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