Considering a mesh router system? Although mesh Wi-Fi systems are pretty great, there are some pitfalls to avoid. Here are common mistakes you want to avoid when selecting and setting up your system.
Leaving Your ISP’s Combo Modem/Router On
This is a common mistake for both mesh networks and traditional routers. If you have a combination unit provided by your Internet service provider (ISP) that handles both the modem function and the Wi-Fi/routing functions, you need to make adjustments.
If you leave the Wi-Fi functionality of the combo unit enabled, then you clutter up the airspace of your home with a signal you’re not even using.
And if you leave the routing function on, then you end up in a situation where your connection is being routed through two independent routers—first the router in your new mesh system and then the router in the unit supplied by your ISP.
While you can disable the routing functionality on your new mesh system and stick with the router provided by your ISP, we advise against using your ISP-supplied router with new mesh hardware. Instead, you should turn off the Wi-Fi on the ISP-supplied unit and put it in bridge mode.
Using Too Many or Too Few Mesh Nodes
When it comes to mesh nodes, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. You want enough mesh nodes to provide even and consistent coverage across your home (including outdoor spaces like the patio and backyard if you want Wi-Fi access out there).
Too few nodes and you’ll have weak coverage. Too many nodes and you’ll end up with congestion—and your devices will struggle to select the optimum node for best performance.
While picking the number of nodes for a given home is highly dependent on variables like the layout of the home and the materials it is constructed from, there are some guidelines you can follow.
Poor Mesh Node Placement
Mesh networks work best when the nodes are placed optimally so that every node is within the “bubble” of Wi-Fi radio transmission range found around an adjacent node.
For most mesh nodes, you should place the next node within 30-60 feet of the previous node so that it can receive a strong signal.
You also want to avoid placing your nodes next to things that block radio waves, such as appliances, fish tanks, bookcases loaded with books, and other metal or high-density items.
The more open the placement and the more direct line of sight you can get things between the nodes, the better.
Not Using Ethernet Backhaul
Wi-Fi is great, and so many interesting and enjoyable innovations have come about because of it, but you simply can’t beat wired connections for speed and stability—in fact, we recommend getting as many of your devices off Wi-Fi as possible.
Many mesh platforms support wired backhauls. The backhaul allows the mesh platform to offload the burden of inter-node communication to Ethernet and improves the mesh network experience in every way.
If your home is wired for Ethernet, even if it’s just to a few locations, it’s worth using that Ethernet to backhaul some or all of your mesh nodes. If you don’t, you’re leaving a free (and significant) performance boost on the table. Put those mesh node Ethernet ports to good use!
Mixing Gear Together
Mesh platform nodes are optimized to work with other nodes from the same manufacturer and, ideally, from the same generation of the platform.
While some manufacturers support mixing and matching components within their product lines, not all do, and it’s never recommended to try to cobble together a system out of mesh products from different manufacturers.
Further, we recommend against using mesh nodes as “dumb” access points for your old router. It can be done, but you’re missing out on the benefits of using the mesh system in the first place.
Buying Last-Generation Wi-Fi
The vast majority of people buying mesh platforms for their homes are doing so because they are frustrated with cruddy Wi-Fi coverage and performance.
With that in mind, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to cut corners and buy a cheaper last-generation Wi-Fi mesh platform. Newer mesh platforms using the most current generation of Wi-Fi tech offer a superior experience and will serve you longer before you need to upgrade.
TP-Link Deco X20 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System
This mesh three-pack supports Wi-Fi 6, WPA3, and will cover most homes with wall-to-wall Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi 6 hardware has been available since early 2020. At this point, it really doesn’t make sense to invest heavily in Wi-Fi 5 gear.
Using Consumer Gear When Your Home Demands More
Off-the-shelf consumer mesh platforms are a really fantastic Wi-Fi home networking innovation. For most people, it’s tough to beat the value of spending a few hundred bucks for wall-to-wall stable Wi-Fi coverage. Not only that, but consumer mesh hardware is unbelievably user-friendly with easy setup and easy-to-use apps.
But for some situations, such as extremely large homes, extremely demanding environments, or a combination of the two, grabbing a consumer mesh platform off the shelf at your local big box electronics store might not be the optimal solution.
Instead, setting up something more akin to an enterprise network than a simple consumer mesh platform is in order. Companies like Ubiquiti and MikroTik offer scalable platforms that are suitable for large and demanding home environments. If your home is more like a hobby computer lab and less like your average consumer environment, it’s worth checking out these more robust options.
To be clear, however, running a “prosumer” enterprise-like network at home is not at all like simply plug-and-playing a consumer-friendly solution like the eero or Google Nest platforms. If your home demands that kind of gear, be prepared to either become your own system administrator (or pay somebody to maintain it for you).
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