Recently, we have seen a new type of product coming to the consumer market and that is wireless mesh systems. What is this type of product and what does it do differently than a normal router and a traditional network? Well, there are some things that are different and depending on how you use your network, a wireless mesh system may not be a bad idea to invest in.
A wireless mesh system is essentially several small nodes that are working together to create a wireless network around its surroundings. The nodes themselves require no other cable than power, everything else is wireless, even the network. The nodes are working together and sharing information with each other to create a stable wireless network. There is no need for ethernet cables and on top of all this, it’s easier to set up and smart enough to reconfigure itself when needed.
So, there you have the short version of what a wireless mesh system is. If you are looking for a more detailed description of how it works, keep reading, because that is exactly what I have been working on the past couple of hours! Let’s start talking mesh.
What is a Wireless Mesh System?
But what is a wireless mesh system? Well, surprise, surprise, it’s a wireless system that you can have in your home or your business. A wireless mesh system consists of several nodes, which are small electronic devices that you can place anywhere in your home, as long as there is a power outlet in close range. These nodes will then start talking to each other and share information and network between each other, giving you a wireless network.
This can be compared to a traditional network, where you have a router that will send out a wireless network. If you would like to extend a WiFi in a network like that, you would have to get an access point, which would need a wired connection to the router. This can be tough as ethernet ports aren’t as common as power outlets in homes (at least that’s true for us in Sweden). This is not a problem with wireless mesh systems as everything is transferred wirelessly between the nodes.
Because no cables are needed, a wireless mesh system is great for larger areas where a wired network is missing. If you have more than one floor in your house, a wireless mesh system is an easy way to make sure you have a wireless network in the basement or the top floor, without spending time wiring network cables to these floors.
How Do Wireless Mesh Systems Work?
As mentioned, the first node in a wireless mesh system needs to be connected with an ethernet cable. The cable is the uplink to the internet and should go from your ISP’s modem or from the wall into the node. This first node will then wirelessly transfer information out the other nodes in your household, which will continue to share the information with the nodes that the first node can’t reach. This is the reason why a wireless mesh system can be so large.
The nodes themselves communicate over the same network that you connect your devices to as well. However, a network consists of several frequencies and channels and smarter wireless mesh systems choose another frequency to talk to each other with than the one that you are using for your internet connection. This is making sure that the internal communication between the nodes does not interfere with your connection to Netflix or YouTube.
Nodes can also be very clever in how they are working. They are always trying to take the shortest route from point A to point B. So, if you are connected to the fourth node and need to go to the first node for internet access, it would do it in the shortest way. However, sometimes electronic breaks or signals is blocked so if the shortest route would be broken, let’s say node 2 is down, the network can still work around this issue by going around node 2 using other nodes that are up.
This is great because that means that you can lose one node and still have internet access, as long as at least one other node can reach it.
Advantages of Mesh WiFi Systems
If you have been reading the above, this might be a bit redundant, but I wanted to list the advantages of a wireless mesh system so it’s easier to compare with the disadvantages later on.
Wireless mesh systems are easier and faster to install. Mesh-systems are installed and configured via an app on your phone, which means that when you purchase a kit, you can simply connect power to them, connect to them via the app to get a password and then let the system do the rest. The system will configure itself for optimal performance.
Wireless mesh networks can be very large. A starter kit usually consists of three nodes but if you would need more, you can simply purchase more nodes and place them in your home or business area. With the app, you add nodes and the system will then reconfigure itself for this new change for best performance.
Wireless mesh systems are very easy to use. They are made with the average consumer in mind, which does not care about networks (how is that possible?!?). When purchasing a mesh system, you don’t have to do much else than connect the app and set a password. Gone are the days where you need to go to an IP address on your computer to configure both this and that. Another great feature of using an app is that it is much easier to deactivate if that would be needed since you can do it directly from your phone.
Wireless mesh systems can configure itself. As mentioned, mesh systems can configure themselves during install or if you purchase more nodes. But systems that are a bit more expensive are also able to detect which channels that are busy, and which channels that should be used for your network, so you don’t have to bother with it.
Wireless mesh systems are very smart. Since they are constantly talking to each other, nodes will quickly know when another node is down. As long as the nodes are close enough to reach each other even without that node, they will still be able to keep a functioning network. This is of course not true if the main node would go down since that is the gate out to the internet.
Disadvantages of a Mesh WiFi System
As with anything, wireless mesh systems have some drawbacks as well.
Wireless mesh systems cost more than traditional solutions. Currently, starter-kits for mesh systems are more expensive than a traditional network with a router and maybe an access point. If you are then looking to expand the network with more nodes, the price tag keeps climbing. Wireless mesh systems are still a very new thing on the consumer market and I would assume that the price would go down a bit during the coming years. However, if you would like to get a system like this today, you will have to pay some more.
Wireless mesh systems are missing advanced features. The main problem for me with mesh systems is the lack of features. A router is much more configurable and offers more advanced settings than a mesh system does. Since mesh systems are made for the general consumers, there are often no things such as DNS settings or DHCP scopes, as people don’t know what that is. There are some systems with these types of settings as well but then we come back to the drawback of pricing.
Wireless mesh networks are slower than traditional networks. Now, this is not something that most people would notice but if you would compare speeds on a wireless mesh network with the speed of a traditional network, the speed would be higher on the traditional network. This is because a cable is always faster and more stable than wireless and if you would go fully wireless, you would also lose some speed. Of course, you might have a potato as router today, which in case, your network would probably be faster with a new system. Also, the speed change is not something that you would notice, and it would definitely not disturb you when steaming House of Cards in 4K.
Should You Get a Wireless Mesh System?
So, the final question: Should you get a wireless mesh system? Well, that is very much dependent on what you need a network to do. If you are like me and have several Raspberry Pi’s, a NAS or two or other network devices that you need a stable and good connection to in your home, then no, I would not suggest a wireless mesh system for you. If you have this kind of network, you need other things than just a working, wireless network.
However, if you are like my mom and many of my friends and are not at all interested in networking (amazing that you are here) or if you don’t have any network devices in your home, then I would very much suggest a wireless mesh system for you. If your goal with a network is to be able to reach the internet, watch Netflix, watch YouTube, login to your bank and pay some bills and just be done after that, a wireless mesh system is a perfect solution. Set it up once and then forget it, a great solution for the average consumer, with the exception of the higher price.