As smart home devices, along with streaming media services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, continue to infiltrate our homes, the need for whole-house Wi-Fi coverage is quickly becoming a necessity. The majority of the routers on the market today can offer good coverage to most areas of a medium-sized home, however larger homes with multiple floors may require additional options.
You can take a look at range extenders, which are a good option to fill dead zones throughout your home, but usually only give you have the bandwidth the main router provides. Access points are another possibility. However, they require a wired connection to the primary router, which can be a mess. All in all, your best and easiest option is installing a Wi-Fi mesh network.
So what, exactly, is a Wi-Fi mesh network? It’s less complicated and confusing than it sounds. Wi-Fi mesh networks consist of a few networking components that work together to deliver Wi-Fi coverage throughout your residence.
You’ll still have a primary router, which connects to your modem, along with small modules or nodes that you can put in strategic places throughout the house. It is all part of the same wireless network and uses the same SSID and password. The nodes in the Wi-Fi mesh network serve as hop points for nodes that are further away from the router, which means that you’ll have reliable Wi-Fi coverage as they talk to one another.
So what should you look for in a Wi-Fi mesh network? And which ones are the best? The answers to these questions depend on your needs and expectations. Let’s take a look at some of the best Wi-Fi mesh networks on the market today, and you can decide which one best suits you.
As stated above, the Luma Wi-Fi mesh network consists of one primary router, which connects to your modem, and two other units which you can place in strategic areas throughout your home. This allows the Luma nodes to extend the Wi-Fi coverage and blanket the entire house.
Setup of the Luma Wi-Fi mesh network is simple and straightforward as long as you have a smartphone. Whether you view it as good or bad, the only option through which you can set up Luma is through the Luma mobile app. It’s also your only way to manage the network once it is up and running.
Fortunately, there isn’t much to manage since the Luma network offers limited options in the way of features and customizations. The application allows you to set up web filters along with internet prioritization. These types of limited customizations are common in most Wi-Fi mesh networks, so the Luma isn’t alone in this kind of limited functionality. This is perfect for those that merely want to get online quickly and easily.
The Luma Wi-Fi mesh network is compact, but it packs a powerful punch. Even though the units are smaller than most of its competitors, the Luma modules can cover up to four-thousand square feet while providing up to 50Mbps.
Just like two others on this list, Google and Eero, the Luma Wi-Fi mesh network lets you use the mobile app to pause or stop internet access. You can choose whether you want it to affect the entire network or only a particular group of devices.
You can also use the Luma network to integrate with Alexa’s voice commands. This lets you control certain functions like allowing a device to have prioritization on the network, or pausing the internet. One thing to keep in mind is that once you turn this integration on if you have children, they can control these features with Alexa as well.
Unfortunately for users of Luma’s mobile application is not intuitive. It’s is simple and easy to understand during setup, but from a day-to-day perspective, it is less than ideal. For example, there is no way to know the difference between devices that are currently connected to the network and those that have only connected to the network one time. The inconvenience is that eventually, you get a long list of devices, the vast majority of which have been disconnected from the network for some time.
The Luma Wi-Fi mesh network also has limited web filtering. The web filtering functionality on the Luma web app allows you to set content viewing to five different levels: G, PG, PG-13, R, and unrestricted. The problem isn’t blocking devices; it knows what each level prevents. Additionally, there is no way to block an individual website.
While the Luma does test well, it is slower than both the Google Wi-Fi and Eero Wi-Fi systems. The Luma system suffered considerable loss of speed when the range of the distance between the modules was extended from fifteen feet to seventy feet. At fifteen feet, the system tested at 323 megabits per second, while at seventy feet away, it came in at 88 Mbps.
Similar to Google Wi-Fi and Eero systems, the Luma does not offer a separate wireless band for backhaul. As a result, the system suffers from significant signal loss, especially when the modules are further away from the router. To mitigate this type of loss, the modules can be placed closer to the primary router, or connected via network cables, but doing so virtually eliminates the need for a Wi-Fi mesh network.
The Luma Wi-Fi mesh network is fine if you have a decent internet connection of around 50Mbps download. However, if your broadband connection is faster than that, and you need a fast local network, the Luma network is not the option for you.
While the Luma has a few nice features and benefits, from an overall perspective, few should choose it as their Wi-Fi mesh network. It is more expensive than Google Wi-Fi, which offers more benefits, yet only a little less pricey than the Eero system. If you need an easy and straightforward network to share an average broadband connection, then this might be the system for you.
TP-Link Deco M5
The TP-Link Deco M5, Wi-Fi mesh network, is an excellent system at an affordable price. It’s most appealing feature is its ability to protect the entire network, which includes any connected IoT devices, from online dangers. It provides the ability to deliver internet for the whole home – with up to 5,00 square feet of coverage – all while protecting from viruses, hackers, and other online threats.
If you have a smartphone or tablet with an internet connection, you can set up the M5 Wi-Fi mesh network system. It’s as easy and simple as running a mobile app. Download the free application from the iOS or Android markets, and follow the setup instructions. From start to finish, the entire process typically takes less than fifteen minutes.
Like many of its competitors, the M5 Wi-Fi mesh network does not have many of the features and functionality available on single routers. No web interface is provided. However, there are options that will appeal to parents, like the ability to control web-filtering, and usage control options for pausing the internet.
Additionally, the M5 boasts that its quality of service option offers different priorities for different applications (i.e., antivirus). The thinking is that this will protect the network, which includes all of your IoT connected devices, from online threats. This means that it monitors traffic in real-time, which can help prevent hacking and port scanning, and also prevents compromised IoT devices from sending out requests to unknown, or unsafe sites.
Like the Luma above, the TP-Link Deco-M5 does not offer a dedicated band for its backhaul, which is how the network connects its units wirelessly. This means that the system suffers significant signal loss when the modules are not connected directly to the primary router.
On the plus side, but unfortunately, not the purpose of purchasing a Wi-Fi mesh network system, the M5 provides you the capability to link the modules using network cables, which eliminates signal loss. You can even connect a few nodes through wired network cables and join the rest wirelessly if you feel so inclined.
The M5 system provides reliable Wi-Fi, with similar outputs to the Luma, Google Wi-Fi, and Eero systems. Despite its signal loss concerns, the network speeds are consistently faster than many other residential internet connections.
Even though there are a few drawbacks to the M5 system, it provides fantastic coverage, as it can provide Wi-Fi to nearly four-thousand square feet. Of course, like all Wi-Fi mesh networks, the further the nodes are from the primary router, the slower the Wi-Fi speed, so keep that in mind when placing the units throughout your home.
For those that already have a reliable Wi-Fi system in place, the TP-Link Deco M5 is not going to justify spending the money on it unless you feel the need to have the antivirus feature. If, on the other hand, you have a system with unreliable and spotty Wi-Fi, the M5 is a good option for replacing your current system.
Google Wi-Fi System
The Google Wi-Fi mesh network system is an excellent option if you want to have fast internet to every room in your house. It offers a simple setup option for those that are less tech-savvy, but enough features that it allows for some enhancements and tweaks. Automatic updates keep the system virtually hack-proof, and three system modules can cover up to four-thousand square feet, which should be enough to cover most residences.
For setting up your Google Wi-Fi system, you only need to have a device that has an internet connection like an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, and a Google account. Many routers provide a web-based interface, accessed through an IP or URL. However, the Google Wi-Fi system does not. Everything is controlled and set up through its mobile application.
Use your Google account to log into the application, follow the instructions, and before you know it; you’re all set up! A consistent connection to Google is required, which some find uncomfortable, however many Wi-Fi mesh network systems are moving in this direction, notably Eero and Orbi, both of which will be reviewed later in this article.
The Google Wi-Fi mesh network is really simple and easy to use. It only takes around fifteen minutes to get set up, and Google does a great job of creating a pain-free experience for users. The system is also very fast, where you’ll experience limited throughput loss once the system is in place.
That doesn’t mean that it solves the problem of signal loss, which occurs through any Wi-Fi mesh network system as you move the nodes further from the primary router. You can reduce slower speeds by placing the modules closer to the router, or by connecting them with network cables.
Google Wi-Fi provides great coverage and is a reliable system whether you’re using a single unit or three nodes. There are no disruptions in signal strength or disconnects if you walk through your home as the nodes connect seamlessly to each other. This is particularly great if you use voice over Wi-Fi, allowing you to roam through your house and not have to worry about dropping the call or interrupted conversation.
As previously mentioned, the Google Wi-Fi system does not solve the problem of signal loss, which means that as the network extends further, it will take longer to receive the same amount of data. This isn’t impacted as much if you’re only surfing the internet, but if you need to do any heavy lifting (i.e., large file transfers), you will notice a significant increase in the time it takes to do so.
In addition to signal loss, Google Wi-Fi also lacks customization capabilities. You will not have much of the same functionality available with a typical router, like content filtering, MAC filtering, or DDNS. There are additional restrictions on the application that will frustrate anyone wanting to do customization with deep network settings.
Lastly, the physical device only has one LAN connection port, so if you want to add additional wired devices to your network, you’ll have to purchase a switch.
How It Works
Each hardware unit part of the Google Wi-Fi system is referred to as a Wi-Fi point. If you have one unit, you have one point, and if you purchase three units, you have three Wi-Fi points. One Wi-Fi point can cover up to twelve hundred square feet, which is enough to provide Wi-Fi to a typical apartment or small home. As expected, more points provide more coverage, with a set of three covering a four thousand square foot home.
The Google Wi-Fi application shows you your network with a simple layout display so you can visually see your devices. This allows you to prioritize specific connections or devices, and even pause or stop the internet on particular groups or devices. All of these features are accessible through just a few screen taps.
When I say Google Wi-Fi is easy and straightforward, it includes adding additional Wi-Fi points to the existing system. If you decide to add more, the initial unit behaves as the primary router while the new points are used to extend your Wi-Fi network. Your mobile app can help you determine the most appropriate locations for your Wi-Fi points by evaluating the connection between each unit.
You should pick up a Google Wi-Fi system if your internet speed is below 250Mbps and your home is between twelve and fifteen hundred square feet. If you prefer simple and easy to deal with settings, especially during setup, then Google Wi-Fi is the mesh network system for you. Lastly, if you plan to stream movies, surf the internet, and check Facebook, then this is a system that would fit your needs.
If you’re the type of person that prefers to customize your network and have control over the nitty, gritty details, then Google Wi-Fi is probably not the system for you. The same can be said if you have several wired clients, like desktops and servers, or don’t want to be connected to Google at all times. Google Wi-Fi is a solid, reliable, dependable system, but if you need more control and functionality, it’s not the way to go.
The Netgear Orbi system is considered to be one of the best Wi-Fi mesh networks on the market but is also one of the more expensive. Orbi’s network can quickly provide Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home and can do so without sacrificing much in the way of speed, which most of the Wi-Fi mesh networks don’t do. This is because Orbi provides a dedicated extension band, which we’ll get into later.
Setup of the Orbi Wi-Fi mesh network is pretty straightforward. Just connect the main Orbi router to your internet source, much the same way you would for a modem, then turn it on.
Place the add-on modules away from the primary router, then those on, and you’re all done. The units are configured to work with one another, and the module will replicate the Wi-Fi settings from the primary router.
As a side note, be sure to place your additional units at a fair distance from the primary. If it’s too far away, you may not have enough signal strength, but if you place it too close then, you’re not getting the coverage you need throughout your home.
One of the cool features of the Orbi is the LED rings that change color. They are located on top of the device to show its current signal strength. Blue, for instance, means the device has great signal, while yellow means it’s is just out of optimal range, and red lets you know the module is too far from the primary router. Take the time to find the ideal place for the module, not only regarding signal strength but also in how it conforms to your decor.
The primary router and the add-on module include a button the back for syncing if you want or need to add additional units to your network. If you’re familiar with setting up a Netgear router, then you’ll feel right at home as you set up your Orbi network. You can access the web interface from any connected device by navigating to the default IP – 192.168.1.1 – or orbilogin.com. The interface allows you to change the default SSID and password, along with many other features.
The Orbi only has one Wi-Fi network that works for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, which means you can’t make a separate SSID for each band. The benefit is that you have more control over the Orbi network, and can make in-depth network setting changes in regards to parental settings, access control, Dynamic DNS, and port forwarding.
Dedicated Extension Band
The feature that sets the Orbi apart from other Wi-Fi mesh networks is that the add-on module connects to the primary router through the use of a dedicated extension band. Most Wi-Fi mesh networks make use of the same bands as the router, but this causes degradation in signal strength when extending the network.
However, the Orbi system makes use of a separate 5Ghz band, which connects to the primary router through the module. This band cannot be accessed by end-users and is completely separate from the other bands used with the Orbi network.
This means that so long as you’re only using one additional module with the primary router that you won’t suffer signal loss. This is because the pair connects to its dedicated band. The 2.4Ghz band and the 5Ghz band are dedicated to the sole use of connecting your devices to the internet.
With just two units, the Orbi does a great job of providing coverage to a four thousand square foot home. It also provides the same speed whether connected through the primary router, or through the additional module, which means there was no loss of signal in the Wi-Fi network extension.
The Orbi handoff feature is excellent, as it allows you to wander throughout your home without suffering drops or disconnects. The device switches seamlessly from the router to the module, and vice versa, all while providing the same speeds no matter where you roam – within the confines of your home, of course.
The Orbi is a great Wi-Fi mesh network that provides great broadband coverage throughout your home. It’s worth trying out if you think your current network has trouble spots or dead areas. More than likely the two units – the primary router and the additional module – can provide coverage to your entire home.
The only reason not to go with the Orbi is if your home is too large for the Orbi Wi-Fi mesh network, which means you need more coverage than the 4,500 square feet that the system can provide.
Eero Home Wi-Fi SystemNo products found.
The Eero Wi-Fi system is a low-power network that is simple and easy to configure and set up. It provides users with mid to fast broadband speeds while delivering Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home.
Like many of the Wi-Fi mesh networks listed here, setup of the Eero network happens through the Eero mobile app, which is available on both the Android and iOS marketplaces. All you need to start the process is an internet connected smartphone or tablet. Just remember that you won’t be able to set up the network through a desktop or pc web browser.
After you download the app – it’s free by the way – just follow the instructions, create and Eero account, and the app will guide you through the rest. You will create your network SSID and password during this process, along with naming any additional modules that you connect to the network. Typically this process takes about fifteen minutes.
One item to keep in mind is that the Eero network is always connected to the Eero cloud-based server. Eero’s privacy statement says that the only information it takes in is data which can improve performance and maximize the network, not user activities such as sites visited, movies streamed, or social media information.
The Eero doesn’t offer many deep networking features, like many of its counterparts, and primarily consists of the option to pause or stop the internet for a device or group of devices. Eero allows you to create a profile and labels for each group, which means when you need to stop a group of devices, you know exactly what you are preventing from accessing the internet.
One nice feature here is that Eero allows you to either manually unpause the group when you’re ready, or set a time in advance for it to happen automatically.
There is little to be had in the way of customization, which means you cannot change much outside of the network SSID and password. For many users, this is fine since they just want the network to do what it is supposed to do, but if you need advanced features and settings, you might be better off going with a tradition router or Orbi network system.
A recent update to the Eero mobile application provided the network with Alexa integration. You now can use voice command to have the Eero network perform specific tasks. One such command allows you to pause and unpause the internet, and another turns off the units LED lights.
The drawback to this functionality is that the integration only works one way. For instance, it can pause the internet, but it cannot unpause it. At that point, you’ll have to go back through the Eero mobile application.
Even though the functionality is currently limited, the Eero network is unique in that it offers voice command. Other systems have hinted that this capability is coming, but as of today, Eero is the only Wi-Fi mesh network which offers this feature.
Like many of the Wi-Fi mesh networks listed above, the Eero does not provide a dedicated wireless connection for the signal that allows the devices to communicate. The system instead uses either the 2.5Ghz or 5Ghz signal based on how much distance is between the modules. As a result, the network suffers signal loss of up to fifty percent reduction.
When you connect additional units to the Eero network system, the internet speeds drop dramatically and continues to do so as more modules get added. On the plus side, three modules cover roughly four thousand square feet, which should include the vast majority of houses today.
Lastly, the Eero does a great job of dealing with signal handoff. You can move freely from one room to another without experiencing interruption or disconnects. This is also true when moving large files over the network. The last thing you want is for the network to drop when a significant transfer is only a few minutes from completing.
If the only thing you need is a reliable Wi-Fi network that extends to the far reaches of your home, then the Eero system gets the job done. With its update to provide Alexa voice controls, Eero has delivered on a promise it made, something that doesn’t always happen in the tech industry.
However, if you need a network with more in-depth features and functionality, the Eero system is not for you. Other network options provide a better experience with more features. While the Eero does a great job of doing what it is supposed to, it just doesn’t deliver on being a Wi-Fi mesh network worth the investment.
We’ve reviewed some of the best Wi-Fi mesh networks that are available on the market in 2018. Let’s take a look at how they compare to one another.
|Luma||TP Link||Google Wi-Fi||Orbi||Eero|
|Wireless Spec||802.11ac||802.11 ac||802.11ac||802.11ac||802.11n (2.4 GHz only), 802.11ac|
|Security||WPA/WPA2||WPA, WPA2||WPA2||WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup)||WEP, WPA, WPA2|
|Wired LAN Ports||2||2||1 on base unit, 2 per node||3 on base unit, 4 per node||1|
As you can see, there is no shortage of options if you’re in the market for a Wi-Fi mesh network system this year. If what you want is a simple solution that allows you to set up your Wi-Fi and get going, then many of the above systems are exactly what you need. Most provide some level of parental control and allow you to pause or stop your broadband connection for specific groups or devices.
If, however, you prefer to have granular control over your Wi-Fi network, need to have access to advanced settings like port forwarding, Dynamic DNS, and MAC address information, then you would be better off going with a home router. The majority of the devices on the market are not going to provide the level of access you need.
How do these mesh networks fair with VoIP calls handing over between AP? Can you recommend a good one for small office?
Packet aggregation can more than double the number of supported VoIP calls in a Wireless Mesh Network. Also Netgear Orbi is great for offices.
Hope that helped!