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If you have more than a passing interest in technology, especially options in the home, then you may have come across mentions of mesh networking. That?s all well and good, but I?d dare venture that the first thought of some of our readers is ?what is a mesh network??. On the one hand, they are pretty technically advanced. On the other, you don?t need to know how an internal combustion engine works to drive a car. In this feature, I?ll go through the basics to give you enough working knowledge to hold a conversation.
An Overview of Mesh Networks in the Home
According to some sources, mesh networks could be the next big breakthrough in bringing the entire world together in some kind of connected paradise. As of today, free wi-fi in coffee shops, restaurants and other public places remains valuable to many people, but it relies on an access point and rarely extends further than the venue in question. The same often applies to your home wi-fi network.
Everyone connects to the router and has to be in range. A mesh network does things differently.
Rather than relying solely on a single access point, a mesh network incorporates multiple interconnected nodes. It is far more intelligent than a conventional wi-fi network and will dynamically adjust its configuration for the best possible network throughput.
Naturally, if you introduce a mesh network into your home, you?ll need to give one node access to the internet ? usually by connecting it to your router with an ethernet cable or replacing your current router altogether. That node will then broadcast to others, and they will repeat the signal to others throughout your home.
It all sounds similar to a wi-fi extender, but there are real-world differences that can make a mesh network the superior choice.
The Difference Between Wi-Fi Extenders and Mesh Networks
I?m a fan of wi-fi range extenders. They came in particularly handy in my old house, where I couldn?t get what I needed in the garden. At the time, I didn?t even know what a mesh network was. Now I do and I feel that anyone seeking a fast, reliable connection beyond the capabilities of their router alone will like what they see.
Wi-Fi Extenders Only Repeat a Signal
An extender receives the signal from your router like anything else on the network. It then broadcasts that signal as far as it can. In some cases, that can get the job done, but it doesn?t take long for inconveniences to rear their head.
Something that I really didn?t like about my old extender was that the repeated signal was on its own wi-fi network, separate to the main one. Most wi-fi-enabled devices can automatically join a network quickly enough, but it isn?t that simple in relatively small spaces like the home.
For me, the issue revolved around never entirely dropping the old network connection. I?d reach a point ? upon entering the garden ? where the wi-fi signal would be weak enough to make the internet connection all but useless. However, my phone and laptop would cling on for dear life to the current network. Only when I manually switched over would I reap the benefits of the extender. It?s a minor inconvenience, but one I?d ideally like to avoid.
A Wi-Fi Extender Can Cut Your Speed in Half
Range extenders are annoyingly incapable of sending and receiving at the same time. Extenders are half-duplex, meaning only half of the available bandwidth gets allocated to the task at hand at any given time. That?s fine if you?ve got hundreds of megabits to work with every second. It?s not so great if your connection is relatively slow at the best of times.
A Mesh Network Replaces Your Home Wi-Fi Entirely
Nodes take the place of any extenders you may have on your network, or any you feel you need. As noted, you?ll connect one node to your existing router, or take it out of the equation with the node taking over. Unless you?re contractually or technologically bound to a particular router, often due to the demands of your service provider, I?d go with wholesale replacement every time.
Anywhere that you?d ordinarily place an extender, you put another node instead. This leads to numerous advantages over an extender, including:
- No change in network ID. Mesh networks eliminate my garden issue above entirely, as you?re always on the same network, regardless of which node your device communicates with at the time.
- Mesh networks are more intelligent. They can send and receive data simultaneously and have the intelligence only to broadcast a signal when a device requires it.
- Easy to manage and update. Home mesh networks are relatively new compared to standard wi-fi, so you can expect some modern perks. There?s no more connecting to your router with a wire to enter the admin panel. Any mesh system you buy today will come with a mobile app and the fantastic coverage ensures you can tweak the system and download updates from anywhere in the home.
Wi-Fi Isn?t Dead Yet
The purpose of this article is to answer the question ?what is a mesh network? in straightforward terms. I?m not on a crusade to get every Robode reader with home wi-fi to make the switch today. Indeed, there is one main reason to stick with your current home wi-fi setup.
If you?re happy with what your existing home wi-fi can do, investing in a mesh system could involve spending money for the sake of it. You?ll struggle to get your hands on a good setup for less than ?150/$200. The Netgear Orbi is probably the best mesh network kit you can get today and you can expect to spend in the region of ?400/$400 for a top of the range model with three nodes.
Only when you?re unhappy with your speeds and coverage, and the idea of a range extender crosses your mind is the outlay really justified ? especially if you?re determined to get your hands on the best gear money can buy.
Crucially, a Mesh Network Works with Your Current Equipment
If a mesh network sounds like something that may be of interest, but you?re not overly technically inclined, it is important to include one primary consideration. I?m covering the basics, after all, and you won?t need to make any changes to your current gadget line-up. There?s no need to look out for the box on a product that says ?2.4GHz/5GHz/Mesh? as there?s no such thing. From phones to tablets and kitchen appliances to Playstations, if it works with your current wi-fi router, it will work with your mesh network too.
What is a Mesh Network? ? In Summary
A mesh network replaces your existing home wi-fi setup for more consistency, better speeds and broader coverage. If you have internet blackspots in your home, numerous well-positioned nodes will make them a thing of the past. The mesh gear can be a hefty investment, and a wi-fi extender may be a cheaper way to solve your immediate problems without being quite as good. Mesh networks are likely to become the standard in the future, and not just in the home. If you?re the kind of person that likes to have the best tech money can buy, a mesh network is a fantastic investment.
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