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How to Pick the Best Mesh Wi-Fi System for Your Home: The Quick Buying Guide

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There are so many Wi-Fi systems on the market, and this post will point you in the right direction and help you pick the best mesh for your home.

A suitable network system is more than just the performance or Wi-Fi coverage. It's also about the cost, your needs in features and settings, and, most importantly, your privacy.

Let's dig in!

Dong's note: This post is part of a series on mesh Wi-Fi systems. If you have not already, it's recommended that you read the piece on what constitutes a mesh network before continuing.

How to pick the best mesh Wi-Fi system: Netgear Orbi 970 vs. TP-Link Deco BE85 Ports
How to pick the best mesh Wi-Fi system: Mesh hardware is available as a pack of multiple identical routers, like the Deco BE85 (middle), or a separate router and satellites, such as the case of the Netgear Orbi 970. Others, such as those of the DIY approaches, allow you to combine different hardware prices to build one.

How to pick the best mesh Wi-Fi system: The first crucial hardware rule and four important criteria

Generally, if you buy a brand-new mesh system, you'll get a 2-pack or 3-pack with the hardware units either being identical or purposely designed to work with one another. There's no need to worry about hardware compatibility.

However, if you start with a single router or a 2-pack and then want to expand the system by adding more broadcasters, remember the first hardware rule:

Avoid using hardware of different Wi-Fi standards!

In some cases, such as when you go with Asus AiMesh or Synology Mesh, mixing Wi-Fi standards can work, especially with wired backhauling, but often only to an extent, and your luck will vary.

For example, Wi-Fi 6 hardware generally won't work well with the Wi-Fi 5 counterpart in a system—the two use the same 5GHz band differently. If you use Wi-Fi 7 hardware, then you should consider Wi-Fi 7 throughout.

After that, there are four additional things you should consider when getting a Wi-Fi system: The number of hardware units, the performance grade, the features, and the privacy.

Let's start with the number of hardware units.

1. Number of hardware units: Wired vs. Wireless

A home Wi-Fi broadcaster emits signals outward, somewhat like a sphere. The Wi-Fi range varies greatly depending on the layout of a home, its number and type of walls, and other attributes.

Each home is different, but you can use the information detailed in this post on the Wi-Fi range to figure out how a broadcaster would perform in yours. That, plus these tips on how to arrange the hardware, will be a good base for determining how many hardware units you'd need.

On the safe side, you can assume each can cover about 1500 ft2 (140 m2). Now consider these:

  • In a wireless setup: You need to place the hardware units relatively close to each other. Specifically, the satellite unit must be within the good coverage of the primary router (or another satellite) before it can extend the signals meaningfully. But you don't want to put it too close, either. That will reduce the total combined coverage of the two or negate the need for the second unit. Note that a mesh is not an upgrade to a single router.
  • In a wired setup: The satellite doesn't have to be within the coverage of any existing broadcaster. You can place it far enough—as far as the network cable between the two allows—so that its signals don't overlap with the existing Wi-Fi network. As a result, you'll get extensive coverage without signal degradation and less interference.

The gist is that wiring allows for not only the best performance but also flexibility in hardware placement. You can only place two wireless broadcasters only so far or so close to each other.

On the other hand, with wiring, you can place a broadcaster at the exact location to deliver Wi-Fi coverage for a particular area. For example, if you have a primary resident and an outhouse that's far apart in a large property, no wireless system can work. Still, a single network cable connecting a pair of broadcasters placed in the two locations will make both well covered—you can skip the area in between.

However, in most cases, you likely already have an existing router or a mesh system that kind of gets the job done, and now you want to improve the coverage. If so, consider the following:

  • If currently a single broadcaster is almost enough, then a 2-pack mesh will do.
  • If a 2-pack of low-end hardware is barely enough currently, a 2-pack of higher-end or better Wi-Fi standards will be perfect.
  • If you're comfortable with a low-end 3-pack, a high-end 2-pack likely won't cut it—you'll need a new 3-pack set of a similar higher tier.

It's often tricky to determine the number of necessary broadcasters. The good news is that in most mesh options, you can always start with a 2-pack and add more units later to scale up the coverage.

The Asus RT BE96U vs. other Wi-Fi 7 routers
How to pick the best mesh Wi-Fi system: If you care about performance, Wi-Fi 7 mesh hardware is the safest to bring home.

2. Performance grade: Number of bands vs. Multi-Gig ports vs. needed bandwidth

Wi-Fi speed is, by far, the most critical factor in building a network. And that depends a lot on if your home is wired with network cables. On the wiring front, here are some quick bullet points based on the bandwidth you want or need:

  • Gigabit or faster: Getting your home wired is generally a must.
  • 150Mbps to Gigabit: Wiring is recommended, but Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 7 wireless mesh will do.
  • Slower than 150Mbps: Most Wi-Fi 5 and newer systems will do, wired or wireless, though it doesn't hurt to get your home wired.

After that, the next step is to figure out the hardware suitable for the situation.

Specifically, for a wired home:

  • It's generally best to get a Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 or a Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E system. There's no need for hardware with an additional 5GHz band.
  • Wi-Fi 7 hardware with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling is the ideal option for getting the fastest performance. In this case, avoid hardware that doesn't have multiple Multi-Gig ports, such as the Linksys Velop Pro 7.

For a fully wireless setup:

  • If you use Wi-Fi 6E or Wi-Fi 6 hardware, it's generally a good idea to utilize the hardware with an additional 5GHz band—Tri-band or Quad-band, respectively—which can work as the dedicated backhaul link.
  • On the other hand, if you decide to go with the latest Wi-Fi 7, the additional 5GHz or 6GHz band of Quad-band hardware, such as the Netgear Orbi 970 series or TP-Link Deco BE95, generally plays little or no role other than a marketing tool. The new standard has vastly more bandwidth, and its MLO feature can significantly improve the wireless backhaul link. Band splitting, in this case, only complicates things unnecessarily.

With that, let's go into a bit more detail based on the needed bandwidth.

Generally, any mesh system using Wi-Fi 5 or later will do for sharing a modest Internet connection (150Mbps download speed or slower). However, if you pay for a fast Internet plan—300 Mbps or higher—you'll need a mid-tier system that has a dedicated 5GHz backhaul band or a top-tier Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 (Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E) system.

If you have a high-speed internet connection (500 Mbps or faster), it's time to consider running network cables, but a top-tier Tri-band Wi-Fi 6, Quad-band Wi-Fi 6E, or a Wi-Fi 7 wireless mesh system can do the job.

For Gigabit or faster (multi-Gigabit) broadband, using network cables and Multi-Gig-enabled hardware is the only way to go. There's no way around this. Even a top-tier Wi-Fi 7 system in a wireless setup won't give you consistent Gig+ real-world rates on a good day.

What is Gig+

Gig+, or Gig Plus, conveys a speed grade faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. So, it's 1.5Gbps, give or take, and it's not speedy enough to qualify as Multi-Gig Ethernet or multi-Gigabit. Intel coined the term to call its Wi-Fi 6E client chips—the AX210 and AX211—to describe their real-world speeds.

Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E—via a 2x2 at 160MHz connection, which has the 2402Mbps theoretical ceiling speed—or Internet speed. It's generally not used to describe wired network connections.

On the other hand, with a wired backhauling, all you need is a modest Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 or Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E system—such as the Asus ZenWiFi XD5 or, better yet the TP-Link Deco X55 Pro—to experience Gigabit-class bandwidth.

Asus RT BE96U Web Interface AiProtection
How to pick the best mesh Wi-Fi system: Network Protection is one of many features the Asus mesh systems have to offer.

3. Features

The feature set of a system means what you can do with your home network.

If all you want is Internet access, there's no need to worry about the features. However, it's always helpful to have a system that includes lots of customization and built-in online protection.

I'm not a fan of mesh systems (or routers) without a web interface since they don't offer users complete network control.

If you want many valuable features and network settings, use one of these advanced DIY mesh approaches. The runners-up are canned systems from TP-Link, Linksys, or Netgear. Others—eero, Google Nest, ARRIS SURFboard, etc.—tend to have little or nothing in features and network settings.

4. Privacy

All Wi-Fi systems requiring you to register a login account for setup and ongoing management can cause privacy risks.

Your router and privacy risks: It's about the (lack of) awareness

Your network connects to the vendor at all times; potentially, third parties can keep tabs on what you do online. What happens behind the scenes is generally unknown, and some vendors are worse than others.

Extreme examples of this type of what I'd call "data-mining mesh systems" are those from Google and Amazon. These also tend to have lackluster performances and scant features, as well as low or zero customizability. I'd recommend against them even though they might offer reliable performance and ease of use.

The Amazon eero Max 7 is available in a 3-pack, 2-pack, or a single router.
How to pick the best mesh Wi-Fi system: The Amazon eero, like the Max 7 shown here, is among the worst in terms of privacy and features.

The takeaway

No matter how hard you try, you'll never get the perfect Wi-Fi system. Sometimes, getting the most expensive option might help, but in the end, it's always about balancing what you need and how much you can spend.

Along the process, knowing what you need and what a mesh system can do beyond the hype and marketing is the key. Ready to make the decision? Here are the lists of the tested best mesh systems you can bring home today:

Best mesh systems by Wi-Fi standards: Wi-Fi 7 | Wi-Fi 6E | Wi-Fi 6 | Wi-Fi 5

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6 thoughts on “How to Pick the Best Mesh Wi-Fi System for Your Home: The Quick Buying Guide”

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  1. Is it better to have Dual WAN integrated into a mesh network, or separate Dual WAN wired router connected to the mesh?
    I have problems with internet bandwidth and wifi.
    My main questions is:
    – is it better to buy a dual WAN mesh network, or to buy a cheap dual WAN router and connect this to my preferred wifi solution?
    -Background-
    I live in a 60 year old 2000 sq ft apartment with THICK walls.
    There are also no wired internet services available in my area.
    I have an unlimited data 5G mobile connection via a ZTE MC888 5G CPE modem (with wifi turned off to avoid interference). This is connected via ethernet cable to a TP Link AX6600 Wi-Fi 6 Tri-Band Gaming Router.
    I’ve got an Apple TV connected by ethernet to the TP Link router, all other connections are via wifi. There are three people in the house (each with phones / laptops), plus two 1080p Apple HomeKit security cameras and one 1080p baby monitor running 24/7.
    I don’t have any wifi 6E devices, so no need for anything better than wifi 6.
    – The Problems –
    Issues are twofold:
    1. The internet bandwidth is not enough for all of the devices in the house. Without the 3x cameras, it’s passable, but with the cameras turned on internet is barely useable. Netflix, Youtube, Zoom, etc – all don’t work properly. Sometimes even loading a google search takes multiple tries.
    2. Wifi coverage from my router doesn’t reach all corners of the house
    -My thoughts on the problems-
    For problem 1 (not enough bandwidth) I can fairly cheaply get a second 5G service with a different mobile network.
    Unfortunately all other networks only offer 250gb of data – and I might get slowed down after that depending on the fair use policy.
    I would need some kind of Dual WAN system where I can either load balance (in favour of my unlimited data service) or assign certain MACs (like the 3x security cameras) to the unlimited data service – and things like phones which don’t use so much data to the data-limited internet service.
    For problem 2, I need a mesh network.
    – A solution?-
    I am thinking of getting something like the TP Link ER 605 to give Dual WAN capabilities.
    For the wifi, I am thinking of trying the TP Link One Mesh RE815X. This seems to have a dedicated backhaul channel and high broadcasting power so (even though an “extender”) seems like a fairly decent and cheap way to expand my current wifi network into the corners of my apartment.
    I’m hopeful the One Mesh extender will work – but if it doesn’t, I’ll have to replace the whole wifi system with a proper (and far more expensive) mesh network. Very much hoping to avoid this.
    -My questions-
    1. Is it possible to connect a wired dual WAN router (like the ER 605) into a wifi router (like the AX6600)? Can I still assign MACs via the load balancing dual WAN router to one internet connection or the other (even though those devices are connected by wifi to the separate router)? Is this simple to do? Does the ER 605 support this (load balancing options seem very limited in the manual)?
    2. Are there any advantages of having the dual WAN system integrated with the wifi? It seems that there are very few dual WAN mesh wifi systems available (and they’re quite expensive). As above, Im hoping to fix the wifi coverage issue with the relatively cheap One Mesh extender (and not a whole new wifi mesh network). It seems sensible to get the best wifi solution for my house (whether it has dual WAN or not) if it’s easy to add dual WAN capability to a wifi network with a cheap separate device (like the ER 605).
    3. Will 2x 5G connections via dual WAN actually help with the internet usability issues I’m having?
    Any other suggestions very much welcome!
    Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Hi Brok, I’ll address your message as a whole—you asked some odd questions presumably due to wrong assumptions. The numbers below are not corresponding to your questions.

      1. I think you were thinking of some fantasies when saying “Dual WAN integrated into a mesh network”. Mesh or not, Dual-WAN (or WAN in general) is always handled by the router. More on Dual-WAN in this post. More on what a mesh network is in this post.
      2. You need to remove those IP cams. You can’t use them in your network. Data cap aside, they will kill your upload pipe really fast. No upload, no download, either. Here’s how Internet bandwidth works and how to conserve it.
      3. Dual-WAN when set up properly will help. See #1.

      For your case, get an AiMesh system—most if not all Asus routers can handle Dual-WAN and has the Statistic section for you to monitor bandwidth use. Good luck!

      Reply
  2. It’s definitely interesting. Myself I have tried the BE95, the xe75pro, the x50 3 port and ended up sending them all back because the 6e and 7 offerings showed no value where I lived. 6ghz speed tests were always less than 95 mbps only 6ft away from the units and yet 5ghz would get 850+ mbps right after on my 3gb up/down internet. Not to mention the decos seemed to go offline but yet the lights were still green (except BE95, always rock solid on app) I finally settled on two 3 packs of X55 pros this week and it seems to be the sweet spot of good enough and cheap enough.

    Reply
  3. Hello,
    I’m wondering if a single wireless router today could cover my whole house better than a single wireless router from about 6 years ago? The last wireless router I used was the Asus RT-AC86U and it could never cover all 3 floors and garage properly. Would today’s technology change that or am I best to upgrade to another MESH system again?
    {…} Situation: 3 floors for total of 2800 sq ft. Garage about 30 ft from house. Radiant heated floors so probably challenging to cover through floors. Will need to use wireless backhaul, might be able to use MOCA for one segment of backhaul.
    Thank You

    Reply

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