How to Set Up a Mesh Network

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

A mesh network increases the range of your internet connection by placing several 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.

network diagram
 Getty Images - Pictafolio

What to Do Before Installing a Mesh Network

Before you install your mesh network, prepare for home for optimal results:

  • Internet coverage area: Determine the square footage of the area you want to receive Wi-Fi, including outdoor spaces like patios and front porches. A typical router offers much greater distance line-of-sight than when the signal must pass through dense objects like brick walls or metal objects. Buy as many mesh nodes as you need to cover your network's intended square footage, accounting for architectural barriers to signal propagation.
  • 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.” Usually, this location is in the center of the house, but not near an obstruction like a fireplace.
  • Node location: Find the best location in your rooms for each satellite node. Nodes connect to electrical outlets. They should also be away from possible sources of interference, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens.
  • 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

Although each mesh-network vendor's setup process differs in detail, they all follow the same general procedure:

  1. After you've chosen a system, download its app to your phone.

  2. Unplug your router and connect the main node to it using an Ethernet cable. Reconnect your router and let it and the main node power up.

  3. You'll be prompted to log into your account with the mesh network or create one if you don't currently have one.

  4. Scan the QR code on the bottom of the main node, or input a serial number, to link your account and the main node.

  5. Offer, as prompted, a name or location for the main node. Indicate the number of satellite nodes. Don't worry if you overestimate or underestimate it, as you can add nodes later.

  6. 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.

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

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 fuzziness becomes even more evident when you attempt to use Wi-Fi at the edge of a router's effective range.

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