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Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Mesh Kit Review: An Odd Pair of Wi-Fi Tango

The AmpliFi Alien mesh kit next to a single router. You’ll need both if you want to have a 3-pack mesh system. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

If my previous mentioning of the AmpliFi Alien router’s mesh portion sounded a bit like a tease, that’s because, at the time, I knew Ubiquiti would release an Alien Kit, but couldn’t talk about it.

Even though you can use two Alien routers — at $380 each — to form a mesh, it makes a more economic sense to get a kit of a router and a mesh point. That kit is now available for $699 — not exactly affordable, but it sure is less expensive than getting two routers.

This review focuses on the mesh aspect of the Alien. It makes more sense if you have already read my take on it as a standalone router. So, make sure you do that first.

READ MORE:  Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Review: A Peculiarly Good Router

For the most part, I find an Alien-based system quite excellent despite the fact it has no dedicated backhaul band, nor does it include the support for 160MHz channels. It’s also cost-prohibitive, a little thin on network customization, and restrictive in hardware options. But for some odd reason, you’ll probably love it anyway.

AmpliFi Alien Router and MeshPoint

8.5

Performance

8.5/10

Features

8.0/10

Design and Setup

9.5/10

Value

8.0/10

Pros

  • Dead-easy to set up and manage
  • Excellent Wi-Fi coverage
  • Fast performance, wired backhaul supported
  • Users can manage backhaul link and virtual Wi-Fi networks
  • Useful VPN and ad-blocking feature
  • Cool hardware design

Cons

  • MeshPoint has only one LAN port, and only works with the one router of the same Alien Kit
  • No dedicated backhaul band
  • Expensive

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Mesh: A kit unlike any others

The AmpliFi Alien mesh kit includes an Alien router (model Fi-ALN-R), and an Alien MeshPoint (AFI-ALN-P) packed together in a fancy box.

The Alien MeshPoint shares the same look, physical size, and Wi-Fi specs as the router, but it has just one Gigabit LAN port on the underside. There’s also a signal indicator on the front that shows the quality of the link between it and the router, which is helpful when you need to figure out how far to best place it from the router.

On the front the Alien router (left) and the Alien MeshPoint look almost the same, less the touchscreen. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The MeshPoint has no touchscreen, no speaker, but only the bottom ring of bright green status light, which flashes to respond each time you make some setting changes or want to locate it using the AmpliFi app. As the name suggests, the MeshPoint can’t work as a standalone router, but only a mesh satellite unit.

To build an Alien mesh system, you can get two Alien routers or this Alien Kit. While the choice seems straight forward, it’s not.

Not so flexible hardware options

First of all, the MeshPoint is not available by itself, but only as part of a mesh kit. So, if you already have an Alien router, you can’t expect to get a MeshPoint and go on your merry mesh way. You will need to get another Alien router. 

As a result, from a financial standpoint, the mesh kit is only a good deal for those who haven’t bought a standalone Alien router yet. Also, it only makes sense if you don’t need more than two hardware units. That’s because once you’ve gotten a kit, the only way to scale up your network now is to get another Alien router.

Considering the mesh’s excellent coverage — more on this below — chances are two hardware units are all you’d need. Still, the fact you can’t buy the MeshPoint unit by itself means Ubiquiti’s Alien-based mesh offering is restrictive.

Even worse, a Mesh Point is married to the router of the same Alien Kit — it won’t work with just any Alien router. And just like some marriages I know — not mine — the router of the kit is free to pair with any other Alien routers to form a mesh. The main issue here is if somehow the Alien router of the package stops working, the MeshPoint becomes a paperweight.

Keep in mind that this is the current state of play. Going forward, Ubiquiti might release firmware to set the MeshPoint free, or it might not. The company was quite ambiguous to me on this.

The Alien MeshPoint has just one LAN port on its underside. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Mesh Kit’s Specifications

As a kit, the Alien Kit mesh system includes two hardware units, a router, and a mesh point. After that, you can add more routers and use them as additional mesh points. You can use as many router units as you want in an Alien mesh system.

Simple setup

Like the case when you use a single router, setting up an Alien mesh system is extremely simple.

With an Alien Kit, the two hardware units are permanently synced by default. So, as soon as you turn them on, they are already connected. You only need to do a quick setup process on the router — namely picking a Wi-Fi network — and your mesh is ready.

If you want to use multiple Alien routers, the process is similar. First, set up one Alien to work as the primary router. Now place another Alien near it and turn it on, the AmpliFi mobile app will detect as “New Mesh Point.” Now you can tap on “Add to network” and give it a name, and that’s it. After a few seconds, the router now works as a satellite mesh point.

The only benefit of using an Alien router over using an Alien MeshPoint is the fact you’ll get four more LAN ports at the far corner. But that fact can be the de facto considering using a MeshPoint is not an option for many of us anyway, as mentioned above.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Mesh: Thin customization, unique feature set

Once a mesh is set up, you can use the app to name each node of the mesh to your liking, such as Living-Room, Man-Cave, or take the default model number. After that, for the most part, you only need to work with the router unit. The satellite units generally will replicate the primary router’s settings.

AmpliFi mobile app making setting up an Alien mesh system a breeze and allows for some useful Wi-Fi customization. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

It’s worth noting that, just like any mesh systems, an Alien mesh has all the features and settings of the router unit.

Consequently, as I’ve noted in my review of the Alien router, the Alien mesh system is rather thin on network settings and customization. But it does have the unique and useful Teleport VPN and adblocking features. As a mesh system, though, it has some new helpful Wi-Fi settings.

Independent extra Wi-Fi networks for each node

Using the AmpliFi app, you can choose to use the Alien with its default Wi-Fi settings, where all three bands use a single network name. Or you can turn the Common SSID Name setting off and make a separate name for each network. Either case, the Alien works just like any other mesh system. The Wi-Fi settings will replicate in all hardware units.

However, an Alien mesh system also gives you an option to create a new virtual network for each band. If you choose to do this, the additional network remains at the hardware unit.

This setting is quite helpful if you want to create an exclusive network in a particular band for individual clients at a specific location. It’s a way to manage the system’s bandwidth. For example, you can force slow dated Wi-Fi clients to only work on the 2.4GHz band.

The MeshPoint’s link strength indicator lights come in handy during the mesh setup. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

User-manageable backhaul link

As I have mentioned in the standalone review, the Alien is an odd tri-band router. It has three different bands, including one 2.4GHz band, one Wi-Fi 5 5GHz band, and one Wi-Fi 6 5GHz band. That is also the case of the Alien MeshPoint. As a result, in a mesh setup, the system can’t dedicate one band to work solely for the job of linking the hardware unit.

Using the AmpliFi mobile app, though, you can dictate which band to work as the backhaul link — or backbone as Ubiquiti calls it — at any given time. So, for fast speed, you can pick a 5GHz band, or for more extended range, select the 2.4GHz band.

Alternatively, you can also use a network cable to connect the two units. Note that, in this case, you will need to use the AmpliFi app to turn on the Ethernet Backbone setting. If not, the mesh point will still use the Wi-Fi link. 

Considering the system doesn’t support the 160MHz channel width, using Gigabit wired backhaul is the best way to get the fastest performance out of it.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Mesh: Excellent performance

I tested the mesh portion of the Alien every possible way. First, I used two router units, then an Alien Kit of a router and a MeshPoint, and then I used all of them together in a mixed system of multiple routers and one MeshPoint.

No matter if I used a MeshPoint or a router as the satellite unit, the throughput speeds were the same. Since there’s no dedicated backhaul, the performance wasn’t the best I’ve seen, compared to other Wi-Fi 6 systems, as you can see in the charts below. 

Compared to Wi-Fi 5 system, however, the Alien-based mesh is still much faster. By the way, I tried out the wired backhaul option, too, and in this case, as expected, the MeshPoint delivered the same performance as the router unit.

In any case, an Alien mesh system can, for sure, deliver any sub-gigabit broadband connection in full, most of the time. 

What I like the most about the system are the coverage and reliability. With a two-pack set using a 5GHz band as the backhaul, I was able to cover some 6000 ft² (560 m²) of space — half of which is open space. And during my 3-day stress test, I didn’t experience any disconnection at all.

By the way, the AmpliFi mobile app allows you to turn on band-steering as well as router-steering. The former automatically connect clients to the least busy Wi-Fi band and the latter to the closest hardware unit. Both worked well in my testing.

Conclusion

Just like dancing, it takes two to create a mesh. In the case of the Alien, it’s like you order a salsa and get a tango. The result is a bit introvert and hard to follow at first, but as time goes by, it grows on you.

READ MORE:  Home Wi-Fi 6 Solutions Compared: Which to Consider

So, you’ll find the Alien-based mesh system different from other mesh systems. You might hate it for the hefty cost and all sorts of other things — and I don’t blame you. But if you decide to bite the financial bullet and build one — using an Alien Kit or a couple of Alien routers — chances are you’ll end up not regretting your decision. At all. 

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Before Dong Knows Tech, I spent some 18 years testing and reviewing gadgets at CNET.com. Technology is my passion and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

30 Comments

  1. Great review. I have been an HD user for 2 years and love the product.
    Do you know if the 4x ethernet ports would be usable if using a second Alien router as the mesh point?
    Thank you for your insights.

  2. Dong, wondering if there are any plans to test the Linksys MX10 Velop AX Whole Home WiFi System? Two (2) features I like in my search to eventually replace my rock solid and beloved Apple Time Capsule…is that apparently the Linksys MX10 allows its USB 3.0 port to be used for Storage. Plus, the potential of becoming an Apple HomeKit approved Router is honestly appealing, as well. Thanks for all you do…I loved your reviews on CNET and now love them on your website, too!

  3. Thanks again.
    Yeah, I am now leaning toward Alien (routers, vs the mesh kit) as well (because I have wired backhaul – if I didn’t I would get the Orbi for certain); now it just has to come back in stock.

  4. No problem at all! Yes both setups were very similar. I had 2 devices (the orbi 2 pack and the alien mesh kit) with each scenario. With the Alien, using wired ethernet backhaul I am getting similar speeds from both the mesh point and the main router. I was doing all testing with an iPhone 11 pro max, a macbook pro and a Thinkpad Lenovo laptop.

    Agreed on the supply shortage…..I was waiting quite some time for it to come back in stock and when the mesh setup was released, I picked it up immediately.

    One other thing to call out, I went with the mesh kit over 2 routers only because like I previously mentioned, this was replacing a full Unifi setup so I already had some switches laying around from Ubiquiti. Had this not been the case, I would have opted for the 2 full Alien approach (if there were in stock.)

  5. Mitch,
    thank you – super helpful and really appreciate the detailed report and comparison. Do you have 2 or more Aliens (and Orbi) in that test/ scenario? Also, did you still see a slightly lower performance on the alien mesh point(s) versus the main router when the backhaul was all ethernet?
    Thanks again!

    PS – Amplifi (ubiquity) is not doing themselves any favors by not fixing their supply chain – it’s been nearly impossible to purchase Alien on their store (not to mention any other retailer) and when it doesn’t come back, it stay in-store for barely a day; contrasted with the freely available Orbi W6…

  6. One other comment to add. In the month that I have had the Alien setup installed, it has been absolutely rock solid. Literally not one complaint or problem, and the range of the Alien is ridiculous. The Alien setup does, in my experience, have slightly greater range that the Orbi had (although they Orbi range is also really good.)

  7. Hi Dan/Steve.
    I purchased both and put them both through their paces. I wound up keeping the Alien and returning the Orbi in the long run. This was not because I was displeased with the Orbi by any means. In comparing the two, the Alien looks and feels like a better built device. With that being said, I consistently had slightly faster speeds with the Orbi. If you are unable to do a wired backhaul for the Alien, this will be even more apparent. With the Orbi, I had full speed everywhere in my house regardless of wired/wireless backhaul, while with the Alien, if I was on the mesh device, my speeds were slighly, but noticeably (on a speed test) slower then connected to the main unit. I do have my devices on a wired backhaul which fixes this for me.

    There really were two main reasons why I wound up going with the Alien over the Orbi.

    First, I had a previous gen Orbi and would randomly experience weird issues with it. This actually lead me to ditching that Orbi setup and had me setting up a full Ubiquiti Unifi system in my house (before coming back to the mesh I am at now.) Additionally, even though it does have a web ui, it is not super great.

    Secondly, while testing both of these setups, I was randomly experiencing weird latency issues and couldn’t figure out what was going on. When I had the Alien setup in place, using the app, I noticed that one of my machines was doing an automated off-site backup and doing an upload in the evening that was the main culprit to the latency/lag I was experiencing. I was able to identify this directly from the alien app and block/limit this upload until our streaming session was done. The Alien app is pretty solid and gives that granular level of client insight and control that when I was using the orbi I just did not have insight into.

    So in the end, the feeling of a slightly better built device, the insight the app gives you and the slightly sour taste of the previous gen orbi lead me to go with the Alien.

    I would say, if I didn’t have the option to go with the wired backhaul for the alien, this would have been a much more difficult decision.

    Hope that helps!

  8. Stumbled across your review while searching on the AmpliFi Alien and glad I did. Great review, thanks!

    I’m a fan of AmpliFi HD Mesh as I tried everything on the market but had so much unreliability, especially with Orbi which was great when it worked but firmware updates kept killing it. It was an expensive disaster for me.

    Anyway 2 years of the HD and it’s been rock solid so can’t wait to get the Alien set up. I currently have 3 router HD units using wired backhaul and one Mesh unit. I’m pretty sure that just 2 Alien Routers (wired backhaul) should have me sorted now. I currently have 1gb down/up service and a handful of wifi6 clients so this will be great.
    Only downside…waiting for a UK release 😦

  9. Thank you for the reply – and the detailed reviews, always!
    That helps. So since neither unit today, supports 160 Mhz, in 80 Mhz, the max client-side streams are 8×8 for both? It seemed to read as it the Alien’s Radio supported 8 streams (8×8) while the Orbi ‘only’ did 4×4 (with the other radio ‘useless’ if I use all-wired backhaul).
    I know there are no clients out there supporting 8×8 but I figured more streams would translate to higher overall bandwidth.
    TLDR: In wired backhaul mode, both Alien and Orbi capabilities are essentially the same then? Are all 3 radios usable by clients in both devices if backhaul is wired?
    THANKS!

  10. purely on the max client-side (assuming ethernet backhaul) – though: isn’t the alien potentially faster as it has 8×8 vs the Orbi’s 4×4? Or did I misread your review there? Both are unable to do 160Mhz. But the top speed of the Alien is given as 4800, versus the 2400 on the Orbi (Wifi6) ?

    1. Both share the same Wi-Fi specs 4×4 (160MHz) or 8×8 (80MHz), Daniel. So both will deliver the same speeds with a wired backhaul assuming you use the same type of clients.

  11. I don’t think I’ll ever deal with netgear again after this issue with the Orbi cbk40 intel puma 7 chipset and the problems this has created netgear doesn’t want to take ownership and support sucks spent over 400 for junk 90 days phone support and one year hardware which I’m still under. Why is it so hard to get a replacement with netgear. The modem has so many Vulnerabilities

    1. This is why it’s generally a good idea to use a separate modem and a router, instead of a gateway unit, Mike. Sorry to hear about your experience.

  12. I stumbled across your site and am still digesting the information you provide. So far I’ve read two articles. On another site that reviews hardware they provide a synopsis first, and then the detailed review. In between the two they have a section titled “Why You Should Trust Us,” and then a CV of the author. I read the CV of the author whose review I was reading & was’t impressed. It read like it was trying hard to impress, and so I left an editorial-like comment with a suggestion. In brief I explained if you truly wanted me to trust the reviewer, then they needed to do it not with a puffed-up list of credentials that could be massaged to sound impressive, but rather with the breadth, depth, competent analysis, and compelling conclusions wrought from exhaustive real-world use, including anecdotes and other poignant characteristics that were both valuable to the reader, and knowable only through deep experience and thoughtful analysis.

    In short, they should do what you do.

    1. Hey, I hear you, Mitch. I have them all and it’s hard to decide which to use… I’ll update a post that might help. Check back in 24 hours or so. 🙂

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