Over the last couple of years, there has been a dramatic rise in the adoption of mesh network systems for the home.
Fueled by poor Wi-Fi signals in rooms furthest from a wired router, a mesh network is one of the best solutions of gaining even, stable, strong wireless internet connectivity. And it needn't cost you a fortune.
Here we explain how it works, how much you are likely to have to pay and a few options to get you started.
What is a mesh network?
A mesh network uses multiple devices (generally called points) dotted around in different rooms to fill gaps in the wireless internet signal.
You use one main Wi-Fi point plugged into your home router through an Ethernet cable. Then, each subsequent device is placed a sufficient distance from the primary point to communicate successfully.
By doing so, each point fills an area with a stable Wi-Fi signal and, unlike Wi-Fi extenders, communicates with every other point in the system, adapting signal strength as needed. This then ensures that no matter where in your home you wander, the signal you receive on your phone, tablet, laptop or other wireless gadgetry is the same.
What's more, you don't need separate login details for each of the points, the overall signal emitted from the points is treated the same by your wireless device, as if it comes from just one source.
For example, if you are in a bedroom where one of the secondary points is placed, it will transmit your data request to the nearest other point it finds and so-on. This also improves the speed of connection in comparison, say, to a Wi-Fi extender that either requires a strong wireless signal from your existing router to perform well or works through a powerline connection which is less efficient and can impact on download and upload speeds.
Wi-Fi extenders traditionally have a limited range - the same or even less than your Wi-Fi router - and adding more for greater coverage can actually cause conflicts in your signal as they do not speak to each other effectively. A mesh network communicates internally and often to ensure there are no conflicts.
How do you set up and use a mesh network?
Setting up a mesh network is generally a simple procedure. Most manufacturers offer bundles that include the main point plus at least one other device for another room.
The amount of additional points you need generally depends on how big your home is. Google, for example, claims that a smaller home or apartment will really only require one of its Google Wifi points - although you could probably just make do with your existing router in that case.
It says you need two for a medium house and three for a larger home of around 170 to 420 square metres.
Other manufacturers quote similar numbers for their systems.
We've also found that some homes require more depending on different circumstances - such as building materials and room locations. We have, for example, four points running in a medium, three-bedroomed house because we have a garden office that requires a point of its own. That way, we also have solid, stable wireless internet connectivity in the garden itself.
Most mesh network brands will supply a free iOS or Android application with their devices, which aid set-up and give you optional settings to alter afterwards.
Many give you parental controls to restrict internet access at certain times of the day or block adult sites. You will also be able to see how strong each point's connection is and the devices currently connected.
One thing to remember is that, with the mesh network you choose taking over wireless internet duties, you do not need Wi-Fi enabled on your router too. Indeed, it could even conflict with the primary point's signal.
Most router manufacturers offer the option to disable Wi-Fi and turn it into a modem instead. This is generally called "modem mode" and you need to check your specific router's instructions how to turn it off. Also make note of how to turn it back on again, in case you change your mind at a later date.