How mesh networks can help you get rid of WiFi dead spots at home

It’s usually the kitchen. Or a room in the basement. While the WiFi coverage is fine in the rest of the house, there always seems to be an area where you can’t get a decent signal. 

Until now, this problem has either been solved by adding a repeater, which amplifies the WiFi signal, or by hooking up another WiFi access point to the router through a cable or a socket.

In most cases, though, such solutions don’t work very well because devices connect to either the router or the repeater. If you move around in the apartment, they won’t make the switch in time. This is also known as “sticky clients.”

Here is where mesh WiFi systems come in.

“Mesh WiFi is a communications network consisting of several nodes,” explains Ernst Ahlers, networking expert with the German tech magazine c’t.

These nodes – each of which serves as a kind of access point to the network – are connected to each other and always relay data from the router or modem to the connected WiFi device in the best possible way. The fact that there are several access points helps ensure comprehensive WiFi coverage even in larger apartments and houses.

Although several solutions currently available have been labelled “mesh WiFi,” the approach taken by respective manufacturers differs. And not every system marketed as a mesh network is actually one.

While some manufacturers rely on the communication between devices, others have the whole network managed by a central unit.

Existing Netgear and Linksys systems rely on a group of WiFi modules. In addition to using the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands for connected devices, they exchange data on a third radio band, Ahlers explains.

The advantage: The network is generally faster and more stable. But that also means the devices are somewhat more complex and expensive than systems that handle the communication between access points through the existing WiFi network.

Google WiFi is such a solution. A WiFi unit is connected to the router and arranges the individual units wirelessly in a meshed network. This is to ensure that transmitted communication always arrives at your device in the fastest way via the access point with the best signal strength. If necessary, the system automatically switches channels or hooks up devices with other access points.

Other manufacturers, such as Devolo, avoid using the word “mesh” entirely but manage to achieve similar results with a network dubbed Smart WiFi. Devolo uses the power supply network to connect its WiFi access points to the router, thereby allowing individual devices to exchange information.

The goal is to improve the management of connected devices. Just like in a mobile phone network, notebooks or smartphones will automatically connect to the access point providing the best signal.

This should ultimately put an end to the “sticky” problem.

Because the power cables in the wall are used to communicate between access points, Devolo says that the system is more stable than systems that rely on radio transmissions, an assessment shared by Ahlers. Generally speaking, a cable-based connection between devices is less prone to interference than its radio equivalent, he says. — dpa