If getting Wi-Fi coverage right across your home is a constant battle, a top mesh system, powered by one of the best mesh Wi-Fi wireless routers, could well be the answer to your connectivity woes.
Bad Wi-Fi coverage is not the nightmare it once was, thanks to the recent rise of whole home mesh networks. There are plenty of them out there promising to spread signal far and wide to the unreachables of your abode.
As our homes get smarter, and even more jam-packed with devices needing a gateway to the internet, our wireless routers are under more strain than ever. And while it might not have been a big deal that you didn't get a Wi-Fi signal on your porch in the past, if you are trying to hook up a video doorbell it will be an issue now.
And then there's the fact your house is now awash with 4K HD streaming, high definition audio and the like - all of which require a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection.
This is where a Wi-Fi mesh router and system comes in. Unlike traditional extenders, powerlines, and wired access points, the new generation of mesh systems don't require you to have a PhD in networking ‚Äď they are designed to work straight out of the box, without you needing to know your SSIDs from your BSSIDs.
In this guide, we'll give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about Wi-Fi mesh setups, and give you our top picks of the best mesh routers and systems that you can buy now.
Update: This guide was first published a couple of years back but we've updated it to include all of the latest and greatest Wi-Fi mesh routers and systems. In the latest update, February 2020, we've included a section on all of the new mesh systems that were announced at CES 2020 and will be going on sale soon.
Jump to the information you need
- The best overall mesh Wi-Fi router
- The best budget mesh Wi-Fi system
- The easiest mesh Wi-Fi to setup
- Best mesh Wi-Fi for a smart home
- Explained: What is a mesh Wi-Fi system?
- Guide: How to setup a mesh network at home
Best mesh Wi-Fi systems
So, are Mesh Wi-Fi systems for you? Will they cure what ails you, smart home-wise, or are you better off checking out the cheaper options?
Here are our picks for the best mesh Wi-Fi system for your home. Whether you live in a mansion or a two-up, two-down with thick brick walls, we've got the right solution for your Wi-Fi woes.
At a glance, here are the top systems that you should be considering:
- Google Nest Wi-Fi
- Netgear Orbi
- TP-Link Deco
- Linksys Velop
- Samsung SmartThings
If Netgear‚Äôs Orbi system were a car, it would be a posh family SUV with an Alexa-enabled in-car entertainment-come-navigation touchscreen, and it would smell of new leather. It would doubtless have cup holders, over-achieving but really nice children, and the topic of conversation would be an art movement you‚Äôve never heard of. It‚Äôs nice. That‚Äôs we‚Äôre saying here. Orbi is nice and very family-friendly.
The Orbi router (RBR20) a tri-band system with a dedicated backhaul so that the Orbi units stay in perfect contact no matter whatever other nonsense is going on in your home network. There a a whole range of satellite units to choose from - you'll want one from the Voice range if you want Alexa built-in.
The Orbi Voice speaker, with built-in Alexa, is perfection. The sound quality is top notch and the mics were superb at picking up our voice commands no matter the music volume. The Outdoor Satellite is very good too; easy to set up, totally weatherproof, and comes with both a stand and simple wall-mounting kit. Designed to push Wi-Fi to outbuildings on your estate, again, it gives quite the boost and can be used indoors as well.
Naturally, the Orbi app is high-quality and features a network map that gives an accurate and very clear picture of what all the units in the mesh are up to and who‚Äôs connected to them - plus the ability to pause the internet or lock out devices as you see fit.
For deeper parental controls you need to switch to the Disney Circle app. It‚Äôs a very good app, which allows you to assign devices to the profiles of different family members and start filtering content down to a very impressive platform level (Amazon, YouTube, etc.).
For more granular control, including time limits, usage stats, ability to set different bedtimes, and even the option to set up a chore/reward chart, you‚Äôll need to start paying a $4.99-a-month ($49.99 a year) subscription. There's also an additional $4.99 fee for Circle Go, that lets you monitor your kid's devices even when they're not connected to your Wi-Fi.
It can get expensive, especially if you add Alexa in, but it's a seriously impressive system and any choice of the Netgear Orbi products is an excellent shout. The mesh is solid and capable, there‚Äôs great signal strength, and all the different kinds of satellite and router units make it incredibly adaptable.
What we love
- Fantastic range of units
- Great app support
- Superb signal strength
- Alexa built-in
What we don't love
- Can get expensive with Voice
- Subscription for premium features
Worth noting: Netgear's lastest Orbi system, the ¬£699 Orbi 6, is a super high-end WiFi 6 system that is designed for seamless 8k streaming in even the biggest of houses. Overkill for most people, but definitely one to look at if money is no object and you want to future-proof your home network.
Eero popularized the mesh Wi-Fi system, and for a while managed to go it alone. The small networking startup was sticking it to giants like Netgear and Linksys, then it got gobbled up by Amazon ‚Äď but it still makes one of the best mesh systems out there. And the good news is cheaper than it's ever been, with an individual router coming in at less than ¬£100.
There's a few models and systems available now, from that ¬£99 standalone router, that covers up to 1,500sq ft, right up to the tri-band, Pro, system (which starts from ¬£199).
Once your Eero system is all set up and ready to go, you're going to find some blazing fast Wi-Fi with a wide range. The three-mesh system will cover up to 4,500 square feet ‚Äď that's a wide area of land that will blanket your yard easily. In fact, we've been able to nab Wi-Fi even across the street from our house.
Eero's app is well laid out. When you open it up, you'll get a quick look at your Wi-Fi's status, where it will tell you if everything is ticking along smoothly. You'll also get a quick look at all the devices in your mesh network and how they're doing. If one of them is down, you'll see it with either a green or red light outline. It will also let you know how many devices are connected to your network ‚Äď and which ones are sucking down the most data.
At the bottom of the main screen you'll see the latest speed test. All of this information is crammed into a single screen on the main app. You can also create a guest network and there are family profiles that'll let you schedule pauses for dinner time or bedtime. You can't boost performance during certain periods though, as you can with Google's Wifi systems.
Then there's Eero Labs, which will let you test out features like band steering ‚Äď that remembers which band is best for which device and uses that next time ‚Äď and smart queue management, which reduces latency by better managing traffic on your network.
Eero Plus, which is $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year, is an add-on subscription that gives you enterprise-grade security against dangerous websites, free subscriptions to 1Password password manager, Encrypt.me VPN, and Malwarebytes malware protection. You'll also get content filtering so you can better manage what your kids are watching or visiting, along with ad blocking.
What we love
- Excellent setup
- Great speed
- Eero Plus is a good deal
What we don't love
- No boost mode
- Alexa compatible, but not built in
Worth noting: Eero is very much an Amazon brand now - the latest system was announced at the company's big 2019 hardware event. However, there's still no Alexa baked in, nor any real smart home smarts; but we'd expect that all to change in 2020.
Following on the success of its excellent Google WiFi mesh system, Google's Nest Wifi ups the stakes with promises of more speed (up to twice as fast), more coverage (25% better) and a Google Assistant built into each Point; so they double up as Google Home smart speakers too.
The Router and Points are nice looking, unobtrusive and emit a soft glowing ring of light, rather than a strip of blinking eyes. And the light only comes on when you activate the Assistant, plus you can dim it in the app.
There‚Äôs no WiFi 6, but there is support for WPA3 security, and each device also has Bluetooth Low Energy and Thread radios ‚Äď the same smarts as Google‚Äôs Nest Hub. Sadly, there's still no Z-Wave or Zigbee, but this is the closest Google‚Äôs getting to a smart home hub. For now
Nest Wifi lives inside your Google Home app. Setting it up is super simple; just download Google‚Äôs Home app, plug the router in to your modem and then scan the QR code on the bottom. Then create your Wi-Fi network name and password (use your existing one and all devices will just transfer over) and the app will ask which room the device is in. Then you place your Points.
If you want to dive deeper into advanced networking settings, you‚Äôll need the Google Wifi app. The Home app just has the essential features, for now, but Google says it will eventually migrate everything into one app.
The Home app is also where you create groups of Wi-Fi devices, which allows you to set schedules to pause Wi-Fi to individual or groups of devices (such as your kids' phones when it‚Äôs dinner time).
What we love
- Well designed and discrete
- Very easy to install
- Good power levels despite small size
- Double up as Google smart speakers
What we don't love
- Google's ever-growing stranglehold on our data
- No web interface, only an app
- No Ethernet on access points
Worth noting: Google has taken its original Wifi system off of the Google Store, but you can still find it from various online retailers. It's still a great system in itself and the original devices are compatible in a new Nest Wifi mesh system as well. Also, take a read of our full Google Nest Wifi review.
Samsung's SmartThings Wifi fixes two problems for smart home users - hub clutter and bandwidth congestion. The beauty behind this mesh Wi-Fi system is that it is a smart home hub and robust mesh Wi-Fi router in one, so you can get rid of at least one white box.
And, thanks to a collaboration with Plume, SmartThings Wifi uses AI to allocate bandwidth more effectively, adapting to your use by accounting for all your connected devices and selecting the optimal band and frequency channel to get you the fastest speed.
In our testing - in a smart home with over 55 connected devices - it worked like a dream and was a serious step up from our poor old AT&T supplied Arris modem/router box, which was literally sweating under the strain.
You can of course use SmartThings Wifi without the smart home hub, there's a toggle switch in the app to turn it off, but considering this system is a little cheaper than most and comes with a hub built in, there's no reason not to give it a go if you haven't started dabbling in the smart home yet.
Overall, SmartThings Wifi is a really solid choice for a mesh networking system. It is super simple to set up - all three "nodes" are interchangeable so you can use either one as the main hub and the SmartThings app walks you through it.
This also means each one is a smart home hub, helping put its included Zigbee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth radios all around your home. The starter pack comes with 3 nodes, and will cover up to 4,600 square feet (1,500 square feet per node), enough for most people but you can add up to 32 nodes.
The system is a dual band 802.11ac router, so can switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz as needed, and each hub has two Ethernet ports for hardwiring any devices you might want. Backhaul support was added in recent update, so the nodes can also send data in the other direction.
To manage the network you need to download the Plume app. Plume's networking software is excellent, and normally you have to pay a subscription fee to use it, but its free with SmartThings system. With the app you can quickly see the status of your nodes, detailed info on data downloads and uploads, and a list of your most active devices and how much data they‚Äôre using. You can also see which devices are connected to which nodes. There are options for IP reservations, port forwarding, and other networking tools - but there are no advanced networking capabilities here - this is a device for regular users, not full-on networking geeks.
You can buy a single SmartThings Wifi hub for $99 that comes with all the same feature, but the three pack will get you the mesh networking benefits - although as we mentioned all the devices are identical. On the plus side, the nodes are nicely designed, if a little boring, but very small and slimline compared to competitors, making it easy to tuck them away.
What we love
- SmartThing hub built in
- Easy setup
- Simple, compact design
- Plume software is free
What we don't love
- No boost mode
- Two apps
- No advanced networking capabilities
Worth noting: Take a look at our full review of Samsung's SmartThings Wifi here and, for more on how to use SmartThings as a smart home hub read our full guide to getting started with Samsung's SmartThings
Other mesh Wifi systems to consider
The systems above are the top picks of what is fast becoming one of the big areas of consumer tech. It's no surprise that the big tech brands - Google, Amazon and the like - want in on the action.
But, it's worth remembering that there are brands that have been specialising in making home networking better, for years. So, along with our top picks, we also recommend checking out the Linksys Velop, TP-Link's Deco range and the Zyxel Multy X; all of which are great home mesh systems.
Mesh Wi-Fi announcements from CES 2020
It's worth noting that mesh systems and routers were a big deal over in Vegas at CES 2020 and a bunch of great new products were announced and will be going on sale in the coming months.
Netgear took the covers off of the much anticipated Nighthawk Mesh WiFi System, which is high-end gaming focused and boasts specialised features such as Dynamic QoS, which automatically prioritises both video streaming and gaming traffic.
Netgear also launched the Orbi 4G LTE Wi-Fi Router, where your existing ISP connection can be backed up by 4G LTE in case it goes down.
Comcast is also getting in on the Wi-Fi 6 mesh action, with its new xFi Advanced Gateway; the first multi-gigabit speed Wi-Fi 6-certified router for the Xfinity internet service.
You may hear a home mesh setup described in many different ways, as no one has really settled on a common name as of yet. Whole-house-wireless is a bit of a mouthful and Wi-Fi system sounds too vague ‚Äď but if you see these labels, you're probably looking at the box of a mesh Wi-Fi system.
And they all aim to do the same thing ‚Äď make the Wi-Fi signal in your house stronger throughout and more reliable for your connected tech. You'll usually get two or three mesh modules (technically referred to as nodes) in a box, or they will be on sale individually so as you can add as many as you need, depending on the size of your home. The beauty of a mesh network is that it's modular, so you can keep adding nodes to the setup (assuming your bank balance allows it) ‚Äď there's no maximum node count.
The idea of a mesh network is that, unlike repeaters and extenders that just relay your router's Wi-Fi signal with deterioration, the nodes all communicate with each other, so even the one furthest from the router has a great signal as it hops around the system from one node to another. It's not just a one-to-one signal from a device back to the router.
Now, they all work slightly differently, and that means that you'll need to stick with one system ‚Äď you can't mix and match as they'll just interfere with each other. On the whole, mesh systems use a combo of the 5GHz and 2.4GHz spectrum to fire signals around between the nodes, and to your Wi-Fi enabled tech. There are tri-band options, there are dual band options, and there are options that boast Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO).
Will I have to replace my router?
Although a mesh system is designed to essentially take over your router's Wi-Fi duties, don't go throwing it into the bin just yet. Chances are, you'll still need it. That's because the router that your internet service provider (ISP) gave you, or the one you bought to replace it, probably contains a modem. The modem is what connects to the internet; the router part is the transmitting of that connection over Wi-Fi. So, while a mesh system will replace the router part, you'll still need to rely on the built-in modem.
That's why your first step of setting up a mesh system is to plug one of the modules into your existing router/modem using an Ethernet cable. Only one mind ‚Äď the rest will simply pick up its signal and start sharing the Wi-Fi love. Now, you might see mesh devices with multiple Ethernet ports on them. That's simply so you can wire some devices to your network if you want to.
The accompanying app will grab your existing network's credentials (username, password and so on) and beam them around the other modules. No need to set up new networks, no need to reconfigure your connected gadgets, and no need to worry about the best Wi-Fi channel ‚Äď all of this will be taken care of within the app. Of course, you'll be free to tinker as you see fit but if you want to just plug and play, you can.
What features should I look for in a mesh WiFi system?
The first thing you need to think about is how much coverage you need, if you are in a small home your money might be better spent on one really good home Wi-Fi router.
Mesh networks really come into their own in larger homes, where there's a lot of area to cover, and where there are plenty of solid brick walls. Modern homes often have internal walls which are not solid brick, allowing Wi-Fi signals to move more easily as they can pass through them.
However 5GHz Wi-Fi, which offers the best speed, is blocked more easily by any material in its way, especially plasterboard. Slower 2.4GHz wireless does a better job with walls, but won't let you stream 4K video, for example, and download speeds will be lower.
As to specific feature, some systems allow you to pause the Wi-Fi (for the whole house, on certain nodes, or indeed specific devices); some allow you to set up guest networks (permanent or temporary); and some even give you a breakdown of what devices are connected and how much data they are using.
Mesh Wi-Fi speed, bands and backhaul
Another concern is the theoretical maximum speeds of service that each setup offers. You‚Äôll need to take a look at the relevant product websites for that kind of info and compare and contrast. Theoretical maximums of 1200Mbps will do you proud, and bear in mind that this data speed may well be split across more than one bandwidth, which is no bad thing.
The 5GHz band is great for carrying more data more quickly, but the 2.4GHz signal is more resilient and will travel further. Having both on offer is a good option. Briefly, you‚Äôll find that many wireless routers these days broadcast dual-band at the higher frequency, but shorter wavelength 5GHz and lower-frequency-but-longer-wavelength 2.4GHz (and, ideally, your mesh network) will extend that same format.
One or two home mesh kits also have a separate backhaul band or system. Backhaul is all about sending information in the other direction, which may be the smart devices on the ends of your Wi-Fi network uploading information or, possibly, your mesh nodes re-routing signal to one another.
So if you have a home packed with smart bits and pieces, you might want to look out for a system which ringfences backhaul like this. You might see them marketed as tri-band or you may have to read deeper into the blurb.
Generally speaking, we‚Äôd say tri-band is worth it.
You should also consider whether or not the nodes come with Ethernet ports on them, in case you want to hard link any items into them.
Check out how many nodes come in each box and do read the product pages carefully to see what kind of coverage you can expect at the square metre level. What‚Äôs more, some of you may be particularly concerned about data privacy and, surprise, surprise, as good as Google Wifi is, the giant G will be having a good rifle through your smart home if you choose to go that way. Worth bearing in mind that Amazon owns mesh Wi-Fi maker Eero too.
Last of all, here, bear in mind that, although most of these whole home mesh kit solutions are modular, you can‚Äôt mix and match brands. The manufacturers use different standards and techniques to get their nodes talking to each other and they rarely speak the same language. Not all of them are backwards compatible either. So, an older piece of routing kit from the same company may not work with your chosen mesh pack. Some are though - such as Orbi and Google Wifi.
For our money, it‚Äôs an idea to go for a brand with a lot of options within the same device family. That way, you might be able to buy single add-ons instead of whole kits each time.
Interestingly, further down the line, some of the smart home devices available should be able to function as nodes themselves, capable of becoming active, Wi-Fi-broadcasting parts of the mesh. Currently, it‚Äôs not a big push but watch out for Zigbee and Z-Wave-enabled IoT gadgety which has this included as a possibility.
In an idea world, you‚Äôd probably have your main router in the centre of your house for maximum coverage, but that's not the way things generally work. The access point for your ISP is likely to be a room on the ground floor of your home and you may only have one entry point option. You can call up your ISP and see if they‚Äôll install some new points or you can get busy with a drill and cabling yourself. But presuming you‚Äôve not got those skills ‚Äď because most people haven‚Äôt ‚Äď let‚Äôs just run with the work-with-what‚Äôs-already-there approach.
If that all sounds like a bit much to get your head around, then a good rule of thumb is to have one node on each floor. If you live in a tall, narrow townhouse then every other floor is probably fine.Some of the whole home mesh packs come with apps that help you position the nodes in the best possible place. They're definitely worth using if available, but they‚Äôre not perfect. The best way is to picture your house as a 3D space ‚Äď left to right, front to back, top to bottom ‚Äď and work on the idea of placing your nodes such that each one covers a sphere of a radius of no more than about 15m. Bear in mind, of course, that it‚Äôs better to have these spheres overlapping to some degree.
Of course, you‚Äôll have to account for factors like accessibility of plug sockets, non-standard floor plans and any pesky super-thick walls. Think about using your powerlines, if included, to bypass those parts where a Wi-Fi signal will suffer most degradation.
Your phone‚Äôs Wi-Fi readout is going to be particularly handy. Have a rough plan of where you want to put all your nodes but, before you plug them, use your phone to check Wi-Fi signal strength. If it‚Äôs any more than 50% below full strength, then move your node somewhere closer to maintain the signal quality as well as strength as best as possible.
Once it‚Äôs all up and running, run a final check with a mobile or laptop and perform either a speed test or a practical version of one, such as seeing how easily you can stream high quality video at various points in the house.
Go room to room to check for black spots but don‚Äôt lose sight of what will be the likely Wi-Fi use in each location. There‚Äôs no need to tear your hair out trying to stream 4K in the spare bedroom if all anyone is ever going to do in there is check their email before they go to sleep.