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It's A Mesh

Most of you probably have a single Wi-Fi router that might be an Apple Airport Base station or the DSL or Cable modem provided by your internet provider. Your router might be in one corner of your house, or like me down in the cellar. By the time your Wi-Fi signal finds its way up to the other corner of the house you may find that the speed is slow and your signal is not particularly reliable.

The solution to this has been to add an extender or something like the Apple Airport Express to extend the network. That works but it can be a bit complex to set it up so that you have reliable signal. With Apple apparently exiting the wireless network router business (the Airport Extreme was last upgraded in 2013) it is time for a new paradigm in home networking.

Enter mesh networking. A mesh network could solve most, if not all, of your Wi-Fi problems. It’s basically a system of multiple Wi-Fi stations that work together to blanket every corner of your home with a strong, reliable Wi-Fi connection.

Unlike your cable modem router or Airport Extreme that loses signal the farther you are from it, mesh nodes piggyback on one another to create a continuous wireless link throughout your home, making dead zones rare.

Mesh networking has these advantages:

  • Using fewer wires means it costs less to set up a network, particularly for large areas of coverage.
  • The more nodes you install, the bigger and faster your wireless network becomes.
  • They rely on the same WiFi standards (802.11a, b and g) already in place for most wireless networks.
  • They are convenient where Ethernet wall connections are lacking
  • They are useful for Non-Line-of-Sight (NLoS) network configurations where wireless signals are intermittently blocked.
  • Mesh networks are “self configuring;” the network automatically incorporates a new node into the existing structure without needing any adjustments by a network administrator.
  • Mesh networks are “self healing,” since the network automatically finds the fastest and most reliable paths to send data, even if nodes are blocked or lose their signal.
  • Wireless mesh configurations allow local networks to run faster, because local packets don’t have to travel back to a central server.
  • Wireless mesh nodes are easy to install and uninstall, making the network extremely adaptable and expandable as more or less coverage is needed.

How does a a mesh system work? First, you connect a primary base station to your broadband modem via ethernet cable from the modem to the primary base station. Then, you connect satellite stations or nodes in areas where you might get weak coverage. These nodes can be connected to ethernet if you have your house wired for ethernet but who does that anymore? Otherwise, they plug into the wall for power and gain their signal wirelessly.

Let’s say your primary base station is downstairs in the kitchen, and you have a satellite station in the upstairs bedroom. When you are in the bedroom and watching Netflix on your MacBook, the primary base station retrieves the streaming data and bounces it to the satellite station, which then beams it to your Mac in the bedroom in what’s known as a hop.

Importantly, in addition to expanding your Wi-Fi range, a mesh system helps your device automatically connect to the strongest station as you move around in the house. When you’re in the kitchen, your iPhone will automatically get its signal from the station there; when you move to the bedroom, your iPhone will seamlessly switch to the station there.

We sell the Eero mesh network and there are also similar systems from Google, DLink and others. Eero is very easy to set up with their iPhone app which will walk you through setting up an account and adding nodes around the house. The app monitors your network so you can see what’s happening, check device usage, diagnose and fix issues and even set up parental controls to limit usage, say in your teen’s room. With parental controls you can create an “internet pause” or just shut the whole thing down. Just like with the AirPort Extreme you can also set up a guest network.

While you are awaiting Apple’s HomePod, if you are like me you have Amazon Echo. Eero will also work with Alexa where you can ask Alexa to pause the internet or find your iPhone.

Mesh networking is the way to go if you are updating your network, having problems with coverage or installing a new network. It is probably overkill if you live in a studio apartment but you could still buy just a single unit to take advantage of the ease of set-up and tools for managing your Wi-Fi.

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