As a modern alternative to the traditional router, you would be forgiven for thinking that a mesh router would automatically be “better” in all cases than a simple, standard Wi-Fi router. However, this isn’t always the case.
We now have to give more thought to the underlying connectivity in our homes. Mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices ranging from security cameras to smart appliances, have all increased the load shouldered by our routers.
Also: The best mesh Wi-Fi systems right now
The face of modern-day work has changed as well, with the adoption of remote and hybrid working. Despite the resistance of some companies to continuing these arrangements, home offices are likely to be a common feature in homes for the foreseeable future.
This is where mesh networks come in. Designed to lighten the endpoint load and reduce congestion, mesh systems can be invaluable for maintaining connectivity — but they aren’t suitable for every household. Sometimes, you only need a high-quality standard router, whereas a mesh network could be overkill. When it comes to speed, Wi-Fi routers (and LAN cabling) are often king.
ZDNET explains the difference and why you should adopt a mesh network over a traditional router system — and vice versa.
Also: The best Wi-Fi routers (and where you should place yours)
What is a traditional Wi-Fi router?
A traditional router acts as a central hub for internet connectivity. Traffic requests from devices funnel through a main router’s internet service and a single access point. Routers can be accessed through wireless channels or by plugging in an Ethernet cable. Typically, these routers are password-protected.
You should buy a traditional Wi-Fi router if…
1. You’re on a tight budget
Standard routers are generally more affordable than mesh network products. While you can still expect to pay hundreds of dollars for a premium router, many options are budget-friendly, quick, and stable enough to keep your home office running effectively without further input.
2. You have heavy bandwidth and speed requirements
Also: Modem vs router: What’s the difference?
Gamers and live streamers, for example, should generally stick with wired Ethernet connections and traditional routers, as they will likely provide improved speeds and stability over wireless-first products.
3. You want a plug-and-play product
A standard router is often less hassle to set up than a mesh network. For something that “just works,” a typical router might be the best option. Set it up, make sure updates are automatically applied, and forget about it.
4. You want to separate devices and networks
You can set up guest Wi-Fi networks on most modern routers, but if you also want to keep all of your IoT devices on a separate home network in the interests of security, most routers will allow you to do this without much hassle.
TP-Link AXE16000 (Archer AXE300)
A top-notch Wi-Fi router for power-hungry users.
What is a mesh router?
While traditional routers are singular, 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 Wi-Fi nodes that all provide web connectivity. For example, you could have a central hub in the kitchen and satellite nodes in the home office, kitchen, and bedroom.
When you access the internet while in the kitchen, you would automatically connect to the hub, whereas you would jump on a node while you’re in your home office, and so on — and this blanket coverage is why mesh devices are great for larger homes or offices. Most mesh systems will automatically select the best channels and nodes to avoid dead zones and lower the risk of poor connectivity.
You should buy a mesh networking system if…
1. Improved coverage
The main benefit of a mesh network is extended coverage. Investing in a mesh setup will remove annoyances, such as coverage blackspots or slow connections in larger properties with a lot of square feet. You’re far less likely to have dead zones with a mesh system than you are with a single router access point.
Also: How to convert your home’s old TV cabling into powerful Ethernet lines
Mesh networks can often cover up to 5,000 sq. ft., and more, with enough satellites. That’s far more than you can expect from one central router.
2. You need a reliable connection, no matter where you are
As your device will connect to the nearest satellite node rather than a central point of access, this feature helps ensure that — no matter where you are in a property — you are less likely to experience connectivity failures or drops.
In this manner, mesh networks are particularly useful if you have a home office in a garden area separate from your house, for example.
Another benefit is that mesh systems and satellites are often designed to look modern, sleek, and may be more discreet than bulky, traditional routers, giving you more options for placement.
3. You want additional controls
Once a mesh network is active, many vendors allow users to control their system through a mobile app. This could include keeping an eye on network traffic, rebooting, or even turning off the internet entirely — perhaps an appealing prospect for those with children who don’t want to mess with a typical router’s configuration. In addition, some mesh networks also act as smart hubs and are compatible with voice assistants.
A note of warning, however: you may need to spend some time tweaking configuration settings when you first setup a mesh network.
Netgear Orbi AX5400
A future-proof Wi-Fi mesh system that spans up to 12,500 sq. ft. of coverage with enough satellites.