This post will give you an overview of how a popular home mesh brand differentiates itself from others. In other words, if you're wondering which fits your situation best among eero, Orbi, Deco, Velop, Nest Wifi, AiMesh, Synology, etc., you're at the right place.
While a specific mesh set's performance depends on its hardware, it generally shares common attributes available in all of the brand's variants. To make it easier to compare, there are also ratings for each brand with quick pros and cons.
By the end of this post, among other things, you will be able to determine which brand is the best to bring home.
Dong's note: I first published this post on March 24, 2021, and last updated it on September 6, 2023, with additional relevant information.
The brief history of popular home mesh brands: One long list
In my opinion, there are two types of mesh systems.
The first type is those built from the ground up, which I call purpose-built or canned systems. They tend to be easy to use but lack features and settings. You generally have to get these in a two-pack or a three-pack.
The second are those made from a standalone Wi-Fi broadcaster. You first get a single router and then add more hardware to scale up the coverage when needed. These are harder to use but generally give you more options in features and customization.
The list below is in chronological order based on the brands' initial release date, according to my memory and experience. This order has no meaning in terms of ranking or favoritism. Rather, it gives you a sense of how home mesh has evolved over the years.
Let's dive in.
1. The eero (Feb 2016): Ease-of-use trumps all, including consumers’ privacy
The eero -- all lowercase -- is the mother of all canned home mesh systems.
First introduced back in February 2016 as a 3-pack of identical routers, the eero started what I called the home mesh revolution.
Hardware as a service approach: Big on ease-of-use, little customization, privacy concerns
The eero's idea was quite revolutionary when first launched. It was the first app-operated -- via the eero mobile app -- networking hardware as a service and has remained that way.
Specifically, despite paying the full, often rather expensive, price, you don't own the product outright. Instead, you use it via a constant connection with the vendor who supposedly takes care of your home network for you remotely.
As a result, the eero has always been super easy to set up and use -- as long as you have a mobile device and a live connection to the Internet. But users have zero or little control over the system -- you can't even set it up or make changes when there's no Internet. There's not much in customization, either.
eero offers parental control, VPN, and online protection features via the eero Plus add-on subscription.
From the get-go, eero has been big on collecting user data supposedly for performance optimization. Users have to trust eero on the extent of data it collects and what the company does with the information.
It's worth noting that in 2019, Amazon bought eero. It could have purchased a more established networking brand if its interest was purely in home networking.
eero: Hardware availability and general performance
eero is generally available in identical units. One works as the router, and the rest will be satellites.
Among Wi-Fi 6 models, you'll also find an extender unit, which can only work as a satellite. Generally, you want to use same-tier units together, but mixing them up will likely work out, too, especially in a wired setup.
In late 2022, the eero Pro 6E was released, which works best via wired backhauling. In early 2023, the company went full wiring and released the Amazon eero PoE Gateway, a non-Wifi router, and the Amazon eero PoE 6. You can use a combo of the two to build a mesh system with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling.
As for performance, in the wireless setup, the eero has always been modest at best. All variants use relatively low-end hardware housed in fancy-looking chassis. But with wired backhauling, the mesh can be as fast as any other of the same Wi-Fi specs.
In early 2020, eero was integrated with Apple HomeKit, and Apple certified the Wi-Fi 6 versions in late May 2021. However, this support ends with starting with the eero Pro 6E and eero 6+
Who should get the eero
Generally, if you have wired your home or only need modest bandwidth, the eero can be an easy option with good to excellent performance. Just make sure you're OK with the data collection.
On the other hand, for those living in a home where wiring is impossible or wanting total control of their network, or privacy, it's as bad as can be.
Amazon eero's Overall Rating
Easy to set up and use
Reliable and scalable Wi-Fi coverage
Middling hardware designed to collect user data, generally slow Wi-Fi speeds
Login account, live Internet connection to vendor required for setup and ongoing management,
Minimum ports, limited port-related features
Online Protection and Parental Control require a monthly subscription
Home automation feature requires Amazon integration
No web interface, spartan Wi-Fi/ network settings
2. Netgear Orbi (Oct 2016): Dedicated wireless backhaul for the win
Netgear launched its first Orbi set, the RBK50, in October 2016, somewhat as the answer to the eero.
Netgear Orbi’s hallmark: Tri-band with dedicated backhaul
The Orbi's hallmark has always been the use of a dedicated 5GHz band as the wireless backhaul that links the hardware units.
This dedicated backhaul approach has its pros and cons.
To understand the Orbi's permanent backhaul concept, which Netgear calls "patented dedicated backhaul," you can liken the mesh system's router unit to a special 4WD pickup truck with a separate engine for the rear wheels dedicated solely to the job of pulling a trailer.
This engine makes sense and is great when the truck has a trailer attached (a mesh system) but becomes dead weight when it works just by itself (standalone router) -- it's now a full-time front-wheel-drive vehicle.
It's probably not a good idea to consider such a truck unless you intend to use it to pull a trailer most, if not all, of the time.
The point is Netgear's Orbi only makes sense when you need a fully wireless mesh Wi-Fi system and never when you need a standalone router, where the second 5GHz band is a big waste in terms of hardware cost and energy consumption.
Tri-band mesh systems from other networking vendors might or might not dedicate one of the two 5GHz bands as backhaul, but they generally allow (users to program) all Wi-Fi bands to work for front-hauling. They are 4WD vehicles, whether or not there's a trailer attached.
In a way, you can say that Netgear is the champion in dedicated backhaul technology. It has focused on this so much that in the Orbi ecosystem, the dedicated backhaul band, which uses the upper 5GHz channels, only works as such -- it's unavailable to clients.
Netgear Orbi: Full web interface, optional mobile app
What's also great about the Orbi is that apart from being an (optional) app-operated system -- like the case of the eero -- it also has a full local web interface. That's been the case with all Orbi sets.
Consequently, users can use it without being hooked to Netgear. They also get a standard set of network customization -- stuff like Dynamic DNS, port forwarding, VPN server, QoS, and many other settings -- found in most standalone traditional routers.
Starting in mid-2019, Netgear introduced Netgear Armor online protection as an add-on subscription for its Orbi mobile app. Since then, Netgear has slowly made once-free features part of the subscription and coerced users into signing up for a login account and using the mobile app.
Netgear Orbi: Hardware availability
The Orbi comes in many variants, with the majority being Tri-band or even Quad-band. They are all available in router + satellite combo, each with their exclusive role.
The RBK13, released in late 2019, is the only dual-band variant.
The Orbi hardware is rigid. You can't use the router unit as a satellite and vice versa, nor can you use hardware of different Wi-Fi standards -- Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 -- together. This rigidity makes the Orbi a relatively expensive choice, especially when you want to upgrade.
Netgear Orbi: The wired backhaul issue
Initially, the Orbi didn't support wired backhaul. In late 2018, Netgear started to add this option (via firmware updates for older sets).
Unfortunately, even when you use wired backhaul, there's no way to make the dedicated 5GHz backhaul band available to clients.
My take is that Netgear has engineered this band using its proprietary technology to ensure the best range for the backhaul purpose. Consequently, it's not easy to make it work with clients.
That's also the case when you use an Orbi router by itself. In other words, there are no scenarios where the additional 5GHz band of an Orbi works for clients.
For this reason, Orbi is generally suitable only for those needing a fully wireless mesh system. You can use wired backhauling, but in this case, you'd pay for a hardware part you'd never use.
Extra: Understanding Orbi model numbers
Dissecting the Orbi’s model name
If you ever wonder how to interpret this naming convention, keep in mind that there are three telling things in one: The first letter, the third (and 4th) letter, and the last digit. That's because the 2nd letter (B) is for Orbi.
- The First letter (often R, C, or N, but there might be more) means the character of the hardware.
- R: It's a regular (standard) setup, be it a single router or a mesh system. So, for example, RBK852 means this one is a standard mesh system.
- C: There's a cable modem involved. For example, CBK752 is a mesh system in which the router unit has a built-in cable modem.
- N: This is when the router unit is cellular-capable. N here is short for NR, or "new radio," which is a fancy name for cellular Internet.
- The 3rd letter (often K, R, or S) means the hardware unit's exclusive role.
- K = Kit. This means you're looking at a multi-unit package. So RBK752 refers to a kit of more than one hardware unit. How many? See the last digit below.
- R = Router unit. For example, RBR750 is the router unit of the RBK752.
- S = Satellite unit. For example, RBS750 is the satellite unit of the RBK752.
- The 4th letter (if any): The letter E stands for Wi-Fi 6E, like the case of the recently announced RBKE960 series.
- The Last digit (often 0, 2, 3, etc.) shows the package's total hardware units.
- 0 = Single hardware unit (either a router or a satellite.) Generally, it signifies the series.
- 2 = A 2-pack (router + one satellite). For example, RBK752 is a 2-pack cable-ready mesh that includes a CBR750 gateway and an RBS750 satellite.
- 3 = A 3-pack (router + two satellites). The RBK853 is a 3-pack mesh system that includes one RBR850 router and two RBS850 satellite units.
- Extra: The middle digits (often 5, 75, 85, 96, etc.) are Netgear's in-house designations to show the hardware's Wi-Fi specs. They are a bit arbitrary. Specifically:
- 5: This is for Wi-Fi 5. For example, the original RBK50 is a Wi-Fi 5 Orbi.
- 75: This is for a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 with two 2x2 bands and one 4x4 band. Example: the RBK752.
- 85: Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 hardware with all 4x4 bands. Example: the RBK852.
- 96: Quad-band Wi-Fi 6E with all 4x4 bands. Example: the RBKE960 series.
If you're still confused, you're not alone, but generally, you get the idea.
Who should get the Orbi?
Generally, the Orbi is expensive, and for those who have gotten their home wired, it's a bit of a waste. Consider it only if you intend to use it in a fully wireless configuration.
Another thing to note is that Orbi, like most wireless systems, generally tends to have lag (latency) issues. So, it's not ideal if you want to play online games or use real-time communications (video conferencing, etc.). The lag issue is especially prevalent if you use three or more hardware units in a daisy-chain topology.
Netgear Orbi Mesh System's Overall Rating
Fast, reliable Wi-Fi with extensive coverage
Full web interface with all standard settings and features
Useful, well-designed mobile app
Wi-Fi 6 versions support WAN Link Aggregation and often have Multi-Gig support
No 160MHz channel support, limited Wi-Fi customization
No cross-Wi-Fi standard hardware compatibility
Mobile app and security/Parental Controls features require a login account
3. Google (Nest) Wifi (Dec 2016): The true eero alternative
Google Wifi, nowadays known as the Google Nest Wi-Fi, is the search engine giant's answer to the eero.
Google debuted its first home mesh in December 2016 as the true counterpart of the eero. It's also hardware as a service with little customization, even worse than the eero. And it has been that way since.
The replacement of OnHub
Google had been involved with Wi-Fi much earlier.
In mid-2015, the company introduced its first home Wi-Fi router, the OnHub, which used TP-Link hardware and Google's firmware.
The OnHub was sleek and one of the first app-operated standalone routers on the market. Later, it morphed into the original Google Wifi, which became the now well-known Nest Wifi mesh that's been the biggest competitor of the eero.
Originally, the system was managed via the Google Wifi app. However, in mid-2021, after acquiring Nest, the company deprecated this app and made the Nest Wifi part of the Google Home app, which handles other smart home devices. This move has made things quite counterintuitive.
Who should get Google (Nest) Wifi?
My biggest issue with the Google Wi-Fi is that it can't work in the AP mode as a mesh -- you can only do that with a single hardware unit. Consequently, you can only use it as the only router of your home or in a double NAT setup if you must keep your ISP-provided gateway.
Other than that, consider Google Wi-Fi a genuine alternative to the eero. It has the same level of ease of use and privacy concerns. It's a question of Amazon vs. Google, as in who you'd trust more with your data.
Google (Nest) Wifi's Overall Rating
Reliable and scalable Wi-Fi coverage
Integration with a Google account and other Smart Home devices
Middling hardware, slow Wi-Fi speeds, confusing Google Home app
A login account is required for setup and ongoing management
Minimum ports, no Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation, or Multi-Gig
No access point (AP) mode as a mesh system
No web interface, spartan Wi-Fi/network settings
4. Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi (Oct 2016): Quirky but cool and effective
Around October 2016, Ubiquiti Labs introduced the AmpliFi HD as a single router that can also work as a mesh system with two add-on plug-in satellites.
The HD at the time was the first Wi-Fi router with a color touchscreen. It was a novelty. You can use this screen to manage the router (or mesh), but you'll need the mobile app to do more.
AmpliFi: Limited hardware options
The AmpliFI HD, and subsequently the Wi-Fi 6 version of the AmpliFi Alien, are fun and effective as a single router and a mesh.
While they don't offer many customization and features, they are unavailable in any other system. One of which is the Teleport VPN, which makes using VPN a super easy option for home users.
So far, there are only two options. You can go with the HD (Wi-Fi 5) or the Alien (Wi-Fi 6.)
Who should get the AmpliFi?
If you're into ease-of-use, performance, and cool stuff, either the HD or the Alien is a great choice. The latter also supports wired backhaul to build a fast-performing mesh.
AmpliFi Mesh System's Overall Rating
Dead-easy to set up and manage
Excellent Wi-Fi coverage
Fast performance, wired backhaul supported in Wi-Fi 6 versions
Users can manage the backhaul link and virtual Wi-Fi networks
Useful VPN and ad-blocking features
Cool hardware design
The HD has no wired backhaul option, the Alien's MeshPoint has only one LAN port, and only works with the one router of the same Alien Kit
No dedicated backhaul band
5. Linksys Velop Intelligent Mesh (Jan 2017): Flexible backhaul
Belkin released the first Linksys Velop (model WHW0303) in January 2017 to answer the Orbi and the eero. The full name is Linksys Velop Intelligent Mesh, with an emphasis on "Intelligent." The intelligent notion is subjective, but the original Velop is indeed more flexible.
Linksys Velop: A more flexible option
A Linksys Velop mesh has a "dynamic backhaul," meaning it'll use any of its three bands at any given time as backhaul or fronthaul, depending on the situation.
As a result, users will have access to all three bands. And if you use wired backhaul, you won't lose any band for the backhaul link, making it a better alternative to the Orbi.
Like the Orbi, the Linksys Velop has a full web interface and the Linksys mobile app.
Starting with Wi-Fi 6 hardware, Belkin has started to coerce users into using the mobile app via a login account. As a result, the Velop generally has fewer features and customization options than the Orbi. But it's still much better than the eero on this front.
Linksys Velop: Hardware availability
Apart from the original tri-band option, the Linksys Velop has also been available in Dual-band, including the Velop Dual-band and Velop Plug-in, both dual-band. Its Wi-F 6, the MX4200, or MX5300 hardware, has always been tri-band.
A Velop home mesh set tends to come in multiple identical routers. You can use any as the router role, and the rest will work as a satellite(s). The Atlas Max 6E is the latest in this ecosystem.
When to consider a Linksys Velop
A tri-band Linksys Velop is an excellent alternative to the Orbi, and a dual-band one is about as good as the eero in a wireless setup. In a wired backhaul configuration, the Velop is better than the other two.
Linksys Velop's Overall Rating
Generally reliable Wi-Fi with excellent coverage
Helpful mobile app, full web interface
Flexible wired/wireless backhaul
Modest Wi-Fi speed with no support for 160MHz channel bandwidth in Wi-Fi 6 models
Mobile app (and login account) coercion
Spartan Wi-Fi settings, modest feature set
Generally, no Dual-WAN or Link Aggregation
No setting backup/restore
6. TP-Link Deco (April 2017): More bang (and options) for your buck
TP-Link introduced its first Deco set, the M5, in April 2017 as a better alternative to the eero.
While Deco also requires a login account and a mobile app to work and can also cause privacy concerns, TP-Link is a networking company and not a big data one like the case of Amazon.
The M5 was a dual-band 3-pack set that was more affordable yet came with many free features, including Antivirus, QoS, and others. It did, too, require a mobile app and a login account -- it was also hardware as a service.
Over the years, TP-Link has gradually removed online protection and parental control from new hardware, offering them as part of an add-on subscription called HomeShield Pro.
TP-Link hardware availability
Over the years, the Deco has remained the same in terms of features for the most part. All variants are app-operated.
Deco has been the most prolific mesh brand available in most hardware options, including Dual-band, Tri-band, and Quad-band of various performance grades and Wi-Fi standards.
In early 2023, TP-Link was the first company with Wi-Fi 7 hardware, including two Deco mesh systems.
Who should get a Deco?
Generally, Deco is balanced. This brand has a good combo of performance, features, and price without much standing out. But it's reasonably priced.
That said, if you want an easy-to-use canned mesh system that will give you decent performance (and not much else) for the money, pick a Deco set that fits your budget.
TP-Link Deco's Overall Rating
Affordable with lots of hardware options
Easy-to-use mobile app
Reliable Wi-Fi coverage
Spartan Wi-Fi customization, network settings, and features
Limited port-related features
App and login account required, no real web user interface
Confusing HomeShield/HomeCare online protection and Parental Control features
7. Asus’s AiMesh (Feb 2018): The most versatile (and potentially temperamental) home mesh option
Asus introduced the AiMesh option as an add-on feature via firmware update in February 2018, together with the release of the RT-AC86U.
Since then, this has been one of the most significant home mesh developments, thanks to its versatility. You can create many mesh combos from more than a dozen (and counting) broadcasters and use them (almost) however you want.
In any case, you'll get a mesh with the most features, settings, and likely the best performance. But, most importantly, you can also use them without privacy risks.
In return, you need to tread relatively lightly with your choice of hardware since a wrong combo can be a headache. AiMesh is not for the faint of heart, but it's a gratifying option for those who are up for a bit of a challenge.
Asus AiMesh's Rating
The most flexible way to build a robust, scalable home Wi-Fi mesh system
Excellent performance, top-notch feature set
Built-in online protection
No vendor login is required, or other privacy risks
Certain router combos can be buggy or have issues with new major firmware releases.
Rigid Wi-Fi management when mixing hardware of different Wi-Fi tiers, standards, or number of bands
Only Guest SSID (instead of three) per band can be made system-wide
8. Synology Mesh (Oct 2018): The professional-grade home mesh
In October 2018, Synology released the MR2200ac and, with it, an add-on mesh feature that has turned out to be a formidable counterpart of Asus AiMesh.
You can form a robust mesh system with two or more supported routers. Thanks to an advanced firmware called Synology Router Manager (SRM), Synology Mesh is one of the best for those who need a pro-grade Wi-Fi system.
Synology Wi-Fi Mesh System's Rating
Fast, reliable, and extensive Wi-Fi coverage
Advanced interface with high-quality add-on features
Highly customizable network and Wi-Fi settings
Effective Parental Controls and online protection
Advanced Guest network
Limited hardware and combo options, no satellite-only hardware, users have little control over the satellites
No 10Gbps or 5Gbps Multi-Gig option, no hardware with two or more 2.5Gbps ports
9. TP-Link OneMesh (April 2019): A patch-up home mesh
In April 2019, TP-Link introduced its OneMesh approach somewhat as the answer to Asus's AiMesh. It's also an alternative to the company's popular Deco home mesh family.
The idea is you can get a standalone router and then use a supported extender -- the first being the RE300 extender -- to form a mesh.
At the core of it, OneMesh turned out to be similar to using a router and extender -- the RE300 works with third-party routers, too.
As a result, OneMesh, while easy and affordable, is slow and far inferior to the alternatives. Since late 2022, TP-Link has slowly transitioned OneMesh into Wi-Fi EasyMesh.
Wi-Fi EasyMesh in a nutshell
Wi-Fi EasyMesh is Wi-Fi Alliance's certification program, first announced in early 2020, that aims to simplify the building of mesh systems.
The idea is any Wi-Fi EasyMesh-certified hardware from any vendor will work with one another to form a Wi-Fi mesh system.
The new program hasn't caught on. By late 2022, only Netgear has released its supposedly Wi-Fi EasyMesh-compliant mesh systems-- the MK63 and MK83. And in August 2022, TP-Link said that it would join the cause by transitioning its OneMesh over.
Generally, we need the hardware of at least two vendors to know the support for Wi-Fi EasyMesh is real. But even then, things can get complicated in terms of liability or tech support.
If a mixed Wi-Fi EasyMesh system is not working as expected, it's hard to know which hardware vendor is at fault, and consumers might be stuck between two networking companies that point fingers at each other.
For more reasons than one, users tend to use mesh hardware from the same vendor, and Wi-Fi EasyMesh has so far been a nice idea with little impact, if at all.
TP-Link OneMesh's Rating
Affordable and easy to set up
Responsive web interface, useful mobile app
Supported in many Wi-Fi 6 routers
No dedicated or wired backhaul options
Modest Wi-Fi speeds
Routers can't work as satellite units
No high-end satellite hardware
10. Arris Surfboard mAX (Oct 2019): The new kid on the home mesh block
In October 2019, CommScope released its first ARRIS Wi-Fi 6 device, the SURFboard mAX PRO AX11000 mesh system. It's also the company's very first Wi-Fi router. Before this, ARRIS was a known brand for cable modems and gateway.
The mAX PRO is the top-of-the-line hardware that can deliver Gigabit speeds. Since then, the system has gone through a few changes, including a completely new app.
At the gist of it, the SURFboard mAX has remained the same. The canned mesh system has almost no feature or setting at all. It's also the only one on the market that, so far, has no support for wired backhaul.
That has been the case with all variants, including the latest SURFboard mAX 6E.
In all, the SURFboard mAX is a reliable system if you only care about expanding Wi-Fi coverage and not much else.
ARRIS SURFboard Mesh System's Overal Rating
Decent Wi-Fi speeds, large coverage
Effective dedicated wireless backhaul band
Zero customization and feature
Fluctuating Wi-Fi speeds
Poorly designed SURFboard Central app; and vendor accounts required to work; no local web user interface
No wired backhaul, limited port-related features
11. Netgear Knighthawk Mesh (Mid-2020): Wi-Fi EasyMesh made for a wired home
In mid-2020, Netgear released its first Wi-Fi EasyMesh-based system, the Nighthawk MK63. (And in early 2021, it unveiled the MK83.) This mesh brand is an alternative to the networking vendor's Orbi family.
The Knighthawk mesh line shares the same feature set and mobile app as Netgear's Nighthawk routers. It, too, has a full web interface with lots of customization. Most importantly, it doesn't come with a permanently dedicated backhaul -- it's excellent for wired backhaul.
On top of that, supporting the Wi-Fi EasyMesh concept, there's a chance it will work with hardware from other vendors of the same standard.
Netgear Nighthawk Mesh's Overall Rating
Reliable Wi-Fi coverage at affordable pricing
Full web interface, optional mobile app
Wired backhaul support
Web interface lacks some common networking settings
Limited number of ports, switches are required for the dual-band version to use wired backhaul
Lacks basic Wi-Fi settings, no 160 MHz channel width
No multi-gig port, Dual-WAN, or Link Aggregation
Finicky QoS, online protection, requires a mobile app and is not free
Home mesh brands: The takeaway
Those mentioned here are all popular purpose-built home mesh systems in the market. There are others, but chances are they are not as significant.
You'll note that none of the brands above will give you everything. Ultimately, you must choose between ease of use, performance, features, and privacy. Find a combo you can tolerate and go with it.
If you're willing to spend some time figuring things out or are comfortable with networking, consider these do-it-yourself mesh systems.