Wi-Fi Mesh is becoming increasingly popular as a home networking solution, but of course different people in the home have different needs. What about online gamers in particular? Is Wi-Fi Mesh a good option for them for a good experience playing online?
Nothing can be generalized 100% in home networking, but here is a summary answer:
Wi-Fi Mesh Systems are generally not good for gaming unless you play much slower paced games that are not latency sensitive. For serious gamers, wired ethernet or powerline connections are always preferable to wireless ones, even when boosted with Wi-Fi Mesh Systems.
The reason for this boils down to the fact this is is latency or ping, and not “speed” in the sense of bandwidth, that generally matters most for gamers, and Wi-Fi Mesh is not set up primarily to deal with this issue.
On top of this, Mesh Systems are also generally expensive, and so it is often not suitable to be paying all that money for one of these kits solely for gaming when there are usually better options available.
If you already have a Mesh System installed for other uses, then there is no harm in trying it out for gaming; it’s just that especially on busier home networks, it is not likely to keep latency to an acceptable level for serious online gamers.
Let’s look in more detail at how mesh systems work, why they usually (but perhaps not always) are not the best solution for gamers, and also some other alternatives you can try out.
Wi-Fi Mesh Systems Briefly Explained
Let’s briefly explain how Wi-Fi Mesh works for any readers who are still not sure.
Wi-Fi Mesh systems consist of a kit of 2 or 3 nodes or pods (even more can be added if needed). You connect one directly to your existing router; this then becomes your new central router.
You then place the other node(s) around the house a certain points that they can still pick up the signal from the main central node, but also amplify this signal to more remote parts of the house, for better overall Wi-Fi coverage.
See the short video below for a quick demonstration of how Wi-Fi Mesh ideally works
The Netgear Orbi Mesh system, pictured above, is an example of a Mesh Kit. Click here to view it on Amazon.
See our Mesh Systems page for links to more Mesh kits, plus review videos.
The idea here is to use the nodes as “repeaters” or “boosters”, spreading the wireless coverage over a larger areas, so users all over the home can get a stronger signal wherever they are, by connecting to the nearest node which is supplying the best reception. Wi-Fi Mesh kits have “auto-connect” features that allow for users to connect automatically to whichever node is best for them at any time.
Note here that Mesh systems are often advertised as preserving bandwidth or speeds, which in fairness they often do very effectively. By providing more comprehensive Wi-Fi coverage, they ensure that users further away from the router can extract more bandwidth out of their internet package than they might if they were just trying to connect to the original router supplied by their ISP.
The crucial question here though is whether this metric of speed even matters most for gamers. Let’s look at this in the next section.
Why Mesh Usually Isn’t Good For Gaming
Remember that for online gaming, latency is usually the critical metric that users need to minimize. This is not how much data can be sent on your connection, but how fast it can be sent from end to end.
Wired connections almost always beat Wi-Fi connections for lower latency, even when the Wi-Fi is amplified by a Mesh System.
Remember also these factors regarding latency for gaming:
- When you find online gameplay disrupted by players disappearing/reappearing or jumping around on screen, or other people see you doing this, it is latency or lag that is at play here.
- Latency or ping is often higher on congested or busy home networks, as the router struggles to process all traffic demands at once.
- Even if ping is not visible, but still higher than optimal, then you will still be disadvantaged on faster paced multiplayer games like First Person Shooters. You may find yourself getting killed a lot versus players with lower ping, because your ability to react quickly is compromised by network delay at your end (latency).
- Furthermore, on Wi-Fi (including Mesh), traffic has to be processed sequentially, not simultaneously. Devices on wireless have to “queue up” and wait for the router to process their requests.
- Wi-Fi Mesh does not resolve any of these fundamental issues with Wi-Fi. They are built into the way it works, even when amplified with Mesh nodes.
- Wired connections are always preferable for low latency, because they do not suffer from the same signal loss or congestion issues as wireless connections.
Therefore any home networking solution for gamers need to be focused on minimizing latency and not really on maximizing bandwidth, to deliver the best experience.
Unfortunately, in their marketing some Wi-Fi Mesh manufacturers are still falling into the old trap thinking that “speed” is king for everything, including gaming, advertizing how the faster speeds they deliver are great for gamers.
But beyond a bare minimum of say 5Mbps, speeds are not that important for gamers; it is the latency or ping measured in milliseconds that needs to be kept low to game smoothly online.
This is why Wi-Fi Mesh is not always the best solution for gamers. Wi-Fi is still Wi-Fi, even if it’s amplified and dispersed more widely by a good quality Mesh kit. This can preserve higher speeds over a large home for users further away from the main router, which can be great for streamers, but this isn’t the same as reducing latency.
That is best handled by staying on a wired connection if possible; we’ll cover some ways to do this in the alternatives section further below.
The Cases When Wi-Fi Mesh Might Be Suitable For Gaming
Despite all we have said so far, it’s important not to generalize 100%, since every situation is different, and every home network is different, and different people game online for different reasons.
Here are some cases when Wi-Fi Mesh might be a decent option for gaming:
- You are on a very quiet home network, with not many devices connecting at the same time.
- You tend to play slower moving, turn based games (eg. golf, chess, strategy, certain RPGs, slow moving sports), where a little bit of latency won’t necessarily ruin the experience.
- You don’t take your gaming super seriously, and play more for fun and relaxation, with friends or family. It isn’t going to annoy you if you get killed more in FPSs because of higher ping. You are playing more for socializing and enjoyment.
Also, it’s probably important to mention that you’ll always find exceptions to the rule. There will no doubt be gamers who have managed fine using Mesh Wi-Fi, even playing faster paced multiplayer games. Networking is so complex and every home varies, so you’ll find differing accounts on this.
It’s just that in terms of theory and many user’s practical experience, the odds are not in favor of Wi-Fi Mesh being a good long term solution for serious gamers.
It may work OK sometimes, but when other factors start to come into play, like added distance from nodes, busy peak-time usage of home networks, and faster paced multiplayer games, then ping is probably going to start becoming noticeable for a lot of gamers using Mesh Wi-Fi.
Alternatives to Using Mesh Wi-Fi For Gaming
Now we’ve covered the pros and cons of using Wi-Fi Mesh for gaming, let’s also look at some alternative options that gamers can use to optimize their connection.
1. Direct Ethernet Connections – Always the best connection type for serious online gamers. Wired connections will provide low latency and a consistent connection versus Wi-Fi. If you’re close to the router, it’s a no brainer to use ethernet. If you’re further away, using a longer cable and some DIY may be involved, but ethernet is still preferable if possible.
2. Use Powerline Adapters – The second best alternative if you can’t run ethernet direct to your router. We get that a lot of users don’t want long network cables trailing all through the house, which is when a powerline adapter is a clever way of achieving the same result, without needing long wires.
Powerline adapters consist of a pair of adapter plugs. One plug is installed in a wall socket and connected to your router; the other is installed and connected to your gaming device. The two plugs then communicate through the electrical wiring of the house to deliver a wired ethernet connection to the receiving end.
They are a clever solution to achieve a wired connection, but by using mostly the existing electrical wiring of the house rather than running long cables all over the place.
See the video below for a quick 2 minute demonstration of how powerline adapters work.
Click here to view the entry level, best-selling TP Link Nano Powerline Adapter on Amazon.
Powerline adapters are the next best option if you can’t or don’t want to run ethernet directly, but because they do depend on house circuitry to work, performance isn’t always guaranteed.
Here are some points to bear in mind with powerline adapters:
- The house wiring needs to be in good enough condition to allow the adapters to communicate. In most modern and semi modern homes, you should be fine.
- Also keep them away from any high power-use devices that may cause interference.
- They can often (but not always) work across circuit phases, but there may be a performance drop each time they cross to a new phase.
- In our test of this, powerline adapters did lose some bandwidth versus direct ethernet, but ping was virtually identical – perfect for gamers who need low latency.
- Overall, powerline adapters are an excellent alternative to Mesh in a lot of cases, but performance cannot be guaranteed because all houses differ with their circuitry.
- Powerline adapters are also cheaper than Mesh and are generally a safer bet for gamers.
- See our full article comparing Powerline vs Mesh for more details.
3. Implement QoS Settings – This is another option more to manage traffic on a home network. Quality of Service or QoS is not available on all routers, but when it is, it allows certain devices to be prioritized on a home network. In other words, the router handles it’s traffic first, before anything else (remember that on Wi-Fi, even with Mesh, all devices have queue up and wait for traffic to be processed sequentially by the router/Mesh node).
Some Mesh Systems may actually have QoS settings on them. They may be called QoS or “Traffic Prioritization” or something similar. In which case you can try implementing QoS on the Mesh kit itself. Consult the intruction manual or online guide of your particular model for more on whether this is available, and how to do this.
Otherwise, the best option would be to see if QoS is available on your main ISP supplied router, and connect back to that instead, with QoS enabled to prioritize your gaming traffic.
Here would be the general steps to do this:
- Find the MAC address of your console/PC in Connection Settings/Status
- Log into your router (type 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 into any browser, plus the router password).
- Find QoS Settings if they are available
- Select your console using the MAC address you found earlier.
- Set the priority to Highest or Maximum.
- QoS is not available on all routers.
- See our full article on QoS for gamers for more detailed steps.
Note that it is a good idea to implement QoS in all cases for online gamers, whether you are using ethernet, powerline or Wi-Fi, simply because it will prioritize your gaming traffic for the router to handle it first, before anything else.
4. Gaming Router – If you’ve exhausted all your options for getting onto a wired connection – you can’t run ethernet directly and your house wiring doesn’t allow powerline adapters to work – then you might have to stay on Wi-Fi.
If this is the case, then a better option than using Mesh Wi-Fi may actually be to get a proper gaming router, that is specially optimized for online players.
Gaming routers will all have QoS on them as standard to manage traffic, and also often have specialized antenna on them to spread the Wi-Fi as best as possible for a decent signal for gamers.
The point is, gaming routers tend to be optimized specifically for gamers, whereas Mesh Wi-Fi is aimed at more general household use, and not specifically customized for gamers.
See our article which examines whether gaming routers are worth it, for a more detailed breakdown or when a gaming router might be a good option for you.
Let’s gather together a quick summary of everything we’ve covered so far to help readers come to a bottom line conclusion as to whether a Mesh Wi-Fi kit would be a good option for them for gaming.
- If you already have a Mesh System installed, then there is not harm in trying it out. If your gaming experience is acceptable using them, then great.
- This may work on very quiet home networks. Ping may start to become noticeable at busier times though, when more users are connecting.
- However, it is generally not advised to spend money on an expensive Mesh kit solely for gaming. Better and cheaper options, like powerline and ethernet, are often available. Try to get on a wired connection if possible.
- Also look at implementing Quaility of Service or QoS on your home network to manage and prioritize traffic demands.
- Some Mesh kits may also have some kind of QoS or Prioritization option. Again if you already have Mesh installed, then it’s worth trying out.
- If you need to stay on Wi-Fi, then a specialized gaming router is probably a better option that a Mesh system.