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What is a WiFi Mesh Network and How Does it Work?

What is a WiFi Mesh Network and How Does it Work?

Written By Alejandra Jasso
1st May 2023

Improve Your Home WiFi Coverage with a Mesh Network 

WiFi connectivity is not perfect. Oftentimes, a reliable signal is not available in every room. It’s extremely frustrating, especially when you pay good money for high-quality internet. This is a very common struggle in homes that rely on a single router. For true whole-home coverage, a mesh network will help.

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What is a Mesh Network?

A mesh network is designed to blanket your entire home or business with WiFi coverage. It’s a network built out of multiple wireless access points called mesh nodes, extenders, or satellites.

Each node is like a WiFi router. They work together to efficiently route data to and from connected devices in your building.

Rather than just relying on a single router broadcasting WiFi from a single location, mesh networks create multiple points of connectivity.

How Does WiFi Mesh Work?

how mesh wifi works

WiFi mesh networks use multiple mesh nodes. One directly connects to your internet modem. It acts as your main mesh WiFi router. The others sit throughout your house near a power source. They are additional WiFi access points.

The node connected to the modem wirelessly shares its internet connection with all nodes within its range. Those nodes then wirelessly share their internet connection with the nodes within their range. Together they create a large WiFi coverage bubble with many ways to route information. This reduces dead spots and improves reliability. Devices automatically connect to the closest node.

It’s almost like having multiple WiFi routers in your home sharing one seamless WiFi network.

The network topology can be full or partial mesh. A full mesh network means all nodes can communicate with each other. A partial mesh network consists of nodes that can only communicate with certain nodes. The former is most common.

full vs partial mesh network

Image Source: TechTarget

Regardless of your setup, data jumps from node to node till it reaches its destination, be it the mesh router or a WiFi device. Built-in smart technology tells the nodes how to route data. They use adaptive routing (aka dynamic routing) technology to choose the fastest and safest path to send and receive information. For example, if one node was to stop working, the whole system adapts and re-routes information through a different path. Similarly, if one node is congested, the system re-routes all data through a different path to avoid speed slowdowns.

Does Mesh WiFi Work Through Walls?

Walls are notorious for blocking wireless signals or decreasing strength. Using smart technology, like beamforming, Mesh WiFi can blast signals through walls and other materials that block WiFi signals. Though, the wall's material and thickness will affect how strong the signal is on the other side.

Can Mesh WiFi Reach Outside?

While not designed for outdoor use, a mesh network can help you extend your WiFi coverage outside. By placing a mesh node close to a window, the signal can bleed through the walls and keep you connected in your front or backyard.

Can Mesh Network be Wired?

Your system does not have to be totally wireless, though. Some mesh systems allow for Ethernet backhaul, which is a fancy way of saying the backbone of your network is composed of wires.

To effectively hardwire your WiFi mesh system, make sure all nodes have at least one Ethernet LAN port. Without said port, a wired mesh network isn’t possible.

Via the WAN port, the mesh router would connect to the modem like normal. If your home has built-in hardwire infrastructure, you'd use the LAN port to connect your nodes to an ethernet wall socket. For homes that aren't pre-wired, mesh nodes would have to be connected to the LAN ports of a switch that is wired to the mesh router.

wired mesh vs wireless mesh

Wiring a mesh network results in better speeds and connection performance. The use of Ethernet cables helps route information faster and mitigates signal interference.

To learn more about the differences between ethernet and WiFi, visit The Differences Between Internet, Ethernet, WiFi, and Cellular.

What's the Difference Between Mesh WiFi and Traditional WiFi?

traditional wifi vs wifi mesh network

Traditional WiFi networks are centralized, meaning all devices connect to a single router. Distance from the router, with the addition of WiFi obstructions, impacts wireless internet coverage throughout. This results in weak signal areas and dead spots.

Mesh networks, on the other hand, are decentralized. They offer multiple points of connectivity throughout your home. Devices connect to the closest access point and data is funneled through multiple points. This setup allows for greater coverage and data throughput.

A traditional WiFi network is best for smaller spaces. To achieve whole-home coverage in large areas, mesh networks are the way to go.

How to Install a Mesh Network

WiFi calling is not turned on by default on any phone. Here’s how to enable WiFi calling on your iPhone or Android:

While there are a variety of different WiFi mesh units, most typically come with a user-friendly app that walks you through the installation process.

In a nutshell, setup entails:

  1. Downloading the app and creating an account.
  2. Connecting the mesh router to your modem.
  3. Creating a network name (SSID) and password.
  4. Wirelessly linking mesh nodes to the mesh router.
  5. Finding the best spot for the mesh nodes.

The placement of the nodes is very important. It’s recommended to place the nodes halfway between the mesh router and dead zones. Ideally, they should not be more than two rooms or 30 feet apart. If you’re unsure of where to place the nodes, the app or built-in LEDs will help you identify if the node is too far.

For optimal results, make sure to follow the app's instructions.

What are the Benefits of a Mesh Network?

Wider Coverage

With multiple points of connectivity, WiFi signals can reach more places.

Simple Setup and Ease of Use

Most mesh networks come with user-friendly apps that assist you in the installation process and allow you to monitor the system. You're able to test speed, create guest networks, monitor connections between points, remove users from network, add parental controls, and more.

Seamless Connection

Mesh WiFi is one large WiFi network. Even though it consists of multiple access points, the system only has one network name and one password. Wireless devices automatically connect to the closest node without having to manually change network connections. There are other networking units, range extenders for example, that create a second network. This forces you to switch between two networks depending on where you are in your home.

Flexible and Expandable

It's extremely easy to add extra nodes to expand coverage into those hard-to-reach areas for a reliable WiFi connection. If needed, you can also easily remove or rearrange the nodes.

Self-Healing Technology

If you need to add, remove, or rearrange nodes, the system automatically configures itself to find the best routes to send and receive information. In addition, if a node stops working, the system will self-heal and re-route all data through the most efficient path.

Increased Stability

Your network does not depend on a single point for reliable connectivity. If that single point crashes or gets overloaded, the whole network suffers. With a mesh network, there a multiple routes data can travel through, increasing stability. If one node fails, data continues to flow.

Simple Infrastructure

Being wireless, mesh networks do not require much infrastructure. All you need are power sockets and a cable to connect the mesh router to the modem.

Aesthetic Design

Many who have traditional routers or extenders hide them because they can be an eyesore. Mesh networks are designed to match your home decor. You won’t have to tuck them away in a closet, drawer, or behind furniture. To make mesh nodes more appealing, some models feature smart speakers powered by virtual assistant technology like Google Assistant and Alexa.

Secure

Mesh systems use WPA2 or WPA3 privacy encryptions; these are the most secure encryptions available. WPA3 is an improved version of WPA2. It helps make public WiFi networks safer and makes it harder for hackers to access your private network. If hackers were to access the network, they will only be able to see a limited amount of information.

What are the Drawbacks of a Mesh Network?

Cost

A good quality mesh kit can cost $200 or more. The kits do include 2-3 nodes, but those who need additional equipment will need to purchase extra nodes separately. Depending on the brand of the kit, additional nodes can range between $100-$200.

Complexity

Each node has a lot of responsibility. They have to transfer data and act like a router. Adding more nodes makes the system more complex. This can make it harder to manage and troubleshoot.

Latency and More Power Consumption

Given everything nodes do, they may need to draw more power to operate effectively and efficiently. In some cases, there may not be enough processing capability to handle certain tasks, causing latency.

How to Choose the Best WiFi Mesh System?

There are a lot of different mesh network manufacturers (Tenda, IP-Com, Netgear, Asus, TP-Link, Google, etc.), each with different pros and cons. To figure out which would be the best mesh WiFi system, here are a few things you should look out for:

Mesh Network Frequency Bands

Wireless technology communicates between devices through sound frequencies. Mesh networks are multi-band and commonly use frequency bands 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The difference between the two is speed, range, and bandwidth. The 2.4 GHz band can travel further with slower speeds. In contrast, the 5GHz band provides higher speeds but doesn't travel as far or penetrate obstacles as well.

Some units are tri-band. They use an extra 5 GHz or 6 GHz band. Having a third band increases capacity, throughput, and bandwidth. Some tri-band units allocate one band for exclusive communication between the mesh router and the nodes.

Recently, quad-band units have entered the market. They make use of the all-new 6 GHz band. These systems deliver faster speeds and offer great capacity. They are meant for the most data-demanding households.

Usually, older and cheaper networking systems create different networks for each frequency band. For example, “WiFi 2.4GHz” and “WiFi 5GHz”. You’d connect your devices to whichever network you see fit. Most mesh units, however, unify all frequency bands under a single network. This means all bands are sending and receiving information at the same time. Devices automatically connect to the band that will yield the best results.

Mesh WiFi Standard

Mesh systems are based on 802.11 WiFi protocols. The best mesh systems you will find are the ones that fall under the WiFi 5 (802.11ac), WiFi 6 (802.11ax), and WiFi 6E (expansion of 802.11ax) protocols, like the ones from Tenda and IP-Com.

WiFi 6 is still relatively new. It’s supposed to increase throughput speeds, have less network congestion, and provide better range performance. WiFi 6E does the same, but allows access to the new 6 GHz band. Both WiFi standards are backward compatible with WiFi 5. The newer the standard, the more expensive the unit.

To benefit from everything WiFi 6 or WiFi 6E have to offer, connected devices must be WiFi 6 or WiFi 6E compatible. This does not apply to the modem as all the magic happens in the router. Most flagship WiFi-enabled devices are WiFi 6 ready while few are WiFi 6E ready. If you have older generation devices and don’t plan to upgrade anytime soon, a WiFi 5 WiFi mesh system may be the way to go.

WiFi Mesh Coverage Capabilities

Every mesh system is rated to cover a certain amount of square feet. It could be 3,000 sq ft or 9,000 sq ft. You’ll want to select a system that offers the coverage you need for your building. If additional nodes are needed to achieve desired coverage, they can be purchased separately.

Mesh Network Features

Two popular core features that help take your WiFi experience to the next level are MU-MIMO and Beamforming. MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) allows access points to support multiple data streams from multiple devices. Users experience substantially better download speeds. Beamforming focuses the wireless signal in the direction of the connected device rather than transmitting it in every direction. This helps improve reliability, range, speed, and reduces interference.

What is the Best WiFi Mesh Network for My Needs?

The best Mesh network for you will depend on your usage and coverage needs. Here are our most popular mesh systems:

Tenda EX12 Wi-Fi 6 AX3000 Whole Home Mesh System

  • 1 Mesh Router and 2 Mesh Nodes
  • Dual-band WiFi 6
  • Speeds up to 3000 Mbps
  • Covers up to 7,000 sq ft
  • Seamless Roaming
  • MU-MIMO and Ultra-Penetrating Beamforming
  • Easy installation
  • App Management

With the Tenda EX12 Mesh WiFi 6 System you can enjoy a stable internet signal all over your home or office. It comes with one mesh router and two mesh nodes. Together, they offer up to 7,000 sq ft of dependable WiFi 6 coverage throughout. Dual-band, it unifies the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands to transfer information. Super easy to set up, you’ll have whole-home coverage in minutes.

IP-COM EW12 AC2600 Tri-Band Mesh WiFi System

  • 1 Mesh Router and 2 Mesh Nodes, Supports up to 18 Nodes
  • Tri-Band WiFi 5
  • Speeds up to 2600 Mbps
  • Covers up to 5,000 sq ft
  • MU-MIMO and Beamforming
  • Seamless Roaming
  • Designed for Small to Medium Businesses
  • App Management

The IP-COM EW12 wirelessly blankets offices, hotels, restaurants, and other small to medium businesses with fast, reliable WiFi 5. It includes one mesh router and two mesh nodes. Though, it supports up to 18 nodes. Tri-band, it uses one 2.4 GHz band and two 5 GHz bands. When compared to dual-band units, network performance was 3X better. With MU-MIMO and beamforming, multiuser efficiency improves. It's ideal for high-density environments.

If you just want to get rid of dead spots but don’t need insane capacity, dual-band systems are great. For more data-demanding applications, opt for tri-band or quad-band mesh networks. If you’re a gamer or someone in your family is a gamer, there are specific mesh systems available for gamers. They are designed to provide optimal speeds and prevent gaming latency.

Regardless of which brand you go with, always check the specs. Look at the square footage they support, the 802.11 standard they use, and the frequency bands.

How Many Mesh Nodes are Needed for Whole-Home Coverage?

Most mesh kits include 2-3 nodes. One connects to the modem and the others are placed around your home. For average size homes, that is enough. You have the option of adding more nodes as needed. Some mesh systems support up to 32 nodes.

Before you go and spend all your hard-earned money on 32 nodes, figure out how much coverage you need. To do that, figure out the square footage of your home and factor in the distance between floors for multi-story homes. The range of each mesh system varies between models. Make sure to check the specs on the systems that interest you. Some nodes provide more square feet of coverage than others.

Can You Have Too Many Mesh Nodes?

While having multiple mesh nodes widens WiFi coverage, there is such a thing as too many nodes. Adequate distance between nodes is very important. In most cases, deploying too many nodes will result in them being too close to each other. This will result in increased interference and decreased performance.

Why Not Use a WiFi Range Extender?

mesh network vs range extender

Image Source: Linksys

WiFi range extenders do extend your WiFi coverage. They wirelessly connect to your router and broadcast their own WiFi signal, creating a second network. This can cause connection issues and diminish network performance. That is not the case with a mesh network.

All mesh units are configured to a single network. Each node is optimized to cover as much area as possible while delivering the best speeds possible. Devices seamlessly connect to the closest node as you roam around your home.

To learn more, visit WiFi Extender vs. Mesh Network.

WiFi extenders tend to perform better in small areas, while mesh networks are best for mid to large areas.

Tenda Range Extender

  • Speeds of up to 1775Mbps
  • Gigabit port for multiple connection options
  • Best for homes and offices
  • Superfast WiFi 6
  • Automatic dual-band broadcasting
  • Comes with 2 high gain dual-band antennas.
  • Simple plug and play installation
  • WPS button for easy connection

The Tenda A27 range extender offers great signal extension throughout your home or office. Simply plug it into the wall and press a button to connect the range extender to your router. With the A27, you can make sure everyone in your small home or office is always connected to a fast, reliable internet signal.

Do I Need a Mesh Network?

Mesh networks are a great solution for getting rid of poor internet connections in those hard-to-reach areas, like the basement, garage, etc. However, they are not the best solution for every situation.

If you have a large home 3,000 sq ft or bigger, a home with building material obstructions (metal walls and brick walls), or a multi-story home, you will benefit from a wireless mesh network. Using multiple nodes will help expand the coverage into every room for whole-home WiFi coverage and reduce interference caused by obstacles.

On the other hand, if you live in an apartment or a small home, and only experience dead zones or poor speeds occasionally, a mesh network may be overkill. A range extender will work just as well and will be a more cost-effective solution that can help patch up those problem areas.

Contact Us

Signal Boosters is a leading provider of cell phone signal boosters for homes, vehicles, and commercial buildings. We specialize in consumer-friendly kits as well as customized RF systems for cellular, public safety two-way radio, DAS, and WiFi.

We’re here to assist with any issues you might be experiencing with poor cell service. Contact us today, or call us at 1-800-470-6777.

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