Computers, Hardware

Move over Router – Mesh is Here

Its been a while since I’ve had my quality of life dramatically improved by a device upgrade. I recently moved my home office upstairs, and with it came a shuffling around of wireless equipment from the first floor to the second. The new office space is on the opposite side and floor from the living room with our smart TV. No matter how I positioned the wifi router one side suffered. And putting the router in the middle meant it would be in the kids rooms.

Adding a wireless range extender practically made the problem worse as the devices tried to connect to the wrong network for their location, and the speeds while connected to the range extender were terrible.

Fed up I started doing some research into routers with the furthest range, highest speeds, etc. That is when I came across a new category of “mesh” networks. These devices offer multiple access points called nodes that promise to seamlessly shuffle clients around based on the optimal connection path. After some research I decided on the TP Link Deco M4 3 pack . I had a promo code and the total price came out to ~$150 shipped.

After using it for a few weeks, I’m ready to review. Spoiler alert – I’m bursting with happiness. I’ll address a few main categories of these devices:

Range

I have a 2,500 sq foot house on 2 floors + deck . The 3 nodes cover this easily. Nowhere in the house, or yard have less than 3 bars. I have configured these in a triangular arrangement with two nodes being on opposite sides on the house on the 2nd floor (as diagonal as I could get them). The other node is on the 1st floor half way between the nodes on the top floor.

I haven’t tried a two node setup, which might be more representative of what the old router + range extender were delivering, but why would I? The whole point of a mesh network is that you can keep adding nodes until you have great coverage.

As an experiment I walked around the cul-de-sac and stayed connected an impressive way out. Whatever is inside these nodes (or maybe they are working in aggregate) had great transmitting power, all without looking garish with external antennas everywhere.

Speed

On the TP-Link Deco M4 network, I get 300+Mbps anywhere inside the house. Outside on the deck this drops to 200Mbps For comparison, with the old ASUS RT-AC68U + Linksys RE6500 range extender I would get ~200Mbps in the same room as the router. The range extender never got above 100Mbps, and the deck (when I could get signal) would be around 20Mbps. The mesh network link speed blows away the traditional router + extender setup.

One more technical note here – the nodes are tri-band which means that you get the full bandwidth through each node instead of it being halved.

Setup

The TP-Link (and many of the other commercial mesh kits) come with a smartphone app to setup the devices. I was initially turned off by this. After all – everything today claims it needs you to install an app when a basic mobile website is probably sufficient.

The app however is clean, and aided in setup versus the traditional laptop approach, potentially having to plugin with an ethernet cable to the router to initially configure the network.

The nodes are all identical, so it doesn’t matter which on you connect to the modem. It correctly figured out that was the Internet connection, and even circumvented the silly tendency for modems to only bind to one MAC address. The physical setup involves nothing more than plugging in the node to an AC outlet, and for the initial node plugging it into the modem. The app detects the node you are next to, and walks you through setting up the wireless network.

Flashing lights on each of the nodes informs you if they are online and working properly or experiencing an issue.

The nodes all share the same wifi network name, and devices will switch between them automatically. Setup options are pretty standard (maybe even somewhat limited). You choose an SSID, create a password, and choose whether to broadcast the network. You don’t even pick between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks – this is all managed for you. The device will use the best network available. My old laptop can’t see 5Ghz networks and connected just fine. The Deco offers a few other features like QOS settings, reserved IP addresses, blacklisting, reports, etc.

Price

This looks to have been a historical weak point for mesh networks. New technologies typically come with premium price tags. I think enough time has passed that mesh network kits are about on part with a new router and range extender. I paid $140 having caught a sale that took $40 off the price.

Conclusion

I would absolutely recommend a mesh network to just about anyone, possibly with the exception of someone that has advanced needs for their network setup. This feels like an evolution of the wireless router. It offers superior range and speeds relative to my previous router + range extender setup for about the same price. Setup is painless, and this has fixed all of my wireless issues throughout the entire house. I’ve retired my router, and range extender.

I’ve also retired my USB wireless adapter for my desktop since I have a mesh node sitting on the desk, and have opted instead to connect with an ethernet cable. I’ve also managed to retire a wifi bridge for a NAS device that I have because again with 3 nodes, I can easily place this NAS next a node and connect with an ethernet cable.

All said and done I threw out more equipment than I setup. This was an absolutely great decision in my opinion and at the risk of sounding like a sponsored post – I can say I couldn’t be happier.

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