Mesh Networks. Are They Worth It?

Wireless Mesh Networks (WMN) have been around in the commercial space for some time now, mostly in the military and healthcare sector where security and mobility are important, but they are now seeping into residential popularity. The router, which is a device that routes data traffic to and from your modem to your devices, traditionally will always have the shortfall of broadcasting range. Although many consumer based routers are now quite powerful and have a long wireless range, they are still defeated in situations with multiple floors, or if they must penetrate highly dense materials like concrete, brick, or a metal framework.

This is where a mesh network comes into play.

It is essentially a series of routers (also called nodes) that collaborate with one another and feeds traffic to the source (main router). These nodes comprise the mesh network with their ability to intelligently connect and map their location in an environment. In the same way telescope arrays works cooperatively to produce a better, amplified image of an object, a mesh system also works as a collective.

By using the exact same network that essentially blankets the environment, your device will seamlessly connect to the strongest “node” or router on the network based off of its location. This differs from simply using an extender or wireless repeater because it stays on the same network. Typically, when you use an extender, it will force you to use a different SSID and prevent you from immediately connecting to the main broadcast signal when your device is roaming. They are really just a “dumb” access point whereas a mesh network intelligently communicates with its own network.

Some Asus Routers are automatically patched to be used as a mesh router

The other option would be to connect wireless access points to your network. However, the main difference between a mesh system and a network using wireless access points would be the impracticality or practicality of wiring the building its in. In other words, a mesh network would be used in an environment that isn’t ideally setup to hard wire data connections. You’ll find many larger residential environments would do well to use a mesh network since most aren’t already cabled to properly setup access points. The ease of installation with these devices is also highly attractive to low-tech consumers or in residential applications.

Mesh networks are useful for many larger homes and some small businesses where several dead zones and areas of low connectivity are present.

There are a few negatives to consider. The first downfall would be the initial cost. These mesh routers are usually more expensive than the standard consumer router and you’ll also require additional nodes to create the mesh. Overall, you could spend up to $500 on a good residential mesh network to solve all of your connectivity problems. In many situations, the cost could get high enough to where just cabling in access points would make more sense. The second negative is that there are multiple pieces of network hardware, all of which are exposed and present another layer of possible hardware failure. Because there are many individual units, each have to be maintained just like a single router would.

Finally, probably the most difficult would be determining which environment it would be suitable in. Should you use a simple range extender for a fixed device like a TV or a desktop? Should you just hardwire your data cables and setup access points on the system? Or would it be financially beneficial to just buy a mesh system and have one seamless wireless broadcast?

Overall, it's a good idea and can provide major benefits to certain environments, especially residential. But you need to make sure it's a suitable solution based on the need. If you have any further questions about WMN, feel free to reach out to the tech professionals at Cloud 9 Computing Group!

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