Mesh Wi-Fi is a Wi-Fi booster technology that uses access points spread throughout your home to expand coverage, or strengthen weak spots.
The principle is similar to a mobile phone network. As you travel, your mobile phone connects to the tower with the strongest signal. As you move through coverage zones, you’re automatically handed off to the next strongest signal. The idea is to ensure you always have the strongest connection and fastest speed.
Mesh Wi-Fi networks work in the same way, but they help improve Wi-Fi performance in your home.
Mesh Wi-Fi: the key points
If you're finding that your Wi-Fi broadband has a weak signal, or very slow speeds in some parts of your home, then a whole home mesh Wi-Fi system could be the solution. You might have already tried Wi-Fi boosters and been disappointed with the results, but mesh Wi-Fi has some fundamental differences that make it far more effective.
In this guide, we'll explain what mesh Wi-Fi is and how you can use it with your home broadband.
What is mesh Wi-Fi, and how does it work?
Mesh Wi-Fi is a wireless network made up of a primary Wi-Fi router connected to the broadband, plus one or more mesh access points (often called nodes) that can be installed elsewhere in your home. Each satellite provides wireless coverage within its area and links to other nodes within the network.
Crucially, nodes talk to the main router with a reserved portion of bandwidth, known as a backhaul. This means that when connected to a node, you can get broadband speeds that will be close to what you'd enjoy if you were directly connected to the broadband router.
As you move around your home, your Wi-Fi devices will automatically latch on to the strongest signal in the mesh. It’s a very effective way to provide coverage over a wide area or overcome low signal areas within large properties.
Mesh Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi boosters: what’s the difference?
Wi-Fi boosters are often used in our homes to plug gaps in a Wi-Fi network. They're cheap and easy to use. There are key differences between mesh Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi boosters that mean mesh Wi-Fi is a lot more effective at providing wireless broadband to a whole home.
Mesh Wi-Fi nodes all talk to each other and communicate with the router. You can daisy-chain nodes to reach further, with each node sending signals back along the chain to the router using the backhaul.
The mesh nodes all use the same Wi-Fi network name, which enables you to move around your home without having to change networks or reconnect. And because the backhaul is dedicated to talking to the main router, you're not losing a lot of performance compared to a direct connection. And it's extremely easy to expand the network further by adding more nodes.
Boosters (which are also known as repeaters or extenders) don't offer the same seamless Wi-Fi experience. They broadcast a separate Wi-Fi network, so your devices may need to be manually connected to the nearest signal as you move around the home. They can be a little more involved to set up, too, requiring you to configure them via an app or web interface.
Wi-Fi boosters are usually much slower, too. They are simpler devices which only re-broadcast the signal, vastly impacting your internet and network speed.
How good is mesh Wi-Fi?
Mesh Wi-Fi is the best way to enjoy wireless connectivity over wider areas.
It’s fast, quick to install, and provides reliable coverage in larger or older homes where traditional Wi-Fi cannot reach.
There are situations where a booster can make sense. If you only need to get internet to a single location (such as a home office), and you aren't concerned about getting the maximum broadband or network speed, then a booster is a cheap way to achieve this.
But mesh Wi-Fi is definitely the way to go if you want to ensure Wi-Fi coverage in every corner of your home. This is especially helpful if your broadband connection is shared with family or housemates, who may want to stream or game at the same time.
Can mesh Wi-Fi fix slow broadband?
Mesh Wi-Fi is very good, but if your broadband is slow, mesh Wi-Fi will also be slow.
It's designed to provide wireless coverage within your home but relies on your broadband to provide connectivity.
If you're struggling with slow internet, you might want to read our troubleshooting broadband guide for some hints and tips on improving performance. Get help on where's the best place to put a Wi-Fi router. Or, it might be time to switch broadband providers and get a faster deal!
Will I still need the Wi-Fi router from my ISP?
There are slightly different ways of setting up a mesh network, though, in most instances, you'll still need the router supplied by your ISP.
Many mesh kits are intended to replace your existing broadband Wi-Fi router; one node becomes the main router connected to the broadband, and then the satellites can be distributed around your home.
But to use mesh like this, you'll need a standalone broadband modem. That's not very common, so you'll instead need to set your ISP-supplied router to 'modem mode' so it becomes a modem.
Setting up mesh Wi-Fi in this way is the simplest and best way to use it, but it's worth checking in advance if your ISP router has a modem mode option, as not all of them do. For example, Virgin Media hubs have a modem mode, but BT Broadband hubs do not.
If it isn't possible, you can set up the mesh network alongside the ISP router by disabling Wi-Fi on the router (so it doesn't clash with the mesh) and plugging a mesh node into a network port on the router. After that, follow the setup instructions as normal. But this will result in something called double NAT, which could be a problem for some online activities (such as online gaming).
It might also be possible to set the mesh kit to 'bridge mode', so it will provide extended Wi-Fi, but other networking features will be disabled. You may also lose access to some advanced features offered by the mesh kit. Again, you'll need to switch off Wi-Fi on the ISP router to avoid interference.
But as well as the mesh kits which replace routers, some manufacturers support the use of existing Wi-Fi routers as part of a mesh system. For example, Asus has a feature called AiMesh that allows you to use compatible Asus routers as mesh nodes and extend the network with the addition of a mesh kit such as the Asus ZenWifi XD6 or ZenWifi XT8.
If you already own a router that offers this feature, you don't need to make any major changes and can very quickly create a mesh network by purchasing a compatible kit, plugging it in, and following a few setup steps on your Wi-Fi router.
Mesh Wi-Fi vs boosters vs powerline adapters vs ethernet: what’s the best way to extend your home network?
There are a number of ways to connect your whole home to broadband. But which is the right choice for you?
Mesh Wi-Fi is the technology we are discussing here. It’s made up of a core wireless router with satellite nodes creating a single, seamless network.
Each node connects to each other and can pass traffic to the router, providing wide coverage over a single network.
|Pros of mesh Wi-Fi||Cons of mesh Wi-Fi|
A Wi-Fi booster plugs into a socket and re-broadcasts your Wi-Fi router signal to areas with weak or non-existent coverage.
They are useful for expanding coverage in a single direction or covering one area of a house where there's poor coverage.
|Pros of Wi-Fi boosters||Cons of Wi-Fi boosters|
Powerline adapters are a different way to expand a network. They are essentially a plug with an Ethernet connection that passes network signals over your home’s wiring.
The router connects via Ethernet (network) cable to one adapter, and you can then place other adapters anywhere in the home on the same electrical circuit.
|Pros of powerline adapters||Cons of powerline adapters|
Ethernet is the ‘traditional’ way to build a network using cables. The Ethernet cable has been around forever but is still the fastest, most reliable way to connect to the internet.
With Ethernet, you can add a fast and robust network connection in every room, which you can then use however you like, either by connecting devices directly to the Ethernet network or adding Wi-Fi access points.
|Pros of Ethernet||Cons of Ethernet|
What are the best mesh Wi-Fi kits?
Buying your first mesh kit can be a bit of a minefield. We know there's a vast range of mesh Wi-Fi hardware to choose from. Below is a selection of some of the best mesh Wi-Fi devices to help you get started.
It's not the fastest mesh system around and doesn't come brimming with extras, but Google WiFi is easy to use and is relatively good value for money.
Fast and packed with extra features, including free antivirus and parental controls. It can be integrated with other Asus Wi-Fi routers and mesh kits that support the AiMesh feature, making it convenient if you already own a compatible Asus router.
This kit isn't quite as fast as the XT8, but it offers most of the same features (including free antivirus and AiMesh compatibility) at a slightly lower price point.
The Orbi kit from Netgear does not come cheap, but in return, you get a system that's capable of providing extremely fast Wi-Fi to areas of more than 5,000 sq ft.
The Deco M5 is one of the best value mesh Wi-Fi kits out there. A starter pack with three nodes will provide whole home Wi-Fi for most people, and it's often available at under £200.
Which broadband deals include mesh Wi-Fi?
Broadband providers are starting to offer mesh Wi-Fi kits with broadband deals, and this is definitely worth looking out for if you're interested in whole home Wi-Fi. It's guaranteed to work with your broadband, and you can call on technical support if you run into issues.
Home broadband and mesh Wi-Fi deals also often include Wi-Fi guarantees that promise minimum speeds in every room of your home.
When considering a mesh Wi-Fi bundle, take the time to compare the cost of the broadband provider's offer versus the DIY route. Some providers may only give you a single mesh router and charge extra for more nodes. This can be a monthly fee that's added on to your broadband bill.
Depending on how many nodes you need, purchasing your own kit may prove to be better value (but you'll need to set it all up and maintain it, as the provider's tech support will not cover third-party hardware).
Here are some of the broadband deals which include mesh Wi-Fi that you'll find on Broadband Genie.
Community Fibre is a full fibre provider with speeds of up to 1Gb. All Community Fibre deals include a Linksys Velop mesh Wi-Fi router. However, you only get one by default — additional Velop nodes can be added for £5 per month. Although the 'Wi-Fi In Every Room' service may prove to be better value. This guarantees Wi-Fi throughout your home for an extra £10 per month, with engineers carrying out the setup and giving you as many mesh nodes as required.
Gigaclear is another full fibre network that also provides Linksys Velop mesh Wi-Fi routers with all packages. It has a feature called Smart WiFi that you can add on to your package, which guarantees minimum Wi-Fi speeds. How many mesh nodes you'll receive will depend on the size of your home and the number of rooms, up to a maximum coverage area of 360m2 and five bedrooms.
Ultrafast full fibre provider Hyperoptic offers an added extra for new and existing customers called Total Wi-Fi that provides a 'Minihub' mesh node that works alongside the Hyperoptic router.
TalkTalk offers the Amazon Eero mesh router with its full fibre packages. Most only include one Eero node, though you do get a free extra node with the Fibre 900 service. You can sign up for TalkTalk Total Home Wi-Fi and get another Eero for £6 per month, or head over to Amazon and purchase as many extra nodes as you need.
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