How to Set Up a Mesh Network

Get Wi-Fi in all those hard to reach places with a mesh network

Woman on her deck using Wi-Fi

A mesh network increases the range of your internet connection by placing multiple connection points around your home or office, with all of them connected to, and reinforcing, each other. Instead of being limited by the distance from your router, or having to log into an extender, your device connects with the nearest point smoothly, and the other units help route traffic to maintain speed. Learning how to set up a mesh network is key for maximum efficiency.

Why Install a Mesh Network?

The typical Wi-Fi router is designed to more or less deliver a signal to a standard, single family home. However, building materials, home design, and simple home size can often frustrate even the most powerful routers. This becomes even more evident when you attempt to use Wi-Fi at the edge of a router's effective range.

Adding to the load is that more and more of our devices are connected to the internet. As appliances become smarter and phones, tablets, and computers become more data hungry, a single router can struggle to keep up with all the requests at once, especially as those devices sit at the extreme edge of its range.

Mesh networks mitigate these issues by "distributing" your router across your home. The key node of the mesh network is connected to your router and connects to other nodes as you install them. Nodes are constantly connected to each other, and help each other move traffic over Wi-Fi signals.

If, for example, you're streaming music on your phone and walk through your house, instead of your phone staying in touch with the router the entire way, it would hand off that traffic to closer nodes.

This both limits losing connection and ensures your router doesn't become overloaded by too many requests at once. However, proper configuration is necessary to ensure the best results.

What to Do Before Installing a Mesh Network

Before you actually setup your mesh network, there are a few things you should determine first.

  • Internet coverage area: Determine the square footage of the area you want to receive Wi-Fi, including outdoor spaces like patios and front porches.

Remember that floors and ceilings will reduce range, so note where they might be a factor.

  • Router location: Find the ideal location for your router. The best location is one where you have maximum reach in all areas you need Wi-Fi, with satellite nodes filling in the “edges.”

In a home with a basement and two floors, for example, you'd want your router as close to the center of the house as possible, so the signal reaches the furthest parts of the house. Also consider possible uses; high-information tasks like streaming video and playing video games online should be closer to the router.

  • Node location: Find the best location in your rooms for each satellite node. Nodes will need to be near an electrical outlet. They should also be away from possible sources of interference, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Check to see if the satellite nodes are "outlet" nodes that plug directly into your outlet with no cord, or if they have a cord that will let you more easily place them on walls.

  • Mounting nodes: If possible, measure a place to mount your node where it'll be out of the way. Nodes that need to reach through ceilings should be placed higher up, while nodes that need to reach through floors should be lower down.
  • Mesh Network specifications: Examine the specifications of each mesh network you're considering. Pay close attention to the maximum range of each “satellite” node, and plan node placement to be, at most, two-thirds of that distance, if possible. You can always add more nodes to the network as needed.

How to Setup a Mesh Network

For this article, we'll be using Google Wi-Fi, but many systems have the same or very similar set up process.

  1. Once you've chosen a system, download its app to your phone. The Google Wi-Fi app is available on both Android and iOS.

  2. Unplug your router, and connect the main node to it using a LAN (Ethernet) cable. Reconnect your router and let it and the main node power up.

  3. You'll be prompted to log into your Google account, or create one if you don't currently have one.

    Be sure you have a strong password on your account. Often your personal password is the weakest link in your security, which hackers will try to break to get access to your other devices and accounts.

  4. Scan the QR code on the bottom of the main node to link your account and the main node.

  5. You'll be asked the rough location of your first node, such as "attic" or "bedroom," and then prompted to name your new Wi-Fi network and set up a separate Wi-Fi password.

    Never use your Google account password for your Wi-Fi password. Your Google account password won't be necessary to maintain or access the network.

  6. You'll be prompted to add how many nodes will go on the network. Don't worry if you overestimate or underestimate it, as you can add nodes later.

  7. Plug in the nodes one at a time. As each node is added, you'll be asked which room of the house it's located in.

  8. Once you've added all your planned nodes, go to each room of your house and any outdoor areas and check your network speed.