What’s the problem with traditional range extenders?
Range extenders are relatively inexpensive and can be effective in the right situations. However, they greatly compromise performance. That’s because range extenders are really only signal boosters. They work by amplifying an existing Wi-Fi signal. And if your Wi-Fi signal is already weak to begin with, what good is amplifying that signal?
To make matters worse, because range extenders can typically only transmit and receive data one at a time and not simultaneously, bandwidth is usually reduced by at least half. This, coupled with the already weak signal in the first place, is the main reason why users often complain of range extenders being slow.
Range extenders are also clumsy to use because they broadcast a separate network of their own, often also using another SSID. This means users might need to manually toggle between networks when moving around their homes to ensure they get the best connection.
Another disadvantage of range extenders is that they only expand the network in a single direction. In other
words, you cannot add a range extender on top of another range extender to further extend the network. This limits the extent to which range extenders can increase Wi-Fi coverage.
how are mesh networks better?
Mesh networks, on the other hand, are far more sophisticated - which also explains their higher costs. Rather than simply amplify or boost a signal, a mesh networking kit often consists of two or more routers or nodes. One of the nodes will usually be connected to your existing router or modem and will broadcast WiFi like any other router. Wi-Fi coverage can then be expanded simply by adding more nodes to the network. Each node broadcasts its own Wi-Fi signal, which increases overall Wi-Fi coverage. Data can then be transmitted through these nodes to reach your client devices.
An important thing to note about these mesh networks is the underlying principle in which they operate. Unlike range extenders, these nodes communicate with each other using Wi-Fi, which makes them considerably speedier. Some mesh networking kits even have a dedicated network that is used solely for relaying data to and from each node and this can boost performance even further.
Mesh networking systems are also more flexible when it comes to expanding Wi-Fi coverage. Unlike range extenders which can only expand Wi-Fi coverage in one direction, there’s practically no limit to how you can expand Wi-Fi coverage with mesh networking systems. In fact, you can even daisy-chain nodes to expand or bring Wi-Fi coverage to an area far away from your modem. This flexibility is often very useful for large homes or homes with odd layouts.
Take the home above, for example. Let’s assume the termination point and optical modem (ONT) is located at the extreme left of the house, near the entrance. Therefore, this is also where you would install your router. The problem with such a setup is that the router ends up being very far away from the rooms that are on the extreme left, which results in Wi-Fi dead spots in your bedrooms.
The traditional workaround is to put a range extender somewhere in the middle, but as we discovered earlier, range extenders are not very good at expanding Wi-Fi coverage mainly because of their unsatisfactory performance. And even with a range extender in the middle, the extender might not necessarily be able to provide Wi-Fi until the extreme ends of the home.
However, because of the unique way in which mesh networking systems work, it is possible to daisy-chain mesh networking nodes to expand Wi-Fi coverage to areas that are far away from the router. In this case, Wi-Fi coverage can be spread across the home by connecting the first node to your optical modem and then another node near the middle and then another one at the extreme end. This ensures the home is sufficiently blanketed by Wi-Fi coverage.
Because of its unique daisy-chaining ability, mesh networking systems can be much more flexible in their setup, which makes them especially useful in large and multistory homes.
Performance and flexibility aside, mesh networks are also more convenient to use as they typically broadcast only a single SSID and will automatically keep devices connected to the node that provides the strongest connection. This allows users to roam freely about the house and not worry about switching networks or losing connection. And by using complex algorithms, the mesh network will automatically route data across the various nodes to client devices regardless of their position in the network.
Most important of all, mesh networking works and provides performance that easily trumps that of traditional range extenders. In our own tests, we found that mesh networking systems can effectively expand Wi-Fi coverage and provide
coverage to areas of the home where there was previously no Wi-Fi. In addition, we also found that they are significantly faster than traditional range extenders - by as much as over 1,000 percent depending on conditions. So if you have Wi-Fi woes at home, a Wi-Fi mesh networking system can probably help.
True mesh networking vs. false mesh networking
When shopping for a mesh networking system, it pays to do some research because some systems that are advertised as mesh networks don’t actually behave like true mesh networking systems.
The biggest offender of this is the Netgear Orbi. The company has since changed its advertising materials, but when it was released, the Orbi was advertised as a mesh networking unit, except it is not. In actuality, the Orbi is actually more like a hybrid device.
Unlike true mesh networking units, you cannot daisy-chain Orbi nodes. In fact, every Orbi node, or satellite as Netgear calls it, can only communicate with the Orbi router. In this case, it works like a traditional range extender.
However, unlike range extenders, the Orbi relies on a single dedicated 5GHz network for communications between the node and router. This ensures faster transmission of data between the router and the node. In addition, the Orbi and its nodes also broadcast a single SSID and users are automatically routed to the router or satellite that is broadcasting the strongest signal.
In summary, true mesh networking systems have nodes that communicate with each other, and it is this feature that gives them their flexibility and allows them to create Wi-Fi coverage that spans large areas.
Range extenders are only able to expand coverage in a single direction, which makes them ill-suited for larger homes.
Mesh networks very more flexible in their placement and can spread Wi-Fi coverage over a larger area.
For multistory homes, only mesh networking systems will suffice. Range extenders simply do not have the flexibility nor ability to expand Wi-Fi coverage over such a large area.