What Is a Mesh Network?

Woman using computer on a mesh home network.

In computer networking, a mesh is one kind of network topology.

Types of Mesh Networks

Mesh networking has become increasingly popular in recent years with the growth of ​Wi-Fi and outdoor wireless networks. Although mesh networks can also be built using cables, it is more cost-effective and easier to scale a mesh using wireless connection technologies. Several different categories of mesh networks exist including:

  • community networks - connecting neighborhoods for more efficient sharing of network bandwidth and better social interaction (see the ​Jalalabad Fab-Fi Network for one example)
  • municipal networks - infrastructure for law enforcement and protected sharing of local government services
  • ad-hoc wireless networks - connections created "on-the-fly" among a small number of devices, often for file sharing between friends away from home

Mesh Network Basic Technologies

Beside the protocols and applications used in standard wired and wireless networking, several technologies have been created specifically for the purpose of mesh networking:

  • 802.11s, a standard being developed for ad-hoc Wi-Fi meshes
  • home automation network protocols like INSTEON, Z-Wave, and ZigBee
  • spanning trees, algorithms for managing data flow on traditional mesh networks

Building Mesh Networks

Many mesh networks use wireless routers installed at fixed locations to cover a building or specific outdoor area. Ad hoc meshes do not require access points but instead utilize the network protocol support of computer operating systems. Wired meshes utilize additional cables between wired routers.