This post will work you through the steps to set up a Multi-Gig wired backhaul AiMesh system using a few supported broadcasters. As you can see in the box below, it’s part of my series on Asus’s AiMesh.
Multi-Gig is still somewhat of a luxury, considering Gigabit is already plenty fast. You’re getting into a territory that can be more expensive than necessary. Some options won’t dig as big of a hole in your wallet. Still, this doesn’t apply to the budget-minded.
Most importantly, have your home wired — we’re talking most about wired networking here.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on October 29, 2021, and since then, I have tested more multi-Gigabit combos. This update, posted on April 21, 2023, aims to reflect that.
Multi-Gig wired backhauling: The why
Originally, a Wi-Fi network’s “mesh” notion meant multiple broadcasters linked wirelessly. That’s still true today — I mentioned that in this primer post on the topic.
But due to the nature of any wireless communication, this backhaul link has many issues, including slow speeds due to signal loss/degradation and unreliability due to the elements. And that’s where wired backhauling comes into play.
Fronthaul vs backhaul in Wi-Fi mesh systems
Fronthaul is the Wi-Fi signals broadcast outward for clients or the network ports for wired devices. It’s what we generally expect from a Wi-Fi broadcaster.
Backhaul (a.k.a backbone,) on the other hand, is the link between one satellite Wi-Fi broadcaster and another, which can be the network’s primary router, a switch, or another satellite unit.
This link works behind the scenes to keep the hardware units together as a system. It also determines the ceiling bandwidth (and speed) of all devices connected to the particular broadcaster.
The connection type, a Wi-Fi band or a network port, used for the backhaul is often called the uplink. A Wi-Fi broadcaster might use one of its bands (2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz) or a network port for the uplink.
When a Wi-Fi band handles backhaul and fronthaul simultaneously, only half its bandwidth is available to either end. From the perspective of a connected client, that phenomenon is called signal loss.
A Wi-Fi connection between two direct parties occurs in a single band, using one fixed channel, at any given time. This principle applies to all existing Wi-Fi standards, up to Wi-Fi 6E.
When a Wi-Fi band functions solely for backhauling, it’s called the dedicated backhaul. Often that means no other band will do this job, though that depends on the hardware.
In a mesh system, only traditional Tri-band hardware — those with an additional 5GHz band — can have a dedicated backhaul band without ostracizing clients of the same band.
Generally, it’s best to use network cables for backhauling — wired backhauling. And that’s an advantage of mesh hardware with network ports. In this case, a satellite broadcaster can use its entire Wi-Fi bandwidth for front-hauling.
In networking, network cables are always much better than wireless in speed and reliability.
Still, some online “experts” — there are a lot of them these days — have mocked me, privately or publicly, that using network cables negates the mesh notion. “It’s not a mesh anymore!” they say, and they might be right.
But I’m not about being right. In my real-world experience, wired backhauling is the best way to build a network, including a (mesh) Wi-Fi system. Take “mesh” out if that suits you.
Most importantly, if you need true Gigabit (1Gbps) or faster connections, no wireless backhaul link can handle that reliably. In this case, using Multi-Gig wired backhauling is the only way. A Gigabit connection always sustains at sub-Gigabit after overhead.
With that, let’s move on to how to build the best Multi-Gig wired AiMesh combos.
Asus AiMesh with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling: Everything you need to know
There have been even more since. Now there are many combos with 2.5Gbps or even 10Gbps backhaul options. But 2.5Gbps is the sweet spot.
That’s because the fastest Wi-Fi connection (2×2 Wi-Fi 6/6E at 160MHz) sustains at around 1.5Gbps (or Gig+). As a result, there’s generally no benefit in Wi-Fi performance when the intake port of a mesh satellite is faster than 2.5Gbps.
But a 10Gbps backhaul never hurts and contributes to fast local bandwidth, especially when you have wired clients with a Multi-Gig switch of the same grade.
The sensible rules on using Asus AiMesh multi-Gigabit wired hardware
To have a multi-Gig wired backhaul, all you need is a router and a satellite unit that can link to each other via network cable using a Multi-Gig port on each.
In other words, you need Multi-Gig hardware on each end of the backhaul cable. And there are plenty of Asus routers that fit this multi-Gigabit bill.
In reality, not all combo makes sense. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when going fully wired backhauling:
- Avoid using traditional Tri-band hardware, such as ZenWiFi XT8, GT-AX11000, or even ZenWiFi Pro XT12, especially in the satellite role (*).
- It’s best to use Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 or Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E, and not a mix of the two.
- It’s OK, though not great, to mix a Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E primary router and Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 satellites. The 6GHz band is only available at the router.
- It’s OK, though not great, to mix a Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E primary router with Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 satellites. In this case, you can use the router’s 6GHz band (available only at the router) to manage the satellites’ second 5GHz (5GHz-2) band.
(*) While these Tri-band routers generally work with wired backhauling, they are designed for a fully wireless environment, where the 5GHz-2 band functions as the dedicated backhaul and might have issues when not used as intended.
Additionally, this Tri-band provides no added benefits in a wired home, despite the comparatively higher costs.
With that, let’s check out the current hardware list we can use. You’ll note that I skip all Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 routers.
Multi-Gig AiMesh combos: Available hardware and real-world combos
In an AiMesh setup, we have the main router and satellite nodes. It’s best to use hardware that has two or more Multi-Gig ports. If not, you need at least a router with two of these ports — one for the broadband (WAN) and the other for the local network (LAN)
In either case, with the help of a high-end switch, you will have a full Multi-Gig home network.
The table below includes all current hardware that can work as a multi-Gigabit wired AiMesh router, satellite, or both. Again, I pick only those with two Multi-Gig ports for the router role and their satellites that will create good mesh combos.
For the reasons mentioned above, the table doesn’t include any traditional Tri-band router, but you can use any of them with two Multi-Gig ports, namely the GT-AX1100 Pro, in the primary router role.
(available backhaul speeds)
|Multi-Gig Ports||Wi-Fi Bandwidth||Recommended Satellites|
(available backhaul speeds)
(2.5Gbps or 10Gbps)
|1x 10Gbps LAN/WAN|
1x 10Gbps SFP+ LAN/WAN
|Dual-band AX6000||itself (10Gbps),|
RT-AX88U Pro (2.5Gbps)
(2.5Gbps or 10Gbps)
|1x 2.5Gbps WAN|
2x 10Gbps LAN/WAN
|Tri-band AXE16000||itself (10Gbps),|
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 (2.5Gbps),
ZenWiFi ET8 (2.5Gbps)
|1x 2.5Gbps WAN|
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
|Dual-band AX6000||itself |
|ZenWiFi Pro ET12|
|1x 2.5Gbps WAN|
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
|1x 2.5Gbps WAN|
1x 2.5Gbps LAN/WAN
(*) One of this router’s two 10Gbps is an SFP+ port. A converter or switch is needed for Multi-Gig backhauling if its 10GbE BaseT port is used for the WAN side.
Of the combos mentioned in the table above, below are those I’ve used for an extended amount of time with great success and tips on setting them up.
Top-tier Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E Multi-Gig AiMesh Combos: GT-AXE16000 as the primary router
The GT-AXE16000 has everything one would look for in a standalone router. And thanks to its three Multi-Gig ports, it’ll also make an excellent AiMesh router.
You can get multiple units to build a mesh system with 10Gbps wired backhauling. But that might not make sense financially, considering the router’s cost and bulky design.
Extra: Asus GT-AXE16000 and AiMesh
The GT-AXE16000 is a Quad-band router. Similar to the Orbi RBRE960, the router of the Orbi RBKE960 series, its 5GHz-2 band can work as the dedicated backhaul.
However, considering the cost and the temperamental nature of Wi-Fi connections, getting multiple GT-AXE16000 units to form a wireless mesh is not a good idea.
Unlike the Orbi counterpart, the GT-AXE16000 can work with any AiMesh broadcaster. In this case, you should use it as the primary router. Here is the breakdown of what will happen with its Wi-Fi bands in an AiMesh system:
- Via wireless backhauling (not recommended):
- With Dual-band satellite(s): There’s no dedicated backhaul. The router’s 5GHz-2 and 6GHz bands remain at the router. The former must have a different SSID from the rest.
- With Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E satellite(s): There’s no dedicated backhaul. The router’s 5GHz-2 band remains at the router and must have a separate name.
- With traditional Wi-Fi 6 Tri-band satellite(s): The 5GHz-2 band functions as the dedicated backhaul (with a separate SSID). The 6GHz remains at the router.
- Via wired backhauling (and Ethernet Backhaul Mode turned on):
- With Dual-band satellite(s): The 5GHz-2 and 6GHz bands remain at the router.
- With Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E satellite(s): The 5GHz-2 band remains at the router.
- With traditional Wi-Fi 6 Tri-band satellite(s): The 6GHz remains at the router.
The bottom line is this: the GT-AXE16000 should only be used in a mesh with wired backhauling.
It’s better to use this router as the primary node and lower-cost 2.5Gbps-enabled hardware as satellites. We have two options, the ZenWifi ET8 or ZenWifi Pro ET12.
GT-AXE16000 (router) + ZenWifi Pro ET12 (satellite)
This combo delivers the top performance via a 2.5Gbps wired backhauling.
If you use two satellites, you can daisy-chance them to maintain multi-Gigabit wired backhauling throughout, or you can use a Multi-Gig switch in between.
Note the detailed setup steps (all done within the web user interface of the router unit):
- Set up the GT-AXE16000 as a standalone router. Depending on your broadband speed, you can use any of its ports, 1Gbps, 2.5Gbps, or 10Gbps, as the WAN port. Upgrade the router to the latest firmware (when available).
- Optional: Connect a Multi-Gig unmanaged switch to the router’s applicable Multi-Gig port (2.5Gbps or 10Gbps.)
- Add a ZenWiFi Pro ET12 as a wireless satellite node. (Detailed steps in this post on AiMesh.) Important: If you use a 2-pack ET12, keep the other ET12 unit off during this process.
- Repeat step #3 above to add the second ET12 to the mesh.
- Connect the ET12(s) to the main router’s Multi-Gig port(s) using their 2.5Gbps WAN port. You can daisy-chain them or use a Multi-Gig switch in between.
- Open the AiMesh section of the GT-AXE16000. Change the backhaul to prioritize the 2.5Gbps port for each satellite, and turn on the GT-AXE16000’s Ethernet Backhaul Mode. Manually restart all the hardware units.
And that’s it. Your mesh is ready.
GT-AXE1600 (router) + ZenWifi ET8 (satellite)
The ZenWiFi ET8 is also available as a 2-pack, but each unit has just one Multi-Gig WAN port. As a result, this combo requires a switch if you want to use more than one ET8 with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling. In this case, the Zyxel MG-108 is an excellent fit.
The setup steps are similar to the case of the ET12 above.
Standard Wi-Fi 6E AiMesh with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling: The ZenWi-Fi Pro ET12
The ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is the readiest Multi-Gig system you can find. The system is currently available as a 2-pack and ready right out of the box.
All you have to do is set up one unit as the primary (or standalone) router. After that, connect the second unit’s WAN port to the router’s 2.5Gbps LAN port using a network cable, and your Multi-Gig system is ready.
Since each unit has two 2.5Gbps ports, you’ll get Mult-Gig on both the WAN and LAN side. Moreover, if you get more units, you can daisy-chain them without a Multi-Gig switch.
Standard Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 AiMesh with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling: RT-AX89X as the primary router
The RT-AX89X is the only Asus Wi-Fi 6 router with two 10Gbps ports. If you get multiple units, you can have a system of 10Gbps wired backhauling, though that might not be best in terms of design and costs.
Alternatively, you can use any other Multi-Gig Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router as the satellite, including the GT-AX6000, RT-AX88U Pro, or RT-AX86U.
Of the three, the RT-AX86U is the most sensible pick for a 2-pack system. The other two work better if you want a 3-pack or a larger mesh and do not want to invest in a Multi-Gig switch.
No matter which router you pick as the satellite, here are the detailed steps to set up the system (all done on the interface of the router unit):
- Set up the RT-AX89X as a single router. Update it to the latest firmware.
- Add the satellite as a wireless node. (Detailed steps in this post on AiMesh.) Update it to the latest firmware using the router’s web interface.
- (If you use the RT-AX86U as the satellite, open the AiMesh section of the RT-AX89X, select the node, and change the Backhaul Connection Priority to 2.5Gbps.)
- Plug the satellite’s 2.5Gbps (WAN) port into the 10Gbps LAN port of the RT-AX89X or the Multi-Gig switch connected to that port.
- Repeat step #2 to add more satellite nodes if applicable. Turn on the router’s Ethernet Backhaul Mode. Manually restart all routers. Mission accomplished.
It’s worth noting that one of the RT-AX89X’s 10Gbps ports is an SFP+. As a result, you’ll need to SFP+-ready switch, such as the Zyxel XGS1250-12, or a converter when you use its 10Gbps BaseT port for the WAN connection.
Gaming Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 Multi-Gig AiMesh Combos: GT-AX6000 or RT-AX88U Pro as the primary router
With the GT-AX6000 or the RT-AX88U Pro as the primary router, you’ll get a network with all features and settings available to any Asus router, including those designed for gamers.
In this case, you can use any Dual-band router on the table above for the satellites, among them, the RT-AX89X and the RT-AX86U are workable options — they are not the best.
In all cases, you’d get a system with a 2.5Gbps wired backhaul, and the setup process is similar to when you use the RT-AX89X as the primary router above.
Depending on the number of satellites, you might or might not need a Multi-Gig switch. But if you do, the Zyxel MG-108 is a great fit.
Multi-Gig wired backhaul AiMesh combos: Mixing Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E
As mentioned above, you shouldn’t mix a Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router with a Tri-band Wi-Fi 6/6E satellite.
That’s because AiMesh doesn’t have a practical way (yet) to control the node’s 3rd band. As a result, this band is not used, which is unacceptable.
But if you have mixed hardware like this for some reason, there’s a way to make the best out of them. Specifically, you can use the Tri-band hardware in the AP mode on top of another router.
That is not the best way to get a Multi-Gig wired backhaul AiMesh setup, but it will work well.
In this example, I used an RT-AX89X as the primary router and a 2-pack ZenWiFi ET8 as the satellite. But you can pick any other Dual-band router + Tri-band AiMesh combo.
In this case, the router only plays its default role of a standalone router — you can use a non-Asus one. Just make sure it has a couple of Multi-Gig ports.
Here are the detailed steps with a 2-pack ET working in AP mode on top of an RT-AX89X — applicable when you use any Tri-band ZenWiFi set, such as the ET12:
- Set up the RT-AX89X as a router.
- Connect a Multi-Gig switch to the router’s Multi-Gig LAN port. (This switch is optional if you use the Zenwifi Pro ET12 — you can daisy-chain the units.)
- Set up the ET8s set as APs to the RT-AX89X. Two possibilities:
- If you get a 2-pack (pre-synced hardware):
- Connect the first ET8’s WAN port to the Multi-Gig switch.
- Open its web interface and choose the AP mode.
- Set up its Wi-Fi with the same SSID and password as the RT-AX89X. (You can use a different SSID for each band, especially the ET8’s 6GHz band.)
- Connect the 2nd ET8’s WAN port to the Multi-Gig switch. Mission accomplished. The 2-pack ET8 now automatically works as an AP-mode AiMesh system.
- If you get two ET8 units separately (they are not pre-synced):
- Set up the first ET8 as a router — use the same SSIDs and password as the router — then add the 2nd unit as a wireless node.
- Use the first ET8’s web interface to switch the operation role into the AP mode.
- Connect both ET8 units’ WAN ports to the Multi-Gig switch. Mission accomplished.
- If you get a 2-pack (pre-synced hardware):
And now you get a standalone router (the RT-AX89X) and an AiMesh running in the AP mode (the ET8).
In this case, you can not control the ET8 via the RT-AX89X. But in return, you can use all of the ET8’s bands and connect all hardware using Multi-Gig wired connections.
Hopefully, Asus will release firmware at some point that allows for better controlling of tri-band satellites via a dual-band router — which has been the case in Synology Mesh from the get-go. Until then, if you intend to use a dual-band router with tri-band satellites, this is the only way.
There you have it. These are possible options in Multi-Gig wired AiMesh systems that proved to work well in my extended hands-on trials.
As time passes, there will be more hardware options, but the principles remain: You generally only want to use Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 or Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E hardware together. Mixing hardware of different numbers of Wi-Fi bands or standards can get dicey.
Again, traditional Tri-band hardware with an additional 5GHz band might work, but they are not designed for wired backhauling.