What Is a Mesh Network?

A computer network is what connects devices to the Internet. But these networks come in various forms: bus, star, ring, tree, point-to-point, daisy chain, hybrid, and mesh. Each network type is unique based on the positioning of and connection between its network nodes and devices. In this article, learn about mesh networks: what they are, how they can benefit you, and how to use them on your routers.

What is a mesh network?

A mesh network is a group of connected devices that act like a single network. These devices, such as WiFi routers, computers, and cell phones, are linked together and branch off of other devices. Because all devices work together, mesh network connections are efficient and consistent.

So, how does a mesh network work? Mesh networks rely on network nodes, which are the connection points among network devices. They are devices such as routers, printers, and switches that can send data from one point to another.

In a mesh network, every node is connected to every other node. They give multiple sources for a device to connect to rather than just a single router. Mesh networks provide a web, or ‘mesh,’ of wireless network connections that completely cover the area within its mesh nodes.

Devices that can connect together on a mesh network

Mesh networking is very common in homes and office buildings where high-quality connection throughout an entire building or place is important.

Advantages and disadvantages of a mesh network

Advantages of a mesh network

There are many advantages to using a mesh network. The primary benefit is that the failure of one device in the network will not cause the network to crash. Additionally, there are fewer network congestion issues when multiple devices use the network to transmit and request data. Since each device in the network is connected to every other device, if one route is filled, traffic can be sent a different way.

Mesh systems also provides privacy and security for your data. This is mainly due to the fact that data transmission is more consistent since failure doesn’t disrupt the network process. Plus, adding devices to the network will not disrupt data transmission, and there is no device with centralized authority.

Disadvantages of a mesh network

While mesh networks have many advantages, they aren’t always the best type of network to implement. A mesh network is much more expensive than other network types, and they are much more difficult to set up than these other networks.

Mesh networks also require a lot more power to keep running than their competitors. Their large number of connections also yields a higher chance of connections being redundant. While these paths can help with traffic jams, the majority of the time, many paths go unused or serve the same function as other paths. This can lead to needless resource spending on a surplus of paths that aren't necessary.

Understanding mesh networks and WiFi

What is the difference between WiFi and mesh networks?

WiFi is a type of network connection, whereas a mesh network is a type of network itself. But there are also differences in how each is provided.

WiFi is generally provided through a router that connects to your devices and your modem. One of a WiFi router’s biggest problems is that they are prone to dead spots where devices can’t connect to the Internet. These are caused primarily by distance from the router or other random interferences. This is why phone carriers are so competitive: they offer WiFi connection with different coverage areas, meaning users will experience dead zones in certain areas depending on the carrier they choose.

Mesh routers work differently, however. They connect to two or more devices that carry a WiFi connection between them, eliminating dead zones and allowing complete coverage of a specific area. Therefore, when used in a home, they eliminate dead spots in certain areas, covering the entire home with the WiFi mesh network.

Is mesh WiFi better than an extender?

Though both methods have advantages, yes, a mesh WiFi network will likely be better than an extender. WiFi range extenders sit between a wireless router and an area where you need better wireless coverage. They take the existing signal from the wireless router and rebroadcast it, boosting the coverage in the dead spot.

Unfortunately, it can be a fairly inefficient method at times. Simply repeating the signal does not send broadcasted data in the right direction. There is no logic that an extender has to send information the right way.

Furthermore, it can be frustrating having to switch networks back and forth for WiFi coverage whenever you move around. You would have to connect to the original router when near it, and the extender when near that.

To make matters worse, WiFi extenders have a habit of slowing network speeds. Managing them often requires that you to go to a web page to change settings or download new system updates. It can feel complicated.

Mesh networks easily provide coverage to an entire house by connecting multiple connectivity devices. They allow multiple access points to a network, making it very efficient for home WiFi and home networks. Additionally, network speeds and Internet access are not inhibited by mesh networks like they are with WiFi extenders.

All in all, mesh WiFi systems are better than WiFi extenders. But that doesn't automatically make them the best choice for each user.

WiFi extenders are more accessible; they are the simple solution to dead spots in a home. Different people and circumstances may call for a simpler solution. And people who are uncomfortable installing a WiFi mesh network in their home or office building can easily purchase and connect an extender.

Can I add mesh WiFi to existing routers?

Yes, you can add mesh WiFi to existing routers. However, there are multiple ways of doing so. Adding mesh to a network is more complicated than just changing the current settings on your router, especially to get all of the benefits of a mesh network.

Often, the best way to convert current routers to a mesh network is through using dedicated mesh devices. If you want to add mesh to your network, consider the three options below.

Method one: Convert your routers

One option is to convert your routers into wireless repeaters. Any devices you want to make wireless repeaters must be switched into wireless repeater mode. The process for each device can be different for doing this, so contacting the manufacturer or visiting the manufacturer's website is the best way to get the instructions. The existing router will then just act as a network gateway.

This option lacks all of the benefits of a mesh network, however. These benefits require stable connection, resulting from mesh devices supporting seamless handoff. This capability is built into modern mesh devices but won’t be present if you use your router as a wireless repeater.

Method two: Use dedicated mesh devices

Another option is to set up dedicated mesh devices, but keep your existing router plugged into the network. This method’s effectiveness will depend a lot upon the quality of the mesh devices you purchase.

To do this, put your router into bridge mode through its management portal. Then, connect the root of your mesh network to the router, and set it up using a mesh management app. Finally, set up the other mesh devices using the app, and then unify the SSIDs that they broadcast. The unification of SSIDs could be done automatically, depending on the mesh management app you are using or the type of devices purchased.

Method three: Use powerline adapters

An alternative solution is to use powerline adapters. Wired connections are almost always faster and more reliable than wireless connections. Powerline adapters convert the electrical cables in a home, office, or building into pathways for network traffic. Essentially, electrical outlets turn into Ethernet ports.

You can then plug in access points to these outlets for wireless devices that also enable wired connections. These access points will have seamless handoffs between each other, creating a kind of mesh network without the actual network. While it’s likely not as fast as simply buying and running Ethernet cables through the area, it can get very close.

Most people looking to switch to a mesh network want something that is low in cost, extends wireless coverage to fix dead zones, and doesn’t require adding new cables. This solution provides all of these things.