TLDR – Mesh is best for larger houses.
Hi everyone – Just wanted to clarify a few points about Mesh systems and broadband.
Broadband suppliers are often blamed for providing poor connections. While there can be faults, the majority of broadband is relatively stable. What causes the main dropouts is poor wifi rather than the actual line coming in to your home. Broadband speeds for Fiber in Elm road should be adequate for our size houses. If you have older ADSL technology then this may be causing you issues as it is much slower than fiber.
Having fiber speeds like 350Mbps is great but that is only the speed between you and the supplier – it is not the speed you would get for all websites. What has really become important for many is video conferencing (zoom etc). This requires a good upload speed i.e. from you to the provider. For companies like Virgin they provide high download and relatively slow upload speeds. In fact with ordinary fiber (FTTC) you often have faster uploads than Virgin.
Where your home is large / older / multi floors etc a single router cannot provide total coverage. The further you are from the router the slower the wifi becomes. Positioning of your router is important. If it is hidden in a corner next to a wall downstairs behind a TV then the chances of getting a signal upstairs will be low.
The ideal position for the router should be unobstructed, preferably middle of the house.
This is often not possible as broadband cables are in the wrong places. The solutions are many and have advantages and disadvantages. The cheapest solution is to use wifi boosters / repeaters. These work by being in range of your original wifi signal and repeating this at full strength over a greater distance. The problem is the repeating function will half the speed of your connection. If the repeater is placed too far away from your router they can only repeat the slower speed and again half that speed. So positioning of repeaters is critical and for the majority of home users it is pot-luck.
An alternative to running cables to interconnect routers, boosters or mesh is to use Powerline. This technology sends your internet traffic over your mains wiring. It can work well but is dependant upon the way the electrical wiring runs within your home. Most of us have modern fuse boxes using circuit breakers instead of fuses. These will cause a significant slowdown of speeds so unless the powerlines are both on the same ‘circuit’ there will be problems.
Mesh is a relatively new technology and uses the concept of the mesh boxes having ‘intelligence’. The boxes all communicate with each other and you communicate with the box closest to you. As you move around your home another box may become a ‘stronger’ signal so the mesh will switch your device to the strongest signal. So in a mesh, a box does not handle all of the wifi traffic and also provides alternate ways of communicating back to your main router should a box fail or be powered off.
You may think that mesh systems also suffer from the same problem as repeaters / boosters i.e. halving the speed. This is overcome by mesh systems using what is called a backhaul channel. This could be cable or may be another wifi channel. So although they are repeating your data, the speed is considerably faster.
Mesh still relies on being in close proximity to another mesh box but their range can easily cover a home in elm road and our gardens if they are positioned correctly.
Positioning just takes some thought about distance, barriers (such as walls) and where you want good wifi. The systems come with handy apps which tell you how well the boxes are able to communicate with each other.
One great benefit of Mesh is that it can be independent of your broadband provider. Systems like Sky are a ‘lock in’ which may be an advantage as they have to support and install them. However purchasing your own mesh systems means that you plug a mesh box in to your router and that is it. If you change broadband provider then plug mesh in to the new router. Your wifi remains the system and you can completely ignore (preferably turn off) the wifi on the router.
Mesh prices vary considerably ranging from around £27 to £100 per mesh box. For the majority of homes in elm road 2 to 4 boxes should be adequate (if positioned correctly).
Planning and investing in mesh is worth it. I have installed 6 mesh systems in our road. The cheapest and simplest (Tenda MW3) has been perfectly adequate and for 3 units costs around £90. The downside is that the router connection works up to 100Mbps so those with Virgin may wish to choose alternatives although I doubt they would be using more than 100Mbps anyway.
Hope that helps.