, printers and computers. This can be a drawback if you are wanting to benefit from faster wired connectivity.
The bottom line
WiFi optimisation is complex – here is no universal solution. Mesh networks are not the miracle cure for everyone’s Internet problems. It all depends on the WiFi enviroment IN your home and your specific requirments. If you are interested in deploying a mesh network in your home, we can supply and configure for you. We specialise in optimising WiFi networks. If you are unsure if a mesh network will be suitable for your home, we can come and do a wireless site survey and advise. Please call us on 81138682.