Mesh Network vs Router: Which Setup Is Best for You?

The pros and cons of these wireless systems

Looking to upgrade your Wi-Fi? You're no doubt considering the benefits of a mesh network against a typical Wi-Fi router. Both options can provide great Wi-Fi performance but each has unique advantage and disadvantages. This guide will help you decide which setup is best for you.

Mesh Network vs Wi-Fi Router: Which Setup Is Best for You?

A Wi-Fi router is better than a mesh network for most people, but mesh networks take the edge in specific situations. Wi-Fi routers are less expensive, easier to set up, and deliver great performance in most homes. Mesh networks are an upgrade pick for large homes or homes with tricky Wi-Fi dead spots.

A Wi-Fi router directs internet and network traffic from devices in your home. The Wi-Fi router must be connected to a modem to access the internet, though some have a modem built in. Our guide to modems provides more detail. The same is true of mesh networks, but mesh networks have additional wireless nodes. Devices on a mesh network switch between nodes depending on which has the best signal strength.

A Netgear Nighthawk router on a desk with a smartphone nearby.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 is a high performance Wi-Fi 6E router.

Netgear

A Wi-Fi router is easier to set up than a mesh network. Modern routers and mesh networks have an app-based setup process used via your smartphone, but mesh networks have additional nodes which must be positioned, connected to power, and set up.

A mesh network is better for large homes and homes lacking a central location to place a Wi-Fi router. Wi-Fi routers emit a signal in a roughly spherical pattern around the router, so they work best when set up in the middle of your home. That's not always possible, however, which is where a mesh network becomes useful.

Wi-Fi routers are better if you need wired ethernet connections in addition to Wi-Fi. A typical mesh network router or node will have one or two ethernet ports, while Wi-Fi routers have between four and eight ethernet ports.

Mesh networks are more expensive than Wi-Fi routers. Pricing for Wi-Fi routers starts around $50, while mesh networks start around $100.

Why You Should Buy a Mesh Network

The Linksys Atlas Max 6E mesh network node on a table in front of a sliding door.
High-end mesh networks offer excellent performance, but they're pricey.

Linksys

A mesh network is best for large homes and homes with difficult Wi-Fi dead spots or an unusual layout. Older homes might also have lath and plaster walls of which is harder for a Wi-Fi to pass through.

Wi-Fi routers emit a signal in a roughly spherical pattern. This signal can be blocked or redirected by objects including walls, furniture, and appliances. Most obstacles won't completely block a Wi-Fi signal, but some can. A bathroom or kitchen wall with several pipes, for example, can become a barrier.

This is where a mesh network shines. A mesh network has additional nodes which communicate wirelessly with the primary router. Each node will emit a signal in a roughly spherical pattern just like a router. This creates a wider, more reliable Wi-Fi network that can get around obstacles between the primary router and Wi-Fi devices in your home.

Does a Mesh Network Replace a Router?

Yes, a mesh network will replace a Wi-Fi router.

Most mesh networks have a router you connect to the modem usually supplied by your Internet Service Provider. This router connects wirelessly to the mesh network's nodes. It may also offer wired Ethernet ports for connecting nearby wired devices.

Most mesh networks have nodes that connect wirelessly, but premium models offer an optional wired connection known as a wired Ethernet backhaul. This feature can provide a significant boost to a mesh network's performance.

Some high-end mesh networks are designed to let every node function as a router. You will still set up one node as a router, but the node you choose doesn't matter. Mesh networks with this feature will have wired Ethernet ports on every node.

Is Mesh Wi-Fi Better Than a Router?

A mesh network's Wi-Fi performance is typically slower, but more reliable, than a price-competitive Wi-Fi router. The maximum Wi-Fi speed of the router will be higher, but the mesh network will provide a stronger signal across your entire home.

Having said that, high-end mesh networks win on both performance reliability. The best mesh networks can blanket a 5,000 square foot home in extremely fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Pricing for a high-end mesh networks can exceed $1,000, however, putting them out of reach for many people.

Can I Use Mesh Wi-Fi With an Existing Router?

You can use a mesh network with an existing router in several ways, though not all are recommended.

It's possible to use a Wi-Fi router and mesh network as separate Wi-Fi networks in the same home. This might be counterproductive, however, as the signal from each network could cause interference.

Alternatively, you can turn off the Wi-Fi feature on an older Wi-Fi router and connect a mesh network to it over an Ethernet cable. You can continue to use the router's wired Ethernet ports. However, this can make network set up more complex.

Some Wi-Fi routers are advertised as mesh capable or mesh ready. Routers with this feature can be used with additional nodes purchased individually, though the results often fall behind mesh networks sold as a bundle.

FAQ
  • What do I need for a mesh network?

    Before you buy, make sure you have the space for the extra equipment. Once you've purchased a mesh system, all you need for your mesh network is a modem and an internet plan with an ISP.

  • How do I set up a mesh network?

    To set up your mesh Wi-Fi network, download its app on your phone. Connect the main node to the router using an Ethernet cable, then scan the QR code on the bottom of the main node. After setting up the network through the app, plug in the other nodes one at a time.

  • How do I increase bandwidth in a mesh network?

    To increase your Wi-Fi speed, move your mesh units closer to the main router and remove any nearby obstructions. You can also try switching Wi-Fi channels to prevent signal interference. To get the internet speed you're paying for, you may need to upgrade your modem.

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