What are the best mesh network kits?
Mesh Wi-Fi kits are becoming popular for people who are sick of dead spots in their network coverage. Whether you have a large home or a small place with thick walls, grabbing one of these kits can alleviate a poor signal. The idea is simple — connect a few satellite Wi-Fi points to the main point and spread out the signal evenly around your house.
Why not just grab an extender or a powerful router? You certainly can, but extenders don't usually work in unison, and powerful routers can be just as expensive as one of these mesh kits.
If you're interested in setting up a mesh network, here are the standouts of the current mesh network kits on offer.
Unlike the other mesh network kits that use a mobile app for configuration, Orbi takes advantage of the same solid method that the NETGEAR Nighthawk routers use — you don't need an internet connection to get inside your Orbi and change a wide variety of settings, nor must you rely on an Android or iPhone app.
Thanks to a dedicated high-bandwidth Wi-Fi connection between the base and the satellite, the Orbi kit had the best throughput and range of the kits we tested, even with only two units to the other kits' three.
You get tri-band Wi-Fi, MU-MIMO connectivity, and a ton of Ethernet ports on each unit. Each Orbi Wi-Fi point is good for up to about 2,000 square feet, meaning the two-pack at about $350 is good for a pretty large space.
Note: The NETGEAR Orbi is not a true mesh Wi-Fi system. Instead of each satellite being able to talk to each other and bounce your data over to the main router, each satellite can only talk to the main router. Still, the Orbi has great throughput but isn't quite as scalable due to the lack of satellite communication.
Google Wifi is simple to set up and does exactly what is advertised. Just grab the app on your Android or iPhone, plug the Wi-Fi point in, and you're pretty much good to go. You can see all devices connected to the network, you can prioritize certain devices — gamers love this — and you can even block access to others. Google Wifi will automatically select the clearest channel and will take the fastest band depending on each individual device. MU-MIMO connectivity included? You bet.
If you're looking for a super-simple way to get Wi-Fi to every corner of your home, Google Wifi could be the answer. Delivering seamless wireless connectivity on a single network, the system is easy to install and configure, looks great, and delivers solid throughput.
A single Wi-Fi point costs about $115 and covers about 1,500 square feet, while the three-pack costs about $270 and covers 4,500 square feet. If you need to cover a larger area, you can always add more Wi-Fi points to your setup.
The co-founder of eero was sick of troubleshooting his family's Wi-Fi, and so this mesh networking kit was born. Plug one small, flat Wi-Fi point into the network with an Ethernet cable, then simply give the other two points power from a wall outlet. Grab the app on your Android or iPhone and keep track of which devices are connected and how fast their connections really are.
The second generation eero now has tri-band Wi-Fi and 2 x 2 MU-MIMO, making it almost twice as fast as the first generation, which CNET warmly reviewed. The Wirecutter also chose this as their runner-up choice to the NETGEAR Orbi, claiming:
It's not quite as fast or easy to set up as Orbi, but it blanketed our test environment in usable Wi-Fi and has improved much since we originally tested it in late 2016. Eero nodes are typically available in a three-unit kit, with each physically identical, inoffensively styled, low-profile node designed to sit flat on a shelf or desk.
A three-pack costs about $360 and covers about 3,000 square feet. Love using Alexa? This mesh kit is now compatible with Alexa Skills.
Plume has taken the minimalist approach with their Wi-Fi points, offering their small, sleek pods in three colors: champagne, silver, or onyx. These pods plug straight into your outlet and remain there (sort of like an air freshener), but only take up one outlet because of their size.
Plume doesn't offer Orbi's overwhelming signal strength, and its throughput isn't the fastest at short range, but it is consistent throughout an entire house, and its impressively low network latency is noticeable in day-to-day use. Plume also doesn't have as many advanced networking features as Orbi does, but many people don't need those.
While these pods don't send out as strong of a signal, the sheer number of them makes up for the lack of range. Settings things up and tweaking configurations currently requires an Android or iPhone app. Grab these if you don't need advanced features and don't feel like spending quite as much.
The Linksys Velop (about $500 for a three-pack) features tri-band Wi-Fi that has a range up to about 6,000 feet, so if you're in a large area, this might be your first choice. It's also quite fast, thanks to being enabled with 2 x 2 MU-MIMO.
PCMag awarded the Velop an Editors' Choice award, stating in their review:
The Linksys Velop provides Wi-Fi coverage for your entire home and seamless roaming over a single network. It's stylish, easy to install, and delivers fast single-user and MU-MIMO throughput speeds, making it our top pick for Wi-Fi systems.
To set things up, just plug in your individual units, grab the iOS or Android app, and go through the setup. If you don't mind paying top dollar, this is a great choice if you have an oversized area to cover with Wi-Fi.
Amped Wireless Ally
The Amped Wireless Ally kit (about $260) is marketed at both novice and advanced users. You can plug it in and let it deliver Wi-Fi, or, if you wish, you can tweak a ton of settings to your heart's content. Amped claims to cover up to 15,000 square feet, but think realistically more like 4,000 square feet.
As a single router, it's the fastest among any of the Wi-Fi systems I've tested, registering more than 600Mbps and almost 270Mbps at close range (15 feet) and long range (75 feet), respectively. This is not a surprise since it has the higher Wi-Fi tier than all other systems I've tested.
With MU-MIMO functionality and AC1900 Wi-Fi, this is a great choice for larger areas if you don't want to spend top dollar.
Note: The Amped Wireless Ally isn't a true mesh Wi-Fi system due to its satellites not being able to communicate with each other. Instead, each satellite must communicate with the main router. Still, this offering from Amped delivers great coverage and speeds that gamers will love.