Wifi Mesh Systems are an up and coming category of home networking products which are designed to spread wireless coverage to all parts of the home, for better reception and smoother browsing, streaming and gaming. See our article on how mesh technology works and also our page on different mesh systems.
However, on checking out these products online you will also find they are very expensive items, with good kits coming in at several hundred dollars or pounds. Are they really worth this hefty investment just to improve wifi coverage in the home? Are there any alternative options to improve internet connectivity?
There are definitely some circumstances when purchasing a mesh system may make sense, perhaps in especially large homes and/or homes where you really need strong wifi coverage in all parts of the house. However in many cases wired or wireless powerline adapter models may offer a much cheaper and just as effective alternative way of spreading reliable internet connectivity to parts of the home further away from the main router.
Which product to go for depends on what your individual needs are – what kind of devices you want to connect, where exactly you need coverage in the house, what your budget is and the wiring of your house. In many cases there is no need to necessarily spend hundreds of dollars or pounds to get strong connectivity where you need it. Let’s look at the issue in more detail.
Wifi Mesh Systems at a Glance
Wifi Mesh Systems consist of a set of two or three pods or “nodes” which are placed strategically around the home to make wifi coverage more consistent and even. You connect your first node to your main router and then place the additional one or two nodes in other places around the home, close enough so they can pick up the signal from the main node but far enough away that they can boost the signal to more remote parts of the house.
The idea is that by doing this, you spread wifi coverage more evenly throughout the home, so people can get better reception even when further away from the router. This can allow for smoother browsing and streaming even on devices several rooms or floors away from the router, and also perhaps in gardens and patios depending on house size and where you place the nodes.
Some Orbi Mesh Systems
Different models are available depending on the size of your house, with models usually covering homes between 3000 and 6000 sq ft. You can also buy additional add on nodes if you like to extend the wireless network even further.
A Mesh system being installed and tested
The Problems With Wifi Mesh Systems
When properly installed, there are plenty of positive reviews about wifi mesh systems, with reports that they do indeed spread more reliable and consistent wifi coverage to more parts of larger homes. Users are able to access more bandwidth in more places further away from the router for better streaming and browsing. See the video above for an example of a mesh system doing just that when tested.
However, the main problem with mesh systems is simply that they are so expensive, with even entry level kits costing a lot of money.
Wifi mesh kits are also a relatively new technology, and in the early days there were reports of the coverage being unreliable. These reports have lessened as manufacturers have perfected the technology and released firmware updates to deliver more reliable performance.
However, there are other home networking products available for sometimes a fraction of the cost of a mesh system that could in some cases deliver the same kind of solution just as effectively. There is no need to always spend a fortune to get a good internet connection where you need it in the home.
The reason these products are being recommended so much instead of cheaper alternatives, is that the higher price of these items means the affiliate commissions are so much higher when people purchase these items! We are trying to look past this self interest and recommend the best product for each circumstance, regardless of price.
Powerline Adapters as a Potential Alternative
Powerline adapters are another product which can also extend internet connectivitity to other parts of the home. They consist of a pair of adapter plugs, one if which you plug in and connect to your router, the other of which you plug in and connect to your device.
The two adapters then communicate through the electrical wiring of the house to deliver a strong, wired internet connection to wherever the receiving end adapter is plugged in. They are excellent home networking solutions which can allow for a wired connection even when several rooms or floors away from the router.
TheTP Link Nano TL-PA4010 Kit model is an entry level, best selling no nonsense powerline adapter model with just one ethernet port and no passthrough. Click here to view on Amazon. It will provide a solid, wired ethernet connection to your router using the existing electrical wiring of your house. See our full review of the product and our Powerline Adapters page. Our Product Comparison Table compares all the wired and wireless powerline adapter models at a glance by feature and functionality.
Powerline adapters can be a very effective way of extending a reliable internet connection to parts of the house that may normally suffer from wifi weak spots or deadzones. They are effectively delivering an ethernet connection between your devices and router, but by using the house’s existing electrical wiring instead of having to trail ethernet cables all through the house.
They are a very affordable and also no nonsense plug and play solution, with no setup work or DIY involved. The adapters most often pair up automatically whenever they are plugged in and from that point you have one or more wired access points in that part of the house.
For this reason they may often be preferable to wifi mesh systems, simply because they are generally so much cheaper and can do much the same job. See our page on them for a list of makes and models. Here are some instances in which a powerline adapter may be preferable to forking out for a mesh system:
- The wiring of your house is such that it allows the powerline adapters to communicate. In most cases it will be in modern and semi modern houses.
- You just need a strong internet connection to one particular room or part of the house. You can also buy several adapters and install them in different rooms to create a powerline network in the home. In many cases this will still be cheaper than buying a single mesh system.
- You prefer wired rather than wireless connectivity for the strongest possible connection with the most bandwidth for gaming, streaming, downloading. Powerline adapters deliver a wired ethernet connection to any room in the house. Models with multiple ethernet ports are also available to connect multiple wired devices.
- If you also want wireless connectivity to connect portable devices like tablets, iPhones etc, then wireless powerline adapter models are also available which produce a cloned wifi access point at the receiving end as well as having wired ethernet ports.
- Powerline adapters will work fine in the majority of houses which are wired normally. There are a smaller number of cases where they may not work; see our article on this and also this excellent FAQ guide. In most houses you should be OK.
Where a Mesh System Might Be Useful
Depsite the often heftier price tag, there are some cases when a mesh system might be preferable to using wired or wireless powerline adapters. Here are some possible scenarios we could think of:
- You live in a particularly large house and need to spread strong wireless coverage to all parts of it, not just certain corners.
- Perhaps you have lots of people using high bandwidth devices and need to have them all covered, not just one or two rooms. In these cases buying a whole load of powerline adapters for each room may start to add up to the cost of a mesh sytem anyway.
- Businesses which need widespread coverage over a large area – mesh systems can be the most effective way of spreading reliable wifi coverage.
- You just prefer wireless connectivity to wired or have a lot of smaller devices like tablets which can only connect through wifi. Wireless powerline adapters are also available though.
- You want to extend wifi coverage to outdoor places you use a lot like gardens, patios etc. Placing your mesh nodes in the right place may allow for this.
- The wiring of your house is such that powerline adapters cannot communicate with each other. This may be in the case with particularly older or larger houses, or annexes or extensions which run off different meters or feeds.
So there are definitely many cases when a wifi mesh system may be a good option. We have just tried to create a set of criteria to run through so that shoppers are not forking out for one when there are cheaper home networking products around which can give them the connectivity they need to different parts of the home.
Our Product Comparison Table compares all wired and wireless powerline adapter models at a glance by feature and functionality. See also our Mesh Systems page to compare products and decide which model you need.