SmartThings Community

Mesh Wi-Fi, is it what it's chalked up to be?

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(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #1

A trend that started last year was the Mesh WiFi system. These seemingly easy to setup, plug and play looking devices that cost a lot for the ones with the good reviews. I have been doing some research lately as my router is right at 3 years old… and my network performance has been suffering, a lot!

I found quite a few options out there. Just buy the kit, register the smartapp, plug in everything and go… kind of like the commercial I’ve seen on TV. But there was something I kept seeing that I just didn’t like. I’m a tech guy. I like to mess with things… ie break things and figure out how to fix them. Well, these off the shelf kits didn’t seem to give you the capabilities of a regular WiFi system… as in I couldn’t go in there and screw with settings till it broke.

And then, last week I found myself at BestBuy with the box in my hands… and I almost shelled out the $400.00 for that box… almost.

I decided to do a little more research and exercise all of the options.

First stop was MoCa. That step was fast, It just wasn’t going to happen.

Second step was Powerline Ethernet. I did some research and found the best reviewed item and went to get it. I was and was not impressed.

Now, I’ll give you some background on my little problem. I pay for a 100/10 cable internet into my home. I also have a 24mb/s ADSL into the house (which sucks so bad that I actually do not use it). My system would normally run around 60mb/s, on a good day, at 2am. But that was ok because at that time it was only 60/5 internet. I have 9 people in my house, at least 4 xbox’s, a gaming computer, 6 or 7 tv’s, netflix, 13 Alexa devices, and more wi-fi devices than I can count.

I honestly began to wonder if my system was overloaded and bottlenecking…

The biggest problem was when I moved my office. Apparently the new office location was a black hole of death for my wi-fi. I couldn’t get over 15 mb/s on my speeds… I was not happy. Netflix was buffering, games were kicking off the servers, ,web pages were timing out… and my HA was beginning to slow down…I was in a bind… the family was beating down the door!

I finally figured out my problem was environmental. I could stand in one spot (in the foyer) and get 115 mb/s download speed… move 6 feet and get 5 mb/s… it was my incredibly well built house coupled with an older router and a plethora of smart devices. I confirmed it was not the incoming signal by hard wiring the laptop to the router… speeds were awesome… and I was pissed…

Ok, summary so far… Incoming internet good. Wi-fi bad. Family pissed.

So… I bought the powerline ethernet kit and brought it home and got right to work… and just in the nick of time. When I got back from BB it was just walking in the door and the entire network system crashed… but that’s ok, I had the fix!

I set up the adapters. They are simple, super simple. Just plug them in and you’re done. One device goes to the router, then you connect the other device (they come in a set of two) to whatever. So, I connected it to my laptop in my office. They definitely improved my network. They got things up and running and stable. At a whopping 25 mb/s download speed. I was impressed that they worked that good, and very much not impressed that the AC1200 adapters I just bought only gave me that speed. FYI, my house is 4 years old… new wiring and no surge suppressors to interfere.

My struggle continued…

I had long ago ruled out repeaters. They are a pain, hardly ever work right, and they cut your bandwidth by 50%… just no.

Access points… I didn’t want to spend the money and they really aren’t much better than the repeaters.

So, i took a Cisco router that I had and rooted it with DD-WRT and turned it into my access point. Again, a royal pain in the butt.

And now to the thing moral of the story…

I was in my router settings. I’m using an ASUS AC68U/RT AC1900 router. 2.4 and 5 ghz radios. A very nice and powerful router. I keep the firmware up to date and it does good… until I built this house around it. Anyway, the settings… I was just about to give up for the night when the little beacon in the settings page started blinking… there was a new update! Ok, so I ran the update and rebooted the hub. I actually, one of the very few times, actually read the release notes. And you won’t believe what I found…

ASUS had just pushed out an updated firmware that turns their routers in a mesh wi-fi network. Once you update, the router is automatically configured for Router/Mesh use. And of course i only have the one ASUS router… and BB had closed hours before… I was a very sad panda…

Anyway… the next day I went to BB and got an ASUS AC1750 router… the newest version of the model. I figured since it was going to be mesh, no need to buy one of the big alien space ship looking ones. I drove home as fast as I could get away with and got started.

Since the firmware update was new, the new router didn’t have it. I was again a sad panda. So, I took it upstairs and plugged it into the router and updated the firmware. And then the big decision… which one should be the router and which one should be the modem… that was easy… the new hardware was the router and the old hardware became the node.

Set up was easy. Log into the old router, click the button for mesh node, the router does a factory reset. You set it close to the primary router and then log into that one. You click on the find a mesh node button and a couple of minutes later you’re up and running.

And now for the big test… how are the download speeds…

Now I was truly impressed. A consistent 115 mb/s where only minutes before I was lucky to get 30 mb/s. And my office? oh I get 85 mb/s in that black hole…

So, if you’re running ASUS routers… you to can easily have a mesh wi-fi system that works great.

If you hurry, as of this writing the AC1750 router is on clearance… well, last years model is. If you go to BB you can get this years $129.99 model for about $83.00. BB they will price match with Amazon… instant $50.00 savings. I’m going to grab another one today for for a total of three in the house.

ASUS routers are good powerful routers that work well, have a great UI, and are supported by the company for a while. And now, they are mesh wi-fi that you can get into the settings and break things!

My personal review… off the shelf mesh systems… I’d give them 4 stars out of 5 for their ease of use and ability to get the job done.
DIY ASUS mesh… 5 stars… Easy to set up, powerful, and I can get in there and break it!

Have a great day!


(Mark) #2

Why not?

10 chars.


(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #3

I know too many people that have run into problems with it. I just didn’t want to deal with it… plus the reviews showed that the power line ethernet has advanced enough to be worth a try. Plus, MoCa requires cable jacks. Mine were all place convenient for where I wanted to put my TV’s…


(Nathan Curtis) #4

Ok that was funny. I’ve felt that pain so many times…

I already have Linksys Velop - very nice system, good to know that the ASUS updates are going out. I have a 1750 as well, and had this been an option last year I would have definitely tried it!

Definitely interested to know if its good and stable in say 3-6 months?


#5

Glad you found something that works for you!

A few technical thoughts:

  1. powerline is not mesh WiFi. It’s not Wi-Fi at all. It’s a method of running signal over your house’s existing wiring to a new AP. It’s a 30-year-old technology that works well if your house has the right kind of wiring, but, as you noted, doesn’t handle high-speed. In the 1990s it was the classic way of getting Internet into a home office in the basement.

  2. there are several different types of mesh Wi-Fi available now. If you are a power user who is used to running WRT and really fine-tuning your router, check the features carefully as many of the new Wi-Fi mesh systems offer almost no admin features. The following is a good comparison article of the top brands which includes at least a brief discussion of admin features :

  1. the new AIMesh feature from Asus is actually a different construct then the mesh Wi-Fi used by eero and ubiquiti, but it doesn’t matter. It solves the same problem (WiFi dead spots)while maintaining the advanced router features.

However, the interface is the same web-based router management approach that power users are already used to. But it will seem very different then the consumer- friendly app based model of the other Products.

What you will also notice if you’ve used any of the other “hockey puck” mesh Wi-Fi systems is that AIMesh doesn’t have any of the node management utilities. For example, there’s nothing to tell you if an individual node is out of range, you just have to try things and see.

Also, another obvious difference is the big external antennas. The 2017 MeshWi-Fi systems were mostly designed to basically look like echo dots, small sleek units that could be put in any room without calling attention to themselves. ( ubiquiti amplifi is an exception, but since it doesn’t have support for MU –MIMO, it wouldn’t make my list anyway)

The Asus routers are the same routers you’ve always used, which is the point: big black spaceships with long antennas. :alien:

The ASUS move is a good one if you already have the hardware. If you are buying new stuff, you may want to research alternatives as well.

Technically AIMesh is still in beta, so you may also want to wait for some more field-tested reviews to see if there’s anything quirky.

  1. none of the above are actually using the “Wi-Fi mesh” standard.

The price you pay for this better efficiency? Proprietary protocols. While Wi-Fi remains standardized, and extremely and reliably compatible among equipment from different makers, no two mesh systems on the market work with each other. An early mesh protocol, 802.11h, wound up being not just insufficient to the task, but entirely ignored by companies as they pursued better results and competitive advantages. It’s also unlikely that any time in the next few years a compatible industry standard would arise and get uptake, given no such standard is currently working its way through the pipeline.

Since each is a proprietary protocol, you are at risk with anyone of them that if that particular company decides to drop that particular model line, you’ll have non-standard EOL equipment. That may not be a big deal, but it’s just something you should be aware of, as many people think that “Wi-Fi mesh” means the same thing from every company. It doesn’t.

Also if you’re getting ready to invest in all new equipment it’s good to look for some of the deep dive benchmark articles to see exactly which features each system has. They do vary quite a bit.


(Mark) #6

FWIW, http://smallnetbuilder.com is my go-to for the really in-depth reviews and benchmarking for WiFi and other networking devices that appeal to power users. I haven’t seen many links to their articles in this forum over the years (actually, none that I can think of).


#7

@nomadtech , @michaelahess , @sidjohn1 , myself, and some of the other community members interested in infrastructure have linked to their articles from time to time. Mostly in discussions on routers or ethernet switches. I agree, they usually have excellent coverage. :sunglasses:


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And @denwood is a community member who also blogs for them. :wink:


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(Mark) #8

I stand corrected. Not that I’m surprised :wink:


#9

Can’t help it, I (mostly) remember what I read. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Not a photographic memory (my sister has that), but the basic outlines.

But you’re definitely right that the references have been buried deep in the most technical conversations of infrastructure equipment. So you wouldn’t have seen many of them, but there are some.


(Mark) #10

Mine’s good enough to remember from previous threads that you have a near-photographic memory and your sister has an actual photographic memory :grin:

But definitely not close to photographic myself.


#11

Yeah, in my family I’m the one with the weak memory, out of 6 ( four kids and two parents). My sister is the best, but both of my brothers have better memories than I do. Everything is relative. LOL! :laughing:


(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #12

Great write up @JDRoberts and a wonderful addition to the subject.

The Asus tech definitely solved my problems.


(BigSlade) #13

For years I struggled with a centrally placed router and then a few repeaters, a couple powerline adapters here and there to get coverage throughout my house. After my last move, it was just not getting it done. I would have a great signal on one side of my house, but horrible on the other. Long story short, I did a lot of research and ended up giving the TP-Link Deco system a shot. I think I paid around $220 for it, which is only about $20 more than I paid for my last router that I thought would solve my issues. I have a 4000 sq ft house with 3 levels. On the first level I pull about 110 MB/s, regardless of where I am. In my basement I’ll pull between 60-70MB/s and on the top floor I pull about the same as the basement. I’m not saying it’s without faults, but I don’t have to worry about extenders, powerline adapters that need to be unplugged and plugged back in to work or anything else really except when the internet goes out, but that’s another story. I was going between this and the Google Mesh setup. When this one dropped in price, I decided to take a chance and I’ve been happy ever since.


(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #14

I believe with the increasing amount of options, and now with Asus jumping in there giving us power users the ability to still have administration rights… this tech is certain to become the future.

One thing I like is that I can log into the router that is acting as a node and configure it just like I would the primary. So, tweaking settings can be done based on the environmental circumstances of where you end up placing them.


#15

I’ve got the Netgear Orbi mesh setup and have been very pleased. I like their firmware options, and the Orbi architecture is unique in that it has a dedicated channel between the base and the satellite. If you only need 1 satellite you get full speed from the base. I get the full broadband wired speed via wireless all over my house now … 100 Mbps down/12 up.


(Olivier) #16

If you can afford (and by that I mean physically and visually), Ethernet backbone and WiFi Access points remains a great choice. The trick is the roaming and band steering part.
I have personally gone the Draytek route:

  • 2860 for the modem/router part (ditched my BT hub), and creating a 2.5ghz WiFi network just for some low bandwidth IOT things like the Harmonh Hub
  • AP910c powered by POE for the faster/user WiFi Access points, with roaming and band steering activated.
    Certainly more complex to setup, but rock solid afterwards, and I don’t really expect an issue with the number of WiFi clients :slight_smile:
  • Of course you also need a POE switch, but it then also powers my IP cameras and a small POE powered switch hidden under a cupboard, which solves some Auto IP issues

(Lee Florack) #17

My router is a Linksys AC1900 Dual Band SMART Wi-Fi Router (EA6900). For years, I’ve tried to use one or two wireless range extenders (Linksys RE4000W Dual Band Extenders) to ensure full home and outside porch/patio coverage. Although the range extenders worked for extending the range, they drastically decreased wireless throughput. It also ended up causing me connection issues such that I’d have to somewhat frequently reboot both my router and the extender in order to keep things stable.

About a year ago, after moving into a larger home - which made many of the existing issues a bit worse, I decided to get rid of the extenders and set up an access point (AP). I used a DD-WRT-flashed Cisco-Linksys E4200 Dual-Band Wireless-N RouterI had laying around. When setting up the AP, I disabled all of the router-type functions, leaving only the wireless radio on. The ‘new’ AP is hardwired to the router but is only running the wireless radio using the same SSID’s (it’s a dual-band router) as the router does. I now have full coverage (inside and outside) that is very stable and fast. I’m paying for 100/10MBs and getting 118/12 - with 30-35 wired and wireless devices (depending on what’s running at the time). YMMV, but you can put me in the add AP(s) camp as a good solution for stable, fast internet/Wi-Fi.


(Daniel Ionescu) #18

@JDRoberts and all
Here is one for your reading pleasure https://www.snbforums.com/threads/asus-makes-aimesh-official.43140/
for ASUS firmware implementation of a mesh system using existing devices.


(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #19

Interesting read. Thanks.
I’m using an ac1750 as my primary and an ac68u as a nice. Something I found last night… The ac1750 primary will not find another ac1750 as a node


#20

Thanks!

One of the interesting notes in that thread is that Asus hasn’t done anything about limiting a stream to a particular node, which can sound like a good thing, but actually means you could have multiple nodes trying to carry the same stream at the same time which would slow down both of them. They’re essentially letting any node that is within range carry a stream even if another node already has it.

This is one of the things that eero does really well (allocate streams among nodes) but some of the other Wi-Fi mesh brands don’t.

Another important point we hadn’t discussed previously is that people typically have two different goals when they start looking at Wi-Fi mesh.

One) they want to eliminate a Wi-Fi dead spot in the home, but most of their devices would be using the same node/AP all day long

OR

Two) they move around the building a lot and want their phone or other device to stay continuously connected without having drop off points as they switch from one node/AP to another.

Some of the systems that solve the first problem well don’t handle the second one at all. Again, you have to dig pretty deep into the details to see the expected behavior. :sunglasses: