Mesh Networking: Cover your home with Wi-Fi in every corner


1) What is a mesh network?

Mesh networking simply refers to a wireless distributed system. In other words, all mesh nodes can cooperate and contribute to the distribution of data in a network. This is particularly useful in solving the problems of dead spots in homes. It gives homes the ability to have multiple access points (nodes), and these access points can cooperate to expand Wi-Fi coverage.

This video from Trilliant, a networking and communications provider in the US, sums up the idea of mesh networks in about a minute:-


2) Why would I need a mesh networking system?

You might consider one if you experience Wi-Fi dead zones at home. The single best thing about mesh networks is that it broadcasts a single SSID and promises seamless switching between the nodes. Simply put, you shouldn’t experience any drops in connection as you move around your home.


3) How is it better than range extenders or powerline adapters?

Range extenders can be an inexpensive way to improve Wi-Fi coverage, but their effectiveness depends on a lot of factors.

It's faster and more flexible because it uses Wi-Fi technology. But beyond that, let's look at the problem of range extenders and powerline adapters.

  • Range extenders - Range extenders are really only signal boosters. They work by amplifying an existing Wi-Fi signal. And if your Wi-Fi signal is already weak to begin with, what good is amplifying that signal? 

    To make matters worse, because of the way that range extenders work and the fact that these devices can only transmit and receive data one at a time and not simultaneously, bandwidth is typically cut by at least half. 
  • Powerline adapters - Highly dependent on the integrity of your home's electrical grid. Can also pose security concerns as your grid might be shared with your neighbors. Setup and deployment can be cumbersome because positioning is restricted by the location of your power sockets.


4) What is a true mesh networking system?

In a true mesh network, all nodes can communicate independently with each other.

A true mesh networking system is one where all the nodes in the mesh network can communicate to each other and that there isn’t a central main router that handles all communications between nodes.

Examples of true mesh networking systems are the ASUS Lyra, Google WifiLinksys Velop, and the TP-Link Deco M5.


What is the benefit of this?

Greater flexibility in deployment, which is useful if you need to expand Wi-Fi coverage over a larger area by adding more networking nodes. True mesh networking systems can also be daisy-chained, which is handy for homes with multiple stories or odd layouts (think L-shaped homes).


5) What about other mesh networking systems?

A limitation of star/wheel topology mesh networks is that it can only expand Wi-Fi coverage by a single step in any direction.

A good number of mesh networking systems use what is sometimes known as a star or wheel topology. In such a system, there is a central or main router that handles communications between the various nodes. The nodes cannot communicate with each other independently, they must do so through the central router.


What is so bad about this?

There is nothing really wrong about this, but such systems are restricted in their deployment. Because the nodes must be within the range of the central router, there is a limit to how much you can expand your Wi-Fi coverage. 


6) What is this backhaul communication thing that I keep hearing about?

Tri-band mesh networking systems typically dedicate one of their 5GHz networks for backhaul communications. (Image source: ASUS)

Backhaul communication refers to the data that needs to be transferred within the mesh network to be sent to the user. Since users are typically connected to the nearest node, if you are nearer to node B and node A is the one that is actually to your ONT, then node A needs to transfer data to node B before it can reach you. This transmission of data from node A to B is an example of backhaul communication. This feature is typically only available on tri-band systems, where one of the 5GHz networks can be set aside for this purpose.


7) What should I look for out when purchasing a mesh networking system?

Arguably, the most crucial aspect is the environment that you intend to use it in. For larger homes, especially those with multiple stories, a true mesh networking system, where the nodes can communicate independently with each other, is the most ideal as it gives you maximum flexibility in deployment.


8) What about speed?

Even cutting-edge devices like Samsung's new Galaxy Note8 cannot fully take advantage of the high speeds of the current crop of high-end routers.

Speed is important, but it is not determined the way you might think it is. Consider the number of networks it supports rather than outright total speed or bandwidth. In other words, a mesh networking system that has a dedicated network for backhaul communications is the most ideal as it means that users need not compete with the mesh network itself for bandwidth.

Don’t be misled by marketing. 1,733Mbps over the 5GHz network is all well and good, but do you have devices that can take advantage of that speed? Remember, most mobile devices today only support up to 867Mbps, and only a handful of notebooks support speeds of up to 1,300Mbps. So don’t disregard mesh networking systems that only offer 867Mbps over their 5GHz networks. It is sufficient for most users.