Although mesh networks aren’t a new invention, this is the first year that they’ve become popular for home use. We’ve reviewed many of the new systems available in the UK including Google Wi-Fi and BT Whole Home.
What is mesh Wi-Fi?
Put simply, a mesh network is two or more routers which work together to provide much wider Wi-Fi coverage than a single router can.
Some kits have just two units and can’t be expanded, while others can be bought in one, two or three-packs and allow you to add extra coverage when you can afford it, or you need it.
Does it replace my existing router?
No. It’s best to think of mesh system as a replacement for your existing router’s Wi-Fi. You attach one of the devices from a mesh Wi-Fi kit to a spare network port on your router and it creates a new Wi-Fi network to which all your phones, computers, tablets and Wi-Fi smart home gadgets connect.
You then place the second (and third if relevant) mesh device somewhere else in your house, typically on another floor.
The devices all talk to each other and create a single Wi-Fi network that’s both strong and fast across your entire home.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Are powerline adaptors a cheaper alternative?
Yes. If you just need to get a Wi-Fi signal in one room that your current router can’t reach, you might be able to save money by buying a Wi-Fi-enabled powerline kit.
Check out our powerline reviews for more, but bear in mind that not all powerline kits include Wi-Fi.
What other benefits do mesh Wi-Fi systems offer?
They’re usually controlled via an app. In some cases this exists mainly just to help you install the system in the first place, but it can also be used to monitor which devices are connected to which hub.
Some apps also let you ‘pause’ the Wi-Fi network but the best let you stop Wi-Fi on certain devices, so you could prevent your kids watching more YouTube videos, for example.
Others include parental controls or scheduling so Wi-Fi is only available at certain times or to certain devices.
Anything else to watch out for?
Yes. Some mesh systems (but not all) prevent Wi-Fi devices from talking to other gadgets that are connected to your main router’s wired network ports.
For example, you might find you can’t print from your PC as your printer is connected to the Wi-Fi network but your PC is connected via a network cable to your old router.
We explain these limitations in each of the reviews here, though.
Best mesh Wi-Fi systems: Mesh Wi-Fi reviews
We can’t fault the Deco’s performance and ease of use, although not many UK homes will need the 4500 square foot of coverage offered by the three-pack. But if you’re looking for a mesh networking kit that can provide a fast, reliable Wi-Fi signal throughout your home, then the Deco will really earn its keep.
Read our TP-Link Deco M5 review.
The Whole Home Wi-Fi does a great job in an average UK home and should eliminate any deadspots. It should also speed up the connection at the farthest points from the router, enabling HD video streaming in places where before you may have had a very weak signal.
However, upgrading an older 802.11n router to the latest 802.11ac router could have a similar effect and save a lot of money in the process, especially if you’re getting that router – such as BT’s own Smart Hub – free from your ISP.
Read our BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review.
The delay in bringing Google Wifi to the UK means that it’s now facing some pretty strong competition in terms of both price and performance. Its price is quite affordable, and it provides a good all-round combination of performance, reliability and ease of use that makes the Google Wifi a good option if you need to improve the coverage of your Wi-Fi network at home or in your office. However, we’d like to see an official triple-pack offered in the UK at a sensible price.
Read our Google Wifi review.
If your home is on more than one floor, or has a tricky dead-spot, then the simple set-up process and solid performance of the Velop could be the ideal solution for improving Wi-Fi reception throughout your home. The problem is the price: it’s more expensive than BT Whole Home Wi-Fi and Google’s Wifi. And, since the speed that it offers will be way beyond the speed of most current home broadband services, the Velop might be a case of overkill unless you have a large home that needs really extensive Wi-Fi coverage.
Read our Linksys Velop Wireless AC-6600 review.
If a particular room in your house has poor Wi-Fi reception, the Gigagate should give you a faster, more reliable connection for the wired and wireless devices in there. It’s also very useful for people who have a big entertainment system in a room well away from their router. But if you’re looking for a more comprehensive system that will provide fast Wi-Fi coverage throughout a large home, then you’ll need to look at more expensive mesh networking devices such as the Netgear Orbi or BT Whole Home Wi-Fi
Read our Devolo Gigagate review.
The Orbi system is expensive, even given the fact that it includes both a router and satellite together. If you only have one room where the wi-fi doesn’t work very well then you could save money simply by buying an inexpensive powerline adaptor or range extender for that particular spot. But for larger homes where you need to boost your wi-fi to an upper floor, or perhaps out into your garden, the sheer reliability (and expandability) of the Orbi’s wi-fi coverage will make it a very worthwhile investment.
Read our Netgear Orbi review.