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Upgrade your home Wi-Fi with a mesh network system

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Wifi City

With the recent explosion of streaming media services and the sheer number of new devices latching onto wireless networks for data, the idea of blanketing your entire home, not just the odd room or two, with Wi-Fi coverage is becoming increasingly important. While most new wireless routers, especially those with additional external antennae, can reach most rooms of a typical medium-sized house, larger homes pose a challenge. And then, it’s an all too familiar scenario — you move your laptop from your study to your balcony and — blip! — there goes your Wi-Fi. Welcome to your home’s Wi-Fi dead zone.

Sure, there are stopgap solutions like Wi-Fi access points or range extenders, but neither of these solutions are perfect. You’ll either have to run new cabling to the access point or settle for bandwidth compromises. What you need is a technology upgrade for your home Wi-Fi, called a mesh network system.

As the name suggests, mesh networks are designed to work like a mesh, with a main router that connects directly to your Internet connection and a series of satellite nodes that you place throughout your house. Unlike traditional range extenders which communicate with the wireless router over the regular radio bands (2.4 and 5GHz), each of the nodes in a mesh system uses the “interlinked mesh” to talk to the router and to each other, all the time rebroadcasting the signal. As a result, even nodes placed furthest away from the base router deliver a strong Wi-Fi signal since they are talking to other nodes instead of relying solely on a one-to-one communication with a possibly faraway base.

What this translates to for the end-user is a single, expansive wireless network that delivers uniform stable coverage across the home. With a mesh network, even if one node goes down, you still have a working Wi-Fi network, and mesh networks on an average deliver more bandwidth to each device and deal better with heavy-network congestion. You can even expand the network just by adding more nodes, say if you build an additional floor or want to watch Netflix out in the garden. All this without the technical knowhow you would need to get an equivalent access point or range extender solution in place. Most mesh router systems come with a user-friendly mobile app that walks you through each step of the installation process, often with easy-to-follow illustrations on where to place each node for maximum coverage. Or for that matter, performing mundane administration tasks like setting up a guest network, limiting Wi-Fi speeds to certain devices or setting time limits for usage.

If what you’ve read so far has got you thinking about investing in a mesh network for your home, the choices are many. Eero, which practically defined the mesh router space, launched its second-generation Eero Home Wifi System, which is a great choice for its strong wireless performance and eye-pleasing design. It’s joined by the big names in the space, the Orbi from Netgear, the Velop from Linksys and the Wifi from Google, among others…though none of them officially retail in India as yet. Aside from availability, the bigger issue is price — most vendors sell packs of three mesh devices for anywhere upwards of $300, with add-on satellite nodes setting you back by about $100-$150. Compared to the seven to ten grand you could spend on a great router today, the price difference is significant enough today for me to recommend mesh networks only to those with really large houses and Internet demands to match! For many, it may be prudent to wait and watch for prices to settle before you plonk down a ton of cash on one of these solutions.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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magazine 22 July 2017 wi-fi network system technology

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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