What is a Mesh Network?

How mesh Wi-Fi is different from a standard Wi-Fi network

Rather than relying on a single router, a mesh network uses multiple routers to distribute the wireless network more uniformly over a larger area. They're intended to eliminate the dead spots you commonly encounter in large homes from a single Wi-Fi router.

What Is a Mesh Network Router

Mesh networking relies on a set of mesh routers. This is not new technology; mesh networks have been used by the military since the 1980s, for example. But the first mesh routers became commonly available for home and consumer buyers with models like the Eero and Orbi starting around 2016.

A person in the background with a wi-fi router in the foreground
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A mesh router is not a single device like a traditional router; there can be two, three, or even more routers in a mesh system. One of these routers is a gateway that connects to the internet, usually via the DSL or cable modem. But every mesh router in the system is a node that "talks" to one another and behaves like the primary router, able to communicate with any devices in range. This lets a mesh router system blanket a large home with Wi-Fi without any dead spots.

How a Mesh Router Is Different Than a Wi-Fi Extender

You might have some experience with Wi-Fi extenders. Usually an inexpensive accessory, you plug it into a part of the house that has a poor Wi-Fi signal, and the extender takes the existing Wi-Fi and amplifies it, filling in the nearby gaps in coverage. An extender can get the job done, but it has shortcomings. Chief among them: An extender has its own SSID, so when you move from one part of the house to another, you may need to change Wi-Fi networks. And any devices that depend on being on the same network to work properly may fail if connected to the extender's network.

A mesh network is very different. All the mesh routers are equal nodes in your primary Wi-Fi network, so they use the same SSID, and work together to distribute the network traffic for the best possible performance. When you set up a mesh network, you need to distribute the routers throughout your home in a way that they are close enough to each other that they can stay in communication and exchange information, but still reach the furthest extremities of your floor plan. Usually, the mesh router's software can help you do this.

When You Should Consider a Mesh Router

Not everyone needs a mesh network. If you have a floor plan that's small or compact enough so there are no Wi-Fi dead spots, a traditional router is sufficient. Or, if you have a dead zone at one end of your home that's far from your router, moving the router to a more central location in the home can solve the problem.

But if you can't move the router because the modem is fixed at one end of your home, or the house is simply too big for a single router to blanket it in Wi-Fi service, a mesh network is a good solution. Many mesh router manufacturers recommend their product for homes in excess of 2,000 square feet, for example. In addition, it's almost always going to be more convenient and more effective than a Wi-Fi extender.

However, one downside of mesh networks is the price. A mesh router system is often significantly more expensive than traditional routers. But in return, they're easy to set up, offer consistent Wi-Fi everywhere in your home, and may even be upgradeable; if you find two or three nodes still leads to a dead spot in your particularly large or labyrinthine home, you can buy another node to extend service.