The 10 Best Wi-Fi Mesh Systems You Can Buy

In the field of smartphones, for example, we have seen more evolution than revolution for several years now. There is a lot more changing in the field of WiFi in the home, with the wider roll-out of WiFi mesh systems in 2017. We look at the current state of the wireless network at home. Most mesh systems are now out of their infancy, so we look for the best mesh network on the market.

We first dive into the WiFi techniques. There have been significant advances in home wireless networking in recent years. In particular, opening the 5GHz band and introducing 802.11ac has made a big difference. This enables speeds well beyond those offered by most internet connections. Furthermore, increasingly robust chipsets ensure that routers do not have to be reset every once in a while.

While capacity and speed are increasing, one development appears to be moving even faster: our wishes and urge for even faster and, above all, even more stable WiFi. We have more devices, devour more content, and what we consume only becomes heavier for the network thanks to things like 4K and HDR.

Ac and 5GHz

Wifi 802.11ac was the last big step that really managed to break through. This enables speeds of more than 400 Mbit/s net, instead of approximately 100 Mbit/s. We were on the eve of a broader 802.11ad or 'WiGig' rollout, but Intel has more or less pulled the plug on that. This technology only offers a future for wireless VR applications. The 5GHz band brings higher throughputs than 2.4GHz, but that comes at the cost of signal strength through walls and ceilings. Guess what properties the 802.11ad 60GHz band has: still extreme speeds, but the signal no longer comes through a wall.

802.11ax

An access point in literally any room will go too far for many consumers, so it's not surprising that 802.11ad will only serve some specific purposes. The big step for the wider public will therefore have to be 802.11ax, a technology that is now starting to roll off the production line. Although it remains to be seen when we will be able to purchase suitable chips with 802.11ax for our systems or find them in our phones – something that is necessary to take advantage of them. The technology is promising in terms of range, speed and the ability to properly operate many different devices simultaneously. But we think even the most avid early adopters will have trouble making the switch before 2018 is over.

Mesh it up

If you want to take care of your WiFi at home, you are still stuck with the trusted 2.4 and 5 GHz access points that use 802.11n and 802.11ac. But don't worry, because even within those standards, the technology does not stand still. 2017 was the year in which mesh systems came to the Netherlands at a rapid pace: last May we were able to compare three systems, now there are ten. We also see that the manufacturers of the first three models available to us have not been idle.

Meshtastic!

The demanding user is of course well aware that we need multiple access points in the house for good coverage and a smooth connection. The greatest charm of mesh systems is that you only need to power them, and you don't have to wire them with the exception of the router or main node; Running cables is one of the biggest hurdles in improving Wi-Fi in existing buildings. The mesh points make mutual connections themselves and, at least in theory, pass the wireless signal to the outside as smartly as possible. The promise of all these systems is very attractive: good coverage, no hassle with cables and often also very easy to install.

Or maybe not mesh?

When something sounds too good to be true, it often is, and here too we can make the necessary caveats – which apply to each of the ten systems. Wireless signals simply suffer from other signals in the environment and are very dependent on the physical construction of the building in which you place them. We deliberately sought a challenging environment for our test, but every situation is different and guarantees cannot be given. There are also examples of walls through which no form of (usable) WiFi comes through.

Being able to pull cables and hang wired access points will always provide the fastest, most reliable solution. And let's not forget that for the price of most mesh sets, you can have an installer pull a cable if you already have empty pipes. It is also important to remember that mesh technology is new, resulting in large differences in practical experience. Also, there are still significant changes in most firmware updates. Reason for us to use these systems in practice for as long as possible.

backhaul

The codeword in mesh systems is backhaul: the connection between the different WiFi points in the house. The better the backhaul, the better the user experience. The more expensive systems that fall in the AC2200 or AC3000 speed classes have their own specific dedicated backhaul radios. Cheaper models simultaneously use the antennas they use to provide the connected clients with the Internet for the backhaul connection. More does not guarantee better, but a lack of dedicated backhaul means that you will run into theoretical limitations more quickly, especially in environments with many active users. Families with several highly active data users should then look more closely at the products with dedicated backhaul.

In addition to a wireless backhaul, some WiFi mesh systems can also use the trusted network cable as backhaul, you can read this in the test.

Potato chips

Like mobile phones, routers and other Wi-Fi products run on chips from a very limited number of manufacturers. Mesh systems (as well as smartphones) are Qualcomm products. An engine does not make a car, however, and the manufacturers of the final products have more than enough say. The result is a very diverse range of products in the speed classes AC1200, AC1750, AC2200 and AC3000.

Speed ​​classes

The mesh systems use a different number of data streams at 2.4 or 5 GHz for different purposes.

AC1200/1300: no dedicated backhaul, 2 data streams at 2.4 GHz and 2 at 5 GHz for both clients and mutual communication

AC1750: no dedicated backhaul, 3 data streams at 2.4 GHz and 3 at 5 GHz for both clients and mutual communication

AC2200: Dedicated backhaul of 2 data streams at 5 GHz for mutual communication, plus 2 data streams at 2.4 GHz and 2 at 5 GHz for clients

AC3000: Dedicated backhaul of 4 data streams at 5 GHz for mutual communication, plus 2 data streams at 2.4 GHz and 2 at 5 GHz for clients

Possibilities systems

The backhaul (see box 'Backhaul') is the most crucial point we pay attention to when it comes to capacity. What may also be important for your purchase is whether the system can function as a router, whether it has an access point mode and whether it can be used as a wireless bridge.

In principle, all systems can function as a router, so they can function as a dhcp server and take care of all basic tasks in your network. But they don't offer the pro features that a luxury router offers. So if you already have a good router of your own, you probably don't want to replace it at all. In that case, make sure that the system is equipped with an access point mode, so that you can continue to use your own router and the mesh system is integrated into your existing network. If this is not the case, you will get two separate networks, which is inconvenient.

If you want to connect wired network devices to the system, pay close attention to the differences in the LAN ports on the router and the nodes. There is quite a bit of variation in that. Does the node also have LAN ports, so you can use them as a wireless bridge.

Test environment

A concrete building from the turn of the century, three floors of approximately 400 square meters per floor and the necessary walls. We can call that a heavy test environment. One thing is certain, no individual router, not even a model costing hundreds of dollars, is capable of providing full coverage to all floors. Previous tests showed that a single floor is doable for an access point, which is the starting point of this test.

This building, ten WiFi mesh systems and a stack of laptops equipped with high-speed antennas. So, we can start!

Wi-Fi must work!

The objective of our test is simple: we want a decent range and a decent speed on every floor. We pay extra attention to the performance on the top floor. Performance in the garden, for example, can be extrapolated from performance on the other floors, simply by placing an extra mesh point in the direction of your garden.

We test with the router on the ground floor, a second access point on the floor above and the third point on the top floor. Please note that most systems come in different quantities. Systems with two access points are also tested with an optional third unit, systems with three are also tested in a two-point setup. The attic-1-hop test thus simulates the performance on the top floor without an access point being placed there as well. This way we can clearly see the performance difference between two and three access points.

The setup

Standing models stand freely on a cabinet, access points should not be crumpled up if you care about performance. They generally perform best when placed a short distance from the wall. Socket models are, of course, used as such. Positioning of the products is an important point, with each product benefiting from a slightly different position. Because it is reasonable to expect that you as a user will look for a favorable position, we have done so. Each standing model has been tested in several positions and orientations, but within the surface of the cabinet we used (approximately 150 cm wide) where the best position should count. Socket models were offered two options.

Although perhaps less important, we do want to mention the aspect of physical dimensions. For example, the Netgear Orbi's large towers are in sight, while Google and TP-Link in particular keep the form factor (thanks to fewer and less strong antennas) clearly more limited. If you want to combine mesh with a dark interior, then you seem to be out of luck for the time being, every manufacturer seems convinced that white cabinets are the most popular.

Mesh with benefits

With the backhaul as a crucial element of any mesh system, especially models with alternative backhaul options deserve some extra attention. The TP-Link Deco M5, Google Wifi and Linksys Velop can also use any existing cables as backhaul. In partly wired, partly non-wired houses, this is a great added value, because even a partly wired bridging is in practice more favorable than a higher wireless speed. The upcoming TP-Link Deco M5 Plus is notable because it can also deploy a powerline connection. The more the wireless backhaul can be spared, the better ... although the M5 Plus has yet to prove itself in practice.

TP-Link Deco M5

Network giant TP-Link is known for offering affordable products, the mesh system is no exception. At 269 euros for a set of three and 99 euros for additional units, it is the cheapest in the comparison. Naturally, this concerns an AC1200-AC1300 setup with two data streams at 2.4 GHz and two at 5 GHz without dedicated backhaul. It is therefore not inconceivable that you overload the system in a setup with many simultaneous streamers. In fact, by fully loading the first and second node, there is very little left of the throughput on the attic node. However, this appears to be the case for all tested models in this class. This makes this class especially interesting when you are looking for affordable coverage over a larger property, but do not need a huge capacity.

Compared to the competition, the TP-Link Deco M5 does achieve favorable speeds and the installation is flawless. The set's capabilities, including access point and bridge mode, the option of wired backhaul and a built-in Trend-Micro security package, are also more than sufficient for most end users. Combined with the modest physical dimensions, favorable power consumption and the lowest price, the Deco M5 is the most attractive option for us to provide the building with WiFi cheaply and without hassle.

TP-Link Deco M5

Price

€ 269,- (for 3 nodes)

Website

nl.tp-link.com 8 Score 80

  • Pros
  • Price
  • Good coverage and performance
  • User friendly
  • Negatives
  • Limited capacity

Google Wifi

It took roughly a year for Google to bring its Google Wifi system to the Netherlands, which incidentally was a business choice and not a technical one. In our view, a missed opportunity for the internet giant, because a year earlier Google could have trumped direct competitor TP-Link Deco M5 as a provider of affordable mesh (because at that time only the Netgear Orbi RBK50 had been launched in the Netherlands). ).

With its mesh set, Google does what Google almost always does well: provide an excellent user experience. The product looks excellent, is neatly presented and the installation and app leave little to be desired. The dots are on the i. Although you won't notice much difference within range of the first point, we see that the throughputs lag behind the Deco almost across the board. The capacity is not relevant otherwise. Both systems can be overloaded with multiple active clients on different nodes. Here too, a wired backhaul and wireless bridge are possible, but an access point mode is missing. Bottom line really not bad, but Google Wifi lacks added value to explain the significantly higher price compared to the TP-Link Deco M5.

Google Wifi

Price

€ 359,- (for 3 nodes)

Website

store.google.com 6 Score 60

  • Pros
  • User friendly
  • Very reasonable performance
  • Negatives
  • Too expensive for an AC1200 system
  • No AP mode

EnGenius EnMesh

Although type number EMR3000 might suggest otherwise, EnGenius' EnMesh is an AC1200 class mesh set. The system therefore offers no additional data streams for the backhaul and has two data streams at 2.4 GHz and two at 5 GHz. With a price tag of 299 euros, it falls between the TP-Link Deco M5 and Google Wifi. EnGenius does face a tough challenge, as a late entrant and because the name is less known than TP-Link and Google. It meets this challenge with two striking possibilities. Firstly, each access point has a USB port to add extra storage within your network. Second, EnGenius offers optional access points with built-in security cameras.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves something to be desired. For example, the USB performance is slow, the mesh point with camera is firmly priced at 400 euros and much more importantly: the performance as a mesh system cannot match that of TP-Link, Google or Ubiquiti. The interconnections are simply a lot less powerful, which in practice occasionally leads to signal loss. Specific niche features could have offered conviction, but the class difference as a mesh solution is simply too great. At least in its current state ... the EnMesh set has only just appeared and let's not forget that the Decos and Orbis also had to go through a spicy toddler phase.

EnGenius EnMesh

Price

€ 299,- (for 3 nodes)

Website

www.engeniustech.com 5 Score 50

  • Pros
  • Expandable with cameras
  • USB storage
  • Negatives
  • Range and speed below par

Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD

AmpliFi HD leaves a good first impression, with perfect packaging, product presentation and app. The router with information display with touch capabilities is excellently conceived and the socket access points are also beautiful. It's very well put together and crucially: it also works very smoothly. Unlike some other systems, Ubiquiti shows that ease of use and overview in the application do not have to be at the expense of information and functionality. This benefits the optimization of the locations of the access points.

While the performance within range of the main module is excellent, our setup failed to deliver really stellar performances on the other floors. It works, but the absolute numbers lagged behind, and it is striking that we are (too) frequently transferred to the 2.4 GHz band. The disadvantage of the socket access points is that you lose the flexibility to optimize properly, because at least in this scenario there seemed to have consequences. We cannot substantiate our suspicion that this will not be the case everywhere.

It is crucial to mention that the AmpliFi HD does not have a dedicated backhaul, but is an AC1750 system (see box 'Speed ​​classes'). If you use a recent MacBook Pro or high-end network card, you should be able to achieve a higher speed on the main module than with the AC1200-1300 alternatives. Unfortunately, it makes little difference to the score, because even with testing multiple locations for the access points, it was not possible to make the backhaul more convincing. As a result, it does not matter on the other floors whether you use a 2x2 or 3x3 antenna in the client.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD

Price

€ 339,- (for 3 nodes)

Website

www.amplifi.com 6 Score 60

  • Pros
  • Very user-friendly
  • Very good router
  • Extensive app
  • Negatives
  • Mesh reach and capacity lags behind

Netgear Orbi RBK50, RBK40, RBK30

With the Orbi RBK50, Netgear was one of the first manufacturers to bring its mesh system to the Netherlands. At that time, a set of two nodes cost almost 450 euros, but thanks to a dedicated backhaul of four times 5 GHz (AC3000), the Orbi turned out to be particularly impressive. In our initial test, we achieved almost complete coverage over the 1200 square meters of our building with just the two nodes.

A year and the necessary competitors later, that position has not changed.And Netgear has also not been idle and has added the necessary, such as true mesh, which also allows the satellites to connect to each other. Netgear also convinces at firmware level. Like no other, the Orbis can handle a large number of clients that simultaneously load the various access points. We do find the lack of a wired backhaul a pity, but we also realize that this is not a loss for everyone. The main thing that you as an end user should take into account are the hefty dimensions of the Orbi RBK50s: with 23 by 16 by 8 cm, they are hefty towers.

In order not to lose touch with the buyer with a smaller budget, Netgear later released the RBK40 and RBK30. These are both AC2200 class sets, so with a somewhat toned down backhaul. Both have a similar – marginally smaller – turret as the RBK50 as a basis. Where the RBK40 has a second tower, the RBK30 comes with an access point for the socket. As with the RBK50, the experience and performance are right: throughputs are good, with a slight advantage for the RBK40's separate module.

With the recent price reduction of the more powerful Orbi RBK50 from approximately 450 to 349 euros, Netgear is actually mainly in its own way. An even cheaper Orbi sounds attractive, but the main advice we can gather from our test data is that if you want high speeds, a solid capacity and a good user experience, the Netgear Orbi RBK50 is worth the money anyway. If it turns out that the two nodes of the RBK50 are just not enough, you can also expand it with a (each much cheaper) RBS40 or RBW30 in addition to the RBS50. And although the RBK30 competes with the Deco M5 in terms of price and offers a better performance per node, you do sacrifice the necessary flexibility because it is a socket model.

Netgear Orbi Pro: Business Mesh

The table also includes the Orbi Pro, which, thanks to practically the same hardware, also achieves practically the same (excellent) results as the RBK50. However, the Orbi Pro has some extras that are especially interesting for business use. For example, in addition to the standard and guest WiFi network, the Pro adds a third administrator SSid, it comes with a marginally different construction that allows wall and ceiling installation. It focuses on maintaining ease of installation (while business solutions often require external experts). The additional cost of 180 euros is substantial in view of what is on offer, and a possible third Orbi Pro is again more expensive. But if you have your eyes on a mesh system as a small business, then Orbi Pro is worth considering.

Orbi RBK50

Price

€ 359,- (for 2 nodes)

Website

www.netgear.nl 10 Score 100

  • Pros
  • User friendly
  • Excellent performance
  • Excellent range
  • Negatives
  • Extra nodes duration
  • No wired backhaul option
  • Physically very large

Orbi RBK40

Price

€ 299,- (for 2 nodes)

Website

www.netgear.nl 8 Score 80

  • Pros
  • User friendly
  • Good performances
  • Good range
  • Negatives
  • Extra nodes duration
  • No wired backhaul option

Orbi RBK30

Price

€ 259,- (for 2 nodes)

Website

www.netgear.nl 8 Score 80

  • Pros
  • User friendly
  • Good performances
  • Good range
  • Negatives
  • Extra nodes duration
  • No wired backhaul option

Orbi Pro SRK60

Price

€ 529,- (for 2 nodes)

Website

www.netgear.nl 9 Score 90

  • Pros
  • User friendly
  • Excellent performance and range
  • Some useful business features
  • Negatives
  • Substantial surcharge compared to Orbi RBK50
  • Extra nodes duration

ASUS Lyra

ASUS may have a very broad product portfolio, but there is no lack of real focus on Wi-Fi products. Where the recent ASUS routers take on an increasingly aggressive, gamer-style look, the Lyra's are remarkably modest. The available RGB lighting is really purely functional. Like the Orbi RBK30, RBK40, and the Linksys Velop, ASUS opts for a model with a dedicated backhaul.

The app makes a somewhat messy impression and installation did not go without each access point having to be switched on at least once. A minus for the less technically savvy target group. On the positive side, however, the Lyra as a router offers most of the options that you expect from a solid ASUS router. You will want to dive into the web interface for this, but as a power user, the extensive options, including VPN and security options, are worth it. The access point mode is still in beta and currently not without caveats, but with the extensive router functionality you will miss it less.

As an AC2200 set, the ASUS Lyra is in a tough situation. He performs well but not great. With two nodes, the Netgear RBK50 is not inferior to this Lyra, not even on the top floor. The user experience of the ASUS Lyra could also be improved a bit. So you will really have to appreciate the extensive router options or like to use three nodes (to be able to amplify in two directions) to choose the Lyra.

ASUS Lyra

Price

€ 349 (for 3 nodes)

Website

www.asus.nl 7 Score 70

  • Pros
  • Extensive router options
  • Very reasonable performance
  • Negatives
  • Installation and app experience not yet optimal
  • Strong competition at this price point

Linksys Velop

Linksys takes the AC2200 concept in a completely different way with the Velop. Linksys has since added a web interface (previously it was app-only) and made some more router functionality available, but the focus remains on a true hands-off experience. As with the ASUS Lyra, however, it is a bit of a search for the added value of this system. The physical uprights appeal more than the giga-towers of the Orbi and the app experience is also more than fine. But for 429 euros for three access points you may expect stronger arguments than that. And when the performance doesn't compete with Netgear's RBK50 with two nodes, it's a tough job.

The fact that the Velop is an AC2200 model with wired backhaul support seems to be the main argument for looking at it anyway. Lyra and Orbi lack that option and in a partially wired home with one of the extra points wired and the other wireless, the Velop is quite attractive. However, you will have to accept the excruciatingly slow installation and take into account the fact that it takes a little more time and effort to properly tune the Velops to have them perform optimally. They are in fact more sensitive than the competition when it comes to the position of each access point.

Linksys Velop

Price

€ 429,- (for 3 nodes)

Website

www.linksys.com 7 Score 70

  • Pros
  • Great speeds
  • Optional wired backhaul
  • Physically tidy
  • Negatives
  • Price
  • Adding and optimizing nodes painfully slow

Conclusion

We repeat ourselves for the sake of certainty, but nothing beats full cabling in the home or office, not even the winner of this test. We also have to comment on the test width, we have tested intensively and given every router the opportunity to perform optimally within the environment. But the speeds may be different at a different location. Therefore, comparisons with other (including previous) test setups cannot be made.

When pulling cables is really not an option, we see one model on almost every front that convinces the most. You eventually consider mesh to get rid of all kinds of Wi-Fi troubles, and then we see that with the Orbi RBK50, Netgear has the best balance between performance and giving peace of mind. The AC3000-class RBK50 kit isn't cheap, but it shows itself to be the most capable of ensuring good wireless connectivity throughout your home, without the user having to do much more than pull out your wallet.

We've got good hopes for the AC2200 category, but since ASUS and Linksys both still have some flaws to brush up, we're still missing the highly recommended one there… especially with the current price point of the Orbi RBK50 (which also includes Netgear's own RBK40 and RBK30 actually puts too much pressure on it). However, the ASUS and Linksys deserve attention if you want to amplify the signal in several directions, three nodes come in handy and extra nodes for Orbi are pricey.

Do you especially care about a good range over a large area, but do you not need extreme throughput for, for example, several simultaneous (and very active) users? Then we give an honorable mention and editorial tip to the TP-Link Deco M5. As the cheapest in the test, this one has both the performance and the user experience in order for that target group. The Netgear Orbi RBK30 keeps it sharp, but three TP-Link Deco units give you more leeway. And as Linksys and ASUS will no doubt do their best to challenge Netgear with upcoming updates, Google, Ubiquiti, and EnGenius will have to come up with a better answer to outshine the Deco.

An extensive overview of the test results can be found in the table below (.pdf).

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