There is a strong argument to be made for selecting a mesh router over a traditional router, even in instances where you’re using a single access point. But if you’re shopping with the intent to split a mesh pack up you need to shop carefully.
Why Split a Mesh Pack?
Although mesh networks are almost always sold in multi-packs because, you know, multiple access points are a pretty key element of setting up a mesh network, you don’t actually need multiple access points for the router to work.
The mesh system might not be mesh if there is only one access point in play, but the hardware in a single mesh node is powerful enough on its own to serve a small home.
Further, using a mesh platform, even if you’re only using one node, gives you access to all the polished features built into modern mesh platforms like easy app-centric management, polished parental controls, automatic updates, and other great-to-have network management amenities. And, on top of all that, unlike a traditional router, you can instantly extend with first-party extenders at any time in the future.
If you don’t need two or three mesh nodes to cover your space, though, no sense buying a three-pack and either oversaturating your small apartment or letting the units collect dust. Split the pack up (and split the cost too!) with a friend.
If that sounds great, you’ll be happy to hear it’s easy peasy to set up a single mesh node as your primary router in place of a traditional router, so you’re unlikely to run into any pitfalls there.
But where you can run into trouble is the initial shopping experience where you’re buying the single node or looking for a pack to split up to share with friends or family. Here’s what you need to keep in mind.
How to Pick a Single Mesh Router (Or Split a Pack)
While there are certainly a wide variety of mesh products on the market—and you can easily make divisions between mesh networks with dual or triple bands, those with dedicated backhauls and those with shared backhauls, and other distinctions—for the purpose of shopping for a single mesh router or splitting up a larger pack there is one key consideration.
Mesh platforms come in two flavors (and product offerings within a company’s greater platform might be a mix of these two flavors). Router and extender designs and position-agnostic designs.
In the router and extender design, one of the units is intended to be the router and physically connected to the modem and other physical network infrastructure. The other units in the pack are not intended to be hard-wired into anything (and can’t be because they lack Ethernet ports).
In the position-agnostic design, every unit is interchangeable with every other unit. They all have the same Ethernet ports, power supplies, and so on. In fact, the only thing that determines which one ends up being the actual router is which one you designate as the gateway during the configuration process.
Whether you intend to buy a single mesh unit to use as a stand-alone router or a pack to split up with friends or relatives, it’s crucial you read the product description and documentation carefully.
Further, don’t assume that because some products from the company work like that, they all do. For example, the original generation Google Wifi features an agnostic design where every puck in the kit is the same. You can use them together, you can split them up and put each puck in a different house, it doesn’t matter.
The refresh of the line, Google Nest Wifi, seen above, is not agnostic, however. There is a discrete base unit with Ethernet ports, the Nest Wifi Router, and then Nest Wifi add-ons that have no Ethernet ports and can’t function as a router.
You’ll find the same thing with the eero platform and the different product generations therof. The original eero was agnostic, and every unit was interchangeable with two Ethernet ports per unit. The updated models vary in design.
The eero 6 three-pack is one router with Ethernet and two extenders without Ethernet. The eero Pro 6 three-pack and the eero Pro 6E three-pack are both position-agnostic, and every unit has Ethernet.
With that in mind, if you’re shopping for a single unit for yourself, always shop for the router unit, not the extender units. You can always buy an eero 6 router unit and then buy an eero 6 extender unit later, but you can’t do the reverse.
eero 6 Pro 3-Pack
Use all for yourself or split them up among your friends. Every mesh node in this 3-pack can work as a router or extender.
And if your goal is to split the cost between friends and family, buying a three-pack and then giving a single mesh node to each person to use in their home, you’ll want to purchase a pack with agnostic units like the eero 6 Pro, the TP-Link Deco X20, or any other model where every unit features Ethernet connectivity and can be configured as the router/gateway device.
Although you should always check the fine print, as a general rule the wording for the product listing is a giveaway. When a product listing refers to the mesh nodes as a cohesive group such as “mesh router 3-pack,” “3 Routers,” or “3-pack,” then the individual units are usually interchangeable.
If the listing refers to the nodes as “1 Router + 2 Extenders,” or some variation of what you see in the screenshot above, then the units are not interchangeable, and you won’t be able to split them up.
Be especially conscious of the pricing as that can trick you. At first glance, it might seem like a better value to buy the 1 Router + 2 Extenders for $199, instead of the “3 Routers” pack for $249, but if your intention is to split them with friends, you’re out of luck if you go with the router + extender option.
If you keep all these tips in mind, though, you’ll have no problems. Whether you’re buying a single node for yourself or you’re keeping two nodes for yourself and giving one to a friend, it’s easy to get access to the mesh platform features you want and set up a simple home network that can grow with your needs.
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