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Do mesh Wi-Fi networks provide better coverage than traditional routers?

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Q: Have you had a chance to test any of the mesh network products for a larger house?

Wi-Fi can be a challenge when you have a large area that you’d like to cover or when you have construction materials that impact coverage.

Concrete walls, metal structures and lots of metal air conditioning ducts are common reasons that a Wi-Fi signal can be obstructed, even in a smaller home.

In the past, if you wanted to improve your Wi-Fi signal in low signal areas, you either installed another access point or a range extender.

Neither of those solutions was perfect, as one required you to run new cables and the other would generally give you half the signal strength as connecting directly to your router.

Mesh networks

A newer technology known as a mesh network, while more expensive, is significantly better when dealing with large areas of coverage.

A typical system will consist of three nodes which all talk to each other and provide the same level of performance as a result. It’s almost like having three access points in your home.

In our tests using the Ubiquiti Labs AmpliFi HD, we found dramatic improvement in coverage compared to a traditional single router in a large home.

Ubiquiti has long been a supplier of commercial grade networking devices and recently entered the consumer market to provide some of the same technology at a lower cost.

The setup

The setup was pretty simple, with a base station that took the place of the original router and two additional wireless mesh nodes that simply needed to be plugged into an outlet in the areas where we wanted to improve the signal.

The wireless mesh nodes automatically find the base station and connect themselves within a few minutes of plugging them in. All three will appear as the same SSID (or network name) throughout your house.

A signal strength meter on the nodes lets you know how strong the signal is in your chosen location.

Not only did it fill in the gaps within the home, it extended the signal reach far outside of the house, which allowed for connectivity by the pool, which was a good distance away from the house and the garage, which never had signal before.

The company rates their coverage of the full system at about 20,000 square feet, so if you don’t need that much coverage, you can buy a base station and a single node and save some money.

The Amplifi HD is designed for less tech-savvy users, so complicated security issues are handled with their mobile app (iOS or Android), which also allows parents to manage the various devices that connect to it.

The app makes it simple to limit usage by certain devices based on the time of day so you can create a virtual bedtime for internet access for a child’s device.

Conversion tip

If you decide to replace an existing router with this or any other mesh network solution, make sure you use the same SSID and password you were using on your previous network to avoid having to reset all your devices in order to connect.

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