Having fast and reliable Wi-Fi coverage in the house and maybe in the garden and out building is becoming more and more important.
Wi-Fi mesh networks are a fast growing area in the home networking arena.
Traditional WI-Fi networks use a central access point to connect the wireless nodes together and to the Internet.
Dead zones and slow connections can be overcome by extending the network using Wi-Fi extenders, cables or home plug adaptors. See extending a home network.
The main disadvantage of extending a network using wireless range extenders and access points is that you create several wireless networks which means that when moving between them you need to log off from one and then log on to the other.
Wi-Fi Mesh Networks
Wi-Fi mesh kits from Google, BT, Amazon etc make creating a large extended network very simple and usually don’t involve using cables.
They comprise 2 or more Wi-Fi nodes that work together to offer a single Wi-Fi network (one SSID), and devices can hop seamlessly across the nodes as they move within the network.
Note: not all end devices support this.
There seems to be two design approaches to these systems.
The Google approach is to replace the existing WI-FI network and home router with the Google Wi-Fi discs or access nodes.
The other approach taken by BT, for example, is to keep the existing internet router and replace the Wi-Fi network.
How Wi-Fi Mesh Networks Work
The important thing to understand is that the access nodes need to be able to communicate with each other.
They do this over what is known as a backhaul network.
This can be Wireless or Ethernet.
All Wi-Fi mesh providers provide wireless backhaul capability but not all provide Ethernet capability.
There are three possibilities for the internode connection.
- Wi-Fi 2.5 or 5GHz shared
- Wi-Fi 2.5 or 5GHz dedicated
Dedicated Wi-Fi Backhaul
Wi-fi operates on two frequency bands 2.5GHz and 5 Ghz. These are used by clients (laptops,tablets etc) to connect to the network. Older devices only support the 2.5GHz band.
The mesh nodes also need to communicate with each other to pass data and network traffic as shown below:
One approach uses a dedicated Wi-Fi network used solely for the nodes to communicate with each other (BT approach).
The communications path is hidden from view and the approach is called tri-band as the node provides a 2.4GHz network and a 5Ghz network for the devices as per standard WI-Fi access points, and another 5Ghz network for inter node communication.
On a network with many clients this would be faster than using the shared mode where the inter node connection and the client connections share the frequency bands/channels.
The other approach used by Google for example is to use a dual band access point 2.4GHz network Plus a 5Ghz network.
The inter node messages use the same networks as the end devices.
Generally having a dedicated back haul network offers faster connections than shared.
Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System
Wi-Fi 6 is the latest Wi-Fi standard offering higher speeds and greater distances than Wi-Fi 5. The only problem is that only very new devices support it.
Using a wired Ethernet connection for the back haul network provides the fastest connections provided this is provided by a wired network and not homeplug adapters.
A star network topology is preferred as it has lower latency and faster connection speeds than using a daisy chain topology.
When using wireless backhaul the nodes must be placed in a position that they can receive a signal from the adjacent node just like when using Wi-fi Extenders.
Having too great a distance between nodes results in slower connection speeds.
See Understanding home network speeds to see how networking speed is affected by distance in a Wi-fi network.
Expanding A Wi-Fi Mesh Network
You can expand an existing Wi-Fi mesh network by adding additional nodes, but you must use equipment from the same manufacturer as the existing system.
The TP link deco series has a recommended 10 unit linit when using Wi-Fi Backhaul and not limit if using Ethernet backhaul See here.
You might also find these network diagrams Interesting
In addition to providing Wi-Fi connectivity they also provide advanced features, not available on standard home Wi-Fi networks; like:
- Scheduled Internet access
- Pause Internet
- Secure Guest networks
- Voice control using Alexa
Popular systems are
- TP link deco
- Google Wi-fi
- BT Whole Home Wi-Fi
- Orbi by Netgear
This Google WiFI review by Engadget will give you a good idea of what these systems do.
Do you Need a Wi-Fi Mesh Network?
If you currently require a range extender for your home then you can justify a Mesh Network. However if you don’t and have good connectivity with the existing central Wi-Fi router then you don’t.
Generally the larger your home or coverage area then the more a Mesh system will be justified.
Common Questions and Answers
Q- I have a dead spot in the house would you recommend changing to a Mesh System.
A- No I would use a homeplug with wi-fi as my first choice or a range extender as second choice.
Q- I’ve just moved into a new house should I get a mesh system.
A- Yes That would be my choice
Q- Can I use Wired connections in a Wi-Fi Mesh
A- Yes most nodes provide LAN ports
Q- Can I use my existing router with my Wi-Fi mesh network.
A- It depends on the system so you will need to read the documentation before you purchase.
Q– Can I increase the number of nodes to increase coverage?
A- Yes but the node must be from the same manufacturer
Related Tutorials and Resources:
- Wi-Fi and Wireless Networking
- Extending a Home Network
- How to find the best WiFi Channel for your Router.
- What are Mesh Networks