An ordinary router is far from always capable of providing a reliable Wi-Fi connection for the whole house or cottage – often “dead zones” are found in the building, where the signal is so weak that it is impossible to talk about high-quality surfing. In such cases, there are two possible solutions: building seamless roaming throughout the reporting area and creating a mesh network.
The latest technology, dubbed Wi-Fi Mesh, is the topic of today’s discussion. This method of circumventing the limitations associated with the range of routers is quite promising. It is no coincidence that they talk about it as a possible way to organize a single urban wireless network, but so far it is far from it. But within the same building, residential or office, Wi-Fi Mesh systems are already actively used.
What is Wi-Fi Mesh
We hope our readers are well aware of the meaning of the term Wi-Fi. As for the word “mesh”, one of the meanings of its translation is “mesh cell”. Therefore, the principle of building a network based on this technology is called mesh. Doesn’t it look like the cellular networks of mobile operators? In any case, they have something in common: Wi-Fi Mesh network allows you to penetrate into the most remote corners of buildings.
Wi-Fi Mesh coverage in the cottage
Setting up such networks is not too difficult, the number of routers used turns out to be not too large – for a residential building like a cottage, two or three such cells are enough. Each cell has equal rights – we can say that they are all identical to each other in terms of opportunities. The principle of operation of routers is based on the 802.11s standard, which describes methods and means of creating topological hierarchical networks by searching and connecting neighboring access points. The technology is complemented by the use of other protocols, 802.11k / v / r, which provide client equipment with the ability to seamlessly route between access points without breaking the current connection .
This method is very different from conventional Wi-Fi technology, first of all – in its intelligence and the possibility of almost unlimited scalability.
In other words, a Wi-Fi Mesh network can be described as a system consisting of several devices that extend the range of Wi-Fi, while maintaining the ability to easily configure. And what is most important – without the need to use different network aliases or other settings that are typical for other systems to extend the range of a digital signal.
The configuration consists in connecting routers and performing several points in a special application.
How Wi-Fi Mesh Networks Work
All access points in the Mesh system, as we have already noted, are, in fact, equal wireless routers with almost the same minimum settings. There is only one caveat – one of the devices provides external connection to the worldwide network through a provider channel (fiber or twisted pair), the rest are connected to this router.
At the same time, the network topology is such that there is no master device – they are all equal. True, in the absence of a signal from an Internet provider, it will not be on any device. But if there is a backup communication channel with the provider, and one of the routers will be able to connect to it, all the others will also automatically reconfigure, and the network will work as if nothing had happened – users will not even notice it.
Scaling such a network is very simple – you buy a router and install it in an area of an unreliable signal, ensuring the availability of any neighboring router. The physical placement of devices does not matter – even in the attic or in the basement, their number is also unlimited – you can build a network of 5, 10 or 20 devices. At the same time, the network bandwidth does not suffer, as is the case when using conventional repeaters.
Roughly speaking, each device is not intended to amplify the signal, but is a full-fledged router as part of a mesh network. And the administration function of such a network is very simple and is accessible through a smartphone app rather than through the web interface of the router. To understand the picture, we note that when using repeaters, such devices can only interact with the head router – they are not able to see each other. On the contrary, each router in the Mesh network is a full-fledged router that is able to communicate with mobile gadgets and neighboring devices. This topology greatly simplifies system scaling.
Since all devices in Mesh wireless Wi-Fi networks have several radio modules, this guarantees the ability to maintain communication with both other routers and user gadgets without a drop in speed and deterioration in the quality of the transmitted signal.
Pros and cons of Wi-Fi Mesh networks
Let’s start with the benefits:
- Significant improvement in coverage area. In fact, it was to cover large areas that the creation of Wi-Fi Mesh systems was conceived. For example, if you live on the next floor with your parents, it will not be difficult for you to provide both apartments with high-quality internet. When building such a network, you no longer have to focus on the “provider” router – any device will be a peer access point, which greatly facilitates the construction of remote access points, linearly and topologically.
- The high stability of the network is due to its cellular structure. When building a network of repeaters, the failure of one of the devices led to the fall of the entire segment. In our case, the hang of one of the routers will not create a critical load on the entire network, there will be no need to overload the main router – it is enough to reboot the faulty device.
- Dynamic load balancing is another valuable property of mesh networks – there is no hierarchy as such, so you do not need to worry that, being at a significant distance from the main access point, you will be deprived of the signal.
- Simplicity and efficiency of the coating. If the network consists of routers used as repeaters, when a user moves from the coverage area of one device to the coverage area of another, the networks will also change, since each router has its own SSID. If you are using a new gadget, all these connections will have to be done manually. There is no such thing in Mesh networks, there are no switching between networks.
- The ability to use the input signal simultaneously from several Internet providers. Sometimes this method of organizing a backup channel is useful if the provider’s tariffs depend on the traffic consumed.
Now let’s talk about the disadvantages of Wi-Fi Mesh systems, although at first glance it seems that they should not be:
- The cost of building such networks is still quite high. The cost of the devices themselves affects – they are more expensive than conventional routers similar in characteristics. So if there are few dead zones, the best solution would be to use a repeater.
- The lack of functionality is a direct consequence of the “plug and play” concept. Manufacturers deliberately do not equip their routers with additional settings and functions that can be very useful. We are talking about parental control, using the functions of the DMZ zone or the QoS system and other “goodies”. If their use is vital, you will have to purchase a regular router. For gamers, mesh networks are definitely a losing bet.
- Loss of speed. Yes, and this is possible if the network does not have a feedback channel – in such cases, the network organization loses its advantages and begins to work like ordinary extension cords with a corresponding slowdown.
How to build a Mesh network yourself
The first thing you need to do is calculate the coverage area, taking into account the area of the house / apartment, together with all the external areas on which you plan to provide access to the network. If this is a high-rise building, take into account the distance between the floors.
Remember that coverage is highly dependent on site topology, so one network with the same coverage area may require more routers than another. Finally, the presence of such structural units of buildings as walls, windows, doorways, thickness and material of floors is important. Finally, some home appliances can interfere with the wireless network, such as telephone exchanges and microwave ovens. It is important to understand that Mesh systems are extensible, and if you did not take into account something at the design stage, or there were changes in the layout, all this can be fixed.
For the initial setup of the devices, you need an Internet connection and the presence of an appropriate application on your smartphone . After launching it, you need to create an account, providing it with an administrator password. It is important not to forget it so that you do not reconfigure the network in case of problems or when it expands.
ATTENTION. The password for all devices will be the same – you can administer any router from one account in the application.
Most mesh manufacturers recommend that you unplug your primary (ISP) router so that it can boot itself and assign a valid IP address to the host. To start the configuration process, launch the application, log into your account and follow the instructions on how to connect another router to the network.
When setting up a home mesh network, it is important to consider the location of all access points so that the coverage topology of all zones, including dead zones, is optimal – this will reduce your costs. The main device through which the external network will be accessed must be located in the immediate vicinity of the entry point, be it an Ethernet cable or a satellite signal. Do not hide routers in closets or nightstands. Since this is active network equipment, it should be located near a power outlet. The launched application will search for all enabled hosts and automatically assign internal network addresses to them. Of course, do not forget to assign a unique password to your network, which will be used to connect Wi-Fi gadgets.
A good practice tip is to place another router in the middle between another router and the dead zone, just as you would using a repeater. However, it is worth limiting this distance to a maximum of two adjacent rooms. If you need to cover several apartments on different floors, the distance between them should not exceed 15 meters in height.
Most modern routers provide software tools to check the signal strength between neighbors, which will make it easier to shape the network by telling you how far you are from the best signaling neighbor.
It should also be taken into account that some end devices work better from a wired, faster and more reliable connection – Smart TVs, receivers, set-top boxes. Most Mesh devices are equipped with one or two LAN ports, less often four, so try to place the routers within a relatively small (no more than 5 meters) distance from any user devices that require a wired connection.