Beginners Guide to Home Wi-Fi Mesh Network Systems

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 aren’t really designed to extend an existing Wi-Fi network, but to replace it.

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.

Wi-Fi-Mesh-Network-Diagram

Dedicated Wi-Fi  Backhaul

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.

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 backhaul network offers faster connections than shared.

Ethernet Backhaul

Using a wired Ethernet connection for the backhaul network provides the fastest connections provided this is provided by a wired network and not homeplug adapters.

Mesh Topology

A star network topology is preferred as it has lower latency and faster connection speeds than using a daisy chain topology.

Wi-Fi-Mesh-topologies

Node Positioning

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.

Other Features

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
  • Eero

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.

Related Tutorials and Resources:

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14 comments

  1. Aloha. Thank you for your posts but I’m dumb as a doornail and would appreciate your input. I have 2-story, 4600 sf home (5200 sf with patio); Nighthawk AC1900 router (WiFi5) upstairs; Trendnet 16 port gigabit switch; and 2 ethernet ports and 2 coaxial connections on single outlets in fam rm, living rm, kitchen, and each bedroom. Paying Spectrum for 200 mbps. Trying to extend wi-fi coverage. Home network co wants me to buy Araknis 310 series gigabit VPN router, Araknis 210 series 8-port gigabit switch w/partial PoE+, and 3 Ruckus WAP 1 dual band 802.11ac WAPs. I know I need to increase internet speed but is the recommended package overkill? With ethernet in every room, is there something I can plug into ethernet port to extend wi-fi (antennae?), or is that what WAP or mesh system does?

    1. As you have a wired ethernet setup plugging in a WAP ($20) into any ethernet socket will give wi-fi connectivity to that area.
      It will not be a mesh as it will have it’s own SSID but it is all on the same network and will connect to the Internet.

      Not sure why all of the Araknis and Rukus equipment is for unless you have higher requirements than just providing basic wi-fi in parts of your home.
      Rgds
      Steve

  2. Hi Steve,
    I’m trying to get WiFi at an shed that’s 250 feet from my house. I have electric in the shed to use a plug in or mesh system. What do you recommend in order to get a strong and reliable signal out there? I appreciate your advice.
    Best,
    Rob

    1. Hi
      I would try first using homeplug adapters but given the distance and wiring it isn’t guaranteed. You could also try an external wi-fi access point but it would need an Ethernet feed. You can test it by putting you existing wi-fi access point outside and see what the signal is in the shed if any you don’t need it wired in just powered on as you are only interested in the signal strength at the shed.
      I also found these wireless bridges which I would try as they seem meant for the Job. They are new to me so I haven’t tried them but I will do some more research. If you do try them would be grateful for feedback
      https://amzn.to/35PxwBY

      I also noticed they have a video. Starts well but fades
      https://youtu.be/YoaXeLuZdqI
      Rgds
      Steve

  3. Greetings! I have in use a Google mesh 3 piece system but I want to install a eithernet switch to wire a ring alarm, main living room tv and nearby office computer for maximum up and down speeds. The rest of the household devices will remain on the mesh system. Should I wire the eithernet switch direct from the main mesh point and will it afford me the the benefit of the Google mesh firewall? Thank You in advance!

  4. I’ve two TP-Link AV Poweline Wifi extenders and a Archer A7 Router. They don’t mesh together well though – any ways to improve this?

    1. Not sure what you mean by mesh together. To form a real seamless mesh they must be designed to mesh without looking at the details of those products I’m not sure they are.

    1. Bo
      Looks fine I use tp link for my access points and homeplugs. It looks like it can also function as a router but you would need a cable/fibre connection. If not it plugs into your existing home router and you disable wi-fi on the home router.
      Looking at some comments on Amazon it appears to start in router mode which you need to be aware of as if you use your existing router you will need to change it to access point mode.
      Rgds
      Steve

  5. How can I setup wired WiFi mesh system. Do I have to connect then main router with each node using a separate Ethernet from a network switch or can I connect the main router to a node and then that node to the next node?

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