How to boost your home WiFi with a mesh network

Working, learning and entertaining ourselves at home these days can brings a fair amount of strain on the ol’ WiFi signal – so what can you do about it?

If you simply want to strengthen your signal, you could look at buying a better router than the one your ISP gave you.

Alternatively if you want to send a signal further to a patio or back bedroom, you may be looking at a range extender. These plug into sockets around your house and give the signal from the router a little nudge.

Another way to get the best of both worlds is to consider investing in a ‘mesh WiFi’ setup. These are products from the likes of BT, Netgear or Google that consist of both a router and a several ‘nodes’ that blanket your gaff in an evenly-spaced amount of coverage.

Unlike range extenders, the nodes act as WiFi points in their own right and help give you a much more robust signal. Furthermore, because you may have different devices jumping on the signal in different rooms, the mesh network will be able to allocate and distribute the signal accordingly.

Setting up mesh networks isn’t particularly difficult as many will have a smartphone app that guides you through the process. It’s usually a case of plugging them in and scanning QR codes.

Even with a mesh WiFi system, you’ll still need a modem to plug the router or nodes into. In most cases, the modem is housed inside a router supplied by a broadband provider like Virgin Media or Sky.

WiFi speeds explained

Where you may want to pay closer attention is what kind of WiFi signal is supported and what sort of speeds you’ll be able to get. And naturally, there’s price to consider as well – mesh WiFi isn’t always a cheap investment.

Without getting too technical, WiFi is a protocol (a way of governing data packets) known as 802.11. When it comes to speeds, look at the letters after the protocol to know what level of speed you’re getting. For example, 802.11n is a standard speed level that gets you around 100Mbps over a WiFi network.

If you jump up a level, you’ll get 802.11ac which promises speeds around 1,300Mbps but in reality gives you about 200Mbps. Finally, there’s now 802.11ax which is also known as WiFi 6 and offers theoretical speeds of 10Gbps and delivers something like 2Gbps.

If you want the most future-proofing for your home network, go for WiFi 6 – but understand that it’ll be pricy. For most of us, an 802.11ac network will do just fine.

Some examples of mesh WiFi products

There are a number of different mesh WiFi offerings from some of the biggest names in tech.

We’ve not reviewed any of the below devices ourselves so we can’t definitively say which is the best to go for.

Still, here’s some examples of systems you may want to look into.

Google Nest WiFi

There’s no denying that Google knows what it’s doing when it comes to the internet. After all, the company pretty much indexed the whole thing over the last couple of decades.

Nest WiFi runs on all speeds up to 802.11ac and comes with a router and single node that also doubles as a Google Home smart speaker. It’s got a pleasingly simple design and Google says a single router and node will cover up to 210 square meters with WiFi. You can add in additional nodes to increase the coverage. For example, adding one more node brings the coverage up to 300 square meters.

Google Nest may not have all the power and throughput of mesh systems from Netgear or Linksys but it’s relatively affordable (at £239), looks good and is simple to use.

Netgear Orbi

The Netgear Orbi mesh WiFi system gets plenty of recommendations from techies because of its power and performance. Naturally though, that makes it more expensive.

The company’s AC3000 system promises coverage for 460 square meters and support for 25+ devices and is (at the time of writing) going for £300 on Amazon.

The AC3000 runs on 802.11ac speeds but you could opt for the AX6000 which utilises 802.11ax (WiFi 6) for even stronger signals and faster speeds. That’ll set you back £700, though.

If you’re looking for full future-proofing and are reasonably comfortable with technology and networks this could be worth looking into.

TP-Link Deco M5

When it comes to affordability, the best option out there seems to be this offering from TP-Link. The consensus reads that it won’t offer the same kinds of speeds as other systems but it won’t cost as much either.

The little circular units focus more on spreading signal evenly rather than pure throughput. You can pick up a three-pack for £180 on Amazon at the moment, down from £240.

Setup is handled through an app and you can add up to 10 nodes to the system with each node offering coverage of 185 square meters.

There are many more options for mesh WiFi networks out there – be sure to have a look around and weigh up the options before making your purchase.

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