What Is Mesh Wi-Fi & Do You Need It In 2022?

Mesh Wi-Fi is a technology that expands your Wi-Fi coverage area and allows you to connect to multiple wireless access points (WAPs) seamlessly. All access points work together as a single device. This allows your Wi-Fi signal to cover bigger and hard-to-reach areas without interruptions.

If your home is larger than 3,000 square feet or you have multiple Wi-Fi dead spots, you might benefit from mesh Wi-Fi. Otherwise, a traditional router will likely be enough.
What Is Mesh Wi-Fi and Do You Need It

I’m Jon, a home networking pro and I put together this guide to help you understand Mesh Wi-Fi, it’s pros and cons, and when you should get it for your home. 

So, keep reading to learn all about mesh Wi-Fi. 

What is Mesh Wi-Fi?

Mesh Wi-Fi is a Wi-Fi system with multiple nodes (wireless access points) that connect together to make a single Wi-Fi network with greater range. The main nodes connect to your modem, and the other nodes connect together. [1]

A mesh Wi-Fi system is beneficial for homes above 3,000 square feet and/or households with many smart home devices (~25+ devices). 

How Does Mesh Wi-Fi Work?

Mesh Wi-Fi works by daisy-chaining several nodes together to produce a large blanket of Wi-Fi in a home. 

The nodes communicate back and forth to automatically optimize the Wi-Fi channel and connect your wireless device to the nearest access point. 

This is similar to how Wi-Fi extenders work but with increased optimization and practicality. More on that later. 

When to Get Mesh Wi-Fi System

After comparing several alternatives, we recommend a mesh system for homes over 3000 sq. ft. (~450 sq. meters). Mesh offers the most streamlined Wi-Fi experience available to homeowners today. 

Of course, if your home is experiencing multiple Wi-Fi dead zones, then a mesh Wi-Fi system would be a great choice regardless of your square footage. 

TypeTraditional RouterWi-Fi ExtenderMesh System
When to get each one (approximately)0-4500 sq. ft3000-6000 sq. ft3000+ sq. ft

However, if you only have a single Wi-Fi dead spot, I recommend getting a Wi-Fi booster. They are far less expensive and are great at bringing Wi-Fi to a single location your router can’t reach. 

We recently tested the top Wi-Fi boosters and put together this guide to help you choose the best one for your home. 

Mesh Wi-Fi Versus Wi-Fi Extenders

As you move further away from your wireless access point, signal gets weaker, speed gets slower, and interference increases. In this case, a Wi-Fi extender may help. 

But, what if you have many spots in your home with poor Wi-Fi coverage?

Mesh Has More WAPs

Mesh Wi-Fi allows you to overcome poor Wi-Fi coverage by strategically positioning WAPs around your home. Allowing you to have a good connection no matter what room you are in.

You might be thinking, isn’t this the same as placing a couple of Wi-Fi range extenders around?

That’s a great question. And the answer is, not really. 

The idea is the same, leveraging multiple devices so our Wi-Fi signal can reach more places. But the execution is different.

Mesh Always has a Single Network

Range extenders mirror your Wi-Fi signal but are each separate devices altogether. So even though the Internet link is coming from the same router, you will need to connect to each extender manually.

This can become a hassle fast. Imagine going from your bedroom to your living room and having to manually switch Wi-Fi connections. Then switching back again once you go back to your room. Yuck!

You probably thought the same thing I did when I set up my first Wi-Fi extender. “What if I name the extender the same as the router, including its password?”

This can create the illusion of a seamless connection but is far from it. Behind the scenes, your device will still manually jump from one signal to the other. While the SSID’s might be the same, your device will consider them as different.

Although, certian models of Wi-Fi extenders and routers of the same brand can work together to create a single network. 

When both signals are in range, your device needs to decide which one is better. Not only can it stay connected to the weaker signal sometimes. But the connection will also drop for a couple of seconds when switching between them. 

And it doesn’t stop there. Each time an extender re-broadcasts your signal, it gets weaker. As you can expect, this means performance suffers.

Mesh Wi-Fi is a modular system with multiple nodes that makes a single network. There is a main “node” connected to your modem. And several antenna nodes that extend its range. [2]

While you end up with the same amount of devices, the experience is completely different.

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Credit: Linksys.com

Mesh Systems – The Benefits

Mesh Wi-Fi systems have several benefits, with bringing strong Wi-Fi to every corner of your home as the most significant one. Here are the other main advantages. 

Easy Setup

Behind the scenes, mesh technology is not simple. But one of its greatest benefits is how easy they are to set up for end-users.

The most common mesh Wi-Fi hardware for homes, like the Amazon eero and Google Nest, are easy to configure.

Your main mesh router connects to a power outlet and to your modem via ethernet cable. You will need to connect all other antennas (access points) to power with a single cable– that’s it!

Most offer mobile app companions that will help you set up everything. From SSID, passwords, and settings, to custom security parameters, in just a few steps. 

You could be up and running in as little as 10 minutes from the moment you open the box.

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Credit: Amazon eero

Easy Management

Not only is home mesh Wi-Fi setup a breeze, but management is also super simple. The same apps used for the initial configuration will allow you to monitor every aspect of your network.

From speed tests, usage reports, and parental controls to limiting access, changing passwords, and creating guest networks. Any changes you need to make are at the palm of your hand. 

Separate devices like range extenders will rarely integrate with your main router. Meaning you will need to manage and make changes to them separately.

Seamless Experience

As discussed earlier, Wi-Fi range extenders can help you get a signal where there wasn’t one before. But the experience is far from ideal.

With mesh Wi-Fi, you can have 3, 4, or even more access points in your home, creating a single network. This means you will never have to switch to a different Wi-Fi network as you move around your home. 

Heads up, though. These home-intended mesh devices can suffer performance degradation if you have too many of them. Either because of interference or congestion.

We recommend a maximum of 5 nodes in a single home for the best performance.

More Devices

Since mesh Wi-Fi networks have multiple access points, they can handle more wireless devices. This is helpful if your home has lots of smart home devices or a large family with many computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, etc. 

Added Ethernet Connections

Most access points for mesh Wi-Fi systems include 1-2 Ethernet connections. This allows you to connect local devices “directly” to the network, which provides a more stable and faster connection.  

Mesh Systems – The Drawbacks

Mesh Wi-Fi routers are mostly good, but they’re not for every household. Here are a few downsides of mesh Wi-Fi systems. 

Cost

Mesh Wi-Fi systems are expensive. While you can find some decent range extenders for as low as $20, a good mesh setup will run you at least $150 for 2 nodes. And if you are looking for Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, you’ll be lucky to find anything good under $200.

Overkill

Some home mesh systems can cover over 5000 sq. ft. (~450 sq. meters). Unless you have a really big house, it might be way more than what you need.

Most people in one or two-bedroom homes could solve their issues by placing their current router in a better place.

Mesh Systems – The Limitations

Here are some Mesh limitations. 

Speed

If you want the fastest speed possible, a traditional router is the way to go. With mesh Wi-Fi systems, you lose some speed because each wireless access point has to communicate back and forth with the main node. 

However, tri-band Mesh routers (either as a visible third band or as a hidden backhaul third band) will be nearly as fast as a traditional router. It’s the same if you connect the nodes using Ethernet connections. 

This is because the third band allows the nodes to send more bandwidth between each other compared to what a single 5 GHz band could. 

With an Ethernet connection, no speed is lost, and the nodes will be as fast as the main router. 

That is unless the main router reaches speeds above 1 Gigabit. Because that is the max bandwidth standard Ethernet ports can handle. But in 99% of the cases, this won’t be a problem.   

Latency

You will also have worse latency because of this communication time, which could impact online gaming and online meetings through Zoom, Skype, Teams, and Google Meet. [3]

Unless you connect all of your nodes via ethernet cables, the reality is that they depend on their wireless signal and are not a single device. If communication between nodes takes too long, you can see a degraded performance.

Interference

Mesh Wi-Fi devices are incredibly smart. Most modern setups automatically choose the fastest channel for your information to travel. But if you live somewhere with significant wireless congestion, you could still suffer slow speeds.

FAQs

Here are some of the most common questions we get about mesh Wi-Fi systems. 

How many nodes can you have in a mesh Wi-Fi system?

Most mesh Wi-Fi manufacturers recommend using no more than five nodes in a household. If you use over five, your network could have lots of interference. This can bring your Wi-Fi speed down to a screeching halt. 

What is the best mesh Wi-Fi system? 

The best mesh Wi-Fi system for your home, depends on its size, the number of wireless devices, your budget, and the performance you want. 

We tested many Wi-Fi systems and found the ASUS ZenWiFi AX AX6600 to be a top option.

But a different model may fit your needs better– read our review of the top 5 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Systems to find the best one for you. 

Can I use mesh Wi-Fi in my 2,000 square foot home? 

Yes, you can use a mesh Wi-Fi system in your 2,000 square foot home. However, you can likely find a router that can easily cover 2,000 square feet. But, if you want a mesh Wi-Fi system for other reasons– like you have multiple dead spots or lots of smart home devices– mesh is a good option. 

Learn more about traditional versus mesh routers here

Bottom Line

Mesh Wi-Fi systems are a great solution for dead spots or large spaces that your router might have trouble reaching. But they are not bullet-proof.

They will save you time and offer a streamlined wireless experience for your home. But they still suffer the same limitations that regular wireless routers do, like interference and congestion. So make sure you place your nodes strategically.

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