2021 should continue to rhyme with teleworking and distance education. Therefore, should you fall for a mesh network or stay on your good old Wi-Fi router?
For many, the router is the one that was delivered by default by their Internet Service Provider (ISP) when they signed up for broadband. Still, the explosion of streaming services is now cracking our old routers under pressure.
Each device connected to the router requires bandwidth. The pandemic has contributed to the need for speed, capacity, and reliability in the home router space; we are now faced with the additional burdens of teleworking and distance education, not to mention our use of the internet for entertainment during long evenings in confinement. To keep our home and telecommuting facilities running smoothly, now is the time to think about what kind of router you need, now and in the future.
When browsing the different options online, a plethora of features are available: Wi-Fi 5 or 6, mesh networking, voice assistance, Ethernet and wired, mobile and LTE, and much more. While many features may be superfluous for your needs, there are two main types of products to consider: the traditional router or the mesh network.
Wi-Fi routersThe mesh network has entered the market relatively recently. You are therefore forgiven if you think it is automatically "better" than a standard router. However, not everyone will like it in use. A standard router acts as a central hub for internet connectivity. Traffic and requests from devices authorized to connect to the router - usually through a password - are routed through a single access point.
Standard routers are generally more affordable than mesh network products. Even though high-end routers can run into a few hundred dollars, there are plenty of options that are fast and stable enough to get you through all of your web tasks without difficulty. Setting up a standard router is less complicated than setting up a mesh network. For something that "works", a standard router may be the best option. Set it up, make sure updates are automatically applied, and forget about the rest.
Many current routers are designed to meet high bandwidth and streaming needs and have the technology to meet them. This is the case with the Netgear Nighthawk and the Asus ROG. For gamers and live streamers, for example, it might be better to stick with wired Ethernet connections, which can perform better with traditional routers, instead of just wireless products.
You can set up guest networks on most modern routers. But, if you also want to keep all of your connected devices on a separate network for security reasons, most routers will allow you to do this without too much hassle.
Bulky defectsTraditional routers have flaws, however. As the access to the internet is distributed through a single point, it may mean that areas far from your router will have slow or spotty connections that will drop. However, range extensions can help remove this barrier and can still be less costly than investing in a mesh network.
“Traditional” routers can also experience a lot of slowdowns. Unless using extenders or channel separators, too many connections can lead to overloading, bottlenecks, delays, and drops.
Finally, if you want to change a router's more advanced settings, it can often require boring visits to a dedicated platform, rather than seamless connectivity to the mobile apps that we've come to love for many of our modern services.
Worth mentioning is WI-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax? This is the next standard in wireless technology and is designed to increase the performance of wireless devices over 802.11ac. Some modern routers support this standard, and could therefore prove useful in optimizing your telecommuting facility. We must also keep in mind the MU-MIMO standard (Multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output). Some routers use this technology to improve data transfer speed when multiple devices are connected simultaneously - but not all.
Mesh networksWhile traditional routers are single, centralized access points, mesh networking devices are decentralized. Instead of a device connecting to a single gateway to the internet, mesh networks are created from multiple nodes that all provide web connectivity. For example, you can have a central "hub" in the kitchen and then satellite nodes in your office, kitchen, or bedroom.
When you try to access the web in the kitchen, you automatically connect to the hub, while you hop on the node when you are in your office, and so on. The main advantage of a mesh network is the extension of coverage. In large area properties, investing in a mesh network will eliminate drawbacks such as blanket black spots.
As your device will connect to the nearest satellite node rather than a central access point, this helps ensure that no matter where you are in a property you are less likely to experience connectivity drops. Once a mesh network is active, many providers allow users to control their router through a mobile app. This could be monitoring network traffic, restarting, or even completely disabling the internet, which can be of interest to people with children.
More disadvantagesIn general, mesh devices require a larger investment for their installation. The hub and satellite don't have to be too expensive, but if you want to take full advantage of what a mesh network can do for you, you may need to purchase more, and the funds for this may be required. Accumulate.
Setting up a mesh network also means you will need more than one outlet. For each piece of equipment you add, you will need to make sure that there is an electrical supply and that you are happy to have them distributed throughout your property, as beautifully designed as possible.
Finally, the term "mesh" means coverage with respect to speed. In some cases, mesh networks - especially at entry levels - will not provide the same speeds that you might expect from regular routers.
The best way for telecommutingYou need to decide whether the investment in a full mesh network is worth it. In larger homes where there are uncovered areas, it can immediately improve signal strength and coverage.
However, overhauling your existing router configuration can be expensive, and going for a full mesh network might be overkill. Unless you have multiple users and devices constantly competing for bandwidth. There are mesh networking systems, like Google WiFi, Nest WiFi, and euro, which are relatively inexpensive to set up - as long as you don't need too much coverage equipment.
Before changing your configuration, you must also take your plan into account. If you have subscribed to a low-speed offer, new equipment will not necessarily help you. It is better to opt for an upgrade of your plan. If you are a single user and need a stable and strong connection, such as for business applications or resource-intensive games, a traditional router may suffice. The cable is faster than wireless, and the investment in a simple Ethernet cable might be enough for you.
Wi-Fi range extenders can also be considered as an alternative to mesh if you just need to increase coverage in certain areas. This alternative will also probably be less expensive than purchasing individual mesh nodes. Some vendors also offer "bolted" meshes, such as Asus' AiMesh, which allow existing routers to be connected to create a mesh coverage network without tearing everything out and starting over.
However, the mesh network is here to stay. And, while telecommuting sometimes supplants office work, a mesh network installation could be a future-proof investment. This setup won't be for you if you rely on wired connectivity and speed but, if you need to make sure that dead zones and blackouts don't impact your workday - and don't worry. Potential expense - mesh systems are a nice upgrade to your home equipment.