Three best mesh WiFi systems
Every gadget evolves -- whether it's the Walkman's slow progression to becoming an iPod, or our phones slowly morphing into tiny supercomputers, our gear is constantly getting more powerful and more convenient.
That's true about WiFi, too. Long gone are the days of holding up our smartphones hoping to get more WiFi bars. There's a new kid on the home networking block: mesh WiFi systems take a team approach. Instead of coverage depending on a single hardware unit, mesh networks deploy multiple identical nodes that work together to provide access. Coverage woes evaporate, and users can enjoy a "set it and forget it" mentality.
If you're ready to join the mesh networking revolution -- or if you need a comprehensive WiFi solution that doesn't require an engineering degree to set up and maintain -- here's everything you ever wanted to know about WiFi but were afraid to ask.
Considerations when choosing mesh WiFi systems
Mesh WiFi vs. traditional routers
More and more users are migrating from using traditional routers to using mesh WiFi systems. Before you start shopping, take a moment to consider which approach is best for your home.
Mesh WiFi systems: These use multiple identical access points (nodes) to create a larger WiFi footprint in your home. As you access your WiFi on a mesh network, the nodes all work together to determine the fastest way to send data to you, so you're always getting the speediest access available. If you live in a single-family dwelling that has coverage problems all around, getting a mesh WiFi system will make dead spots a distant memory.
Traditional routers: These act as a "home base" for your WiFi and use that single point to deliver WiFi to devices in range. In a traditional router setup, your WiFi speeds depend on how close you are to the router. Most routers also work with WiFi network extenders to expand coverage. If you live in an apartment or house with more than 3,000 square feet, a traditional router with WiFi extenders may be your best bet.
Specs to watch: comparing mesh WiFi systems
When comparing mesh WiFi systems, keep these three important factors in mind:
Included hardware: One of the biggest differentiators on the mesh networking market is how many nodes are included. In most cases, mesh WiFi systems come in packs of three, but some only include two. Three mesh WiFi nodes is enough to cover a large house, but two might be better suited to a large apartment. As you're shopping for mesh WiFi hardware, think about how many nodes you'll need. If you need more than three, investigate the costs related to adding more in the future.
Intended software features: Some mesh WiFi systems include free built-in features like parental controls, usage reporting, and VPN services, while others charge subscription fees for them or don't include them at all. Before you go shopping, make a list of the software features you need, such as guest network access, port forwarding, or IP reservations, and be certain the system you buy supports all of them.
Mesh WiFi system prices: When it comes to mesh WiFi, prices are all over the place, which can make bargains hard to identify. Most systems cost between $300 and $500. On the low end are systems with only two nodes, and on the high end are the systems with the easiest interfaces.
Q. Can I use a mesh network together with a WiFi range extender?
A. No. Mesh networks are designed to be the only devices that manage WiFi network access. If you need to add coverage to a specific location, you'll need to either rearrange your existing mesh network nodes or buy additional ones. Using mesh networks with other products that manage network access can prevent your devices from getting to the internet.
Q. What do I need to buy if I also want to use hardwired Ethernet connections in addition to a mesh WiFi network?
A. Most mesh network nodes include at least one Ethernet port, so you can hardwire devices to them for even faster access. If you need to connect multiple Ethernet cables to your mesh network, buy an unmanaged network switch. An unmanaged switch will allow you to turn one Ethernet port into multiple. In contrast, managed switches could cause issues with mesh networks, so if you're planning on buying a network switch, get an unmanaged one.
Q. Can I buy additional mesh networking nodes to expand the reach of my mesh WiFi network?
A. Yes. Mesh networks are designed so that each node is identical to all of the others, and extending your network is as simple as connecting a new node. Just keep in mind that there is such thing as too many nodes. Because all available nodes work together to deliver internet to devices, having too many of them can introduce unnecessary delays. Most homes don't need more than three nodes. If your living space requires more than six nodes, consider getting a traditional router with separate range extenders instead.
Mesh WiFi Systems
Best of the best: eero Home WiFi System (3-Pack)
Our take: Features, ease of use, and rock-solid WiFi continue to make eero's mesh networks the best in the industry.
What we like: The customer service is second to none. Product updates are frequent, and WiFi speeds are exceptional.
What we dislike: They're pricey.
Best bang for your buck: Google WiFi System (3-Pack)
Our take: Google's mesh networking system has an incredible range and is more affordable than comparable models.
What we like: Parental controls are simple to manage. Its range is big enough to share WiFi with your neighbors -- and their neighbors, too.
What we dislike: Getting product and customer support can be painful with Google.
Choice 3: Linksys Velop Tri-Band (3-Pack)
Our take: The Velop system is a solid choice that integrates seamlessly with any smart home.
What we like: Alexa integration means you can use an Amazon Echo or the Alexa app to use voice commands, so you can do things like provide guest network access for visitors.
What we dislike: It's one of the most expensive options available.
Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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