Technology

Improve wireless coverage with a MESH Wi-Fi network

Thick walls, split floor levels, concrete and metal structures can all interfere with Wifi coverage around your home or office.

Plus, if you have a large property or one with an unusual layout, you are likely to experience wi-fi ‘dead zones’.

Wi-fi users today are demanding coverage throughout the entire footprint of their property. People want their mobile apps, cloud services and streaming media to work everywhere.

So, what’s the best way to ensure blanket coverage?

A new type of Wi-Fi router system is gaining popularity – The MESH network.

Although MESH networks are not a new invention, the technology has evolved apace recently and prices have fallen so as to make them an affordable option for home owners and small firms.

A MESH system is a series of interlinking mini hubs. The main hub connects directly to your existing router or modem, with a series of satellite nodes placed around your property. They are all part of a single network and share the same SSID / password, so there’s no need to change your login credentials as you move around.

Typically, they come as a twin or triple-pack to place around your property. The nodes continuously ‘talk’ to each other acting as ‘hop-points’. This activity allows points farthest from the main router to deliver a strong and consistent Wi-Fi signal.

Are MESH systems a better alternative to existing wi-fi boosting solutions?

In a word, YES!

They are better than traditional range extenders (repeaters) and Power Line Access Points.

Range extenders can do a good job of filling in dead zones. But they typically provide only half the bandwidth you get from your main router. Range extenders just ‘repeat’ a signal and this re-broadcasting process degrades the more times its repeated. Plus, the re-broadcast generates a new network and SSID so you will have to log in again as you move around. What’s more, your device will often stay latched onto the first network until it’s completely out of range. That means you’ll drag around a weaker connection until you manually switch to the stronger one.

Powerline Access points offer more bandwidth than range extenders, however their success will depend on the state of the electrical wiring in the property. There is no easy way to check this other than buying a system and trying it. And remember, your wiring will be impacted by electrical interference from other nearby equipment – especially microwaves, power tools, washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

By contrast, MESH systems are more powerful and less hassle than these alternatives.

MESH systems are comparatively easy to set up. Most offer simple network management via a user-friendly mobile app.  The app tells you where to place each node for maximum coverage and chooses the best Wi-Fi channel and radio band for optimal performance. They are also surprisingly good looking and stylishly designed. No horrible antennas or flashing lights so you don’t have to hide them away. Being out in the open will also improve performance.

MESH prices have come down considerably in the last 12 months. Systems can now be purchased sub £100 but you can still pay north of £400.

The IDNet support team will continue to test MESH products, but so far, we’ve found two clear favourites from units tested – both come from the same manufacturer – Tenda

Introducing the Tenda Nova MW3 and MW6 MESH systems

The Nova MW3 provides up to 300 square metres of Wi-Fi coverage, and the Nova MW6 up to an impressive 600 square metres of coverage.

Both systems use the latest Smart Auto-path Selection technology to create a blanket network around your property.

Both were painless to set up. We plugged one device into our broadband router. Plugged the others into power points around the property. Then we simply used the mobile app to manage the individual units, meshing them into one Wi-Fi network, and importantly, observing their connection quality. We were then able to move them around to optimise the signal. It was all quite straightforward and quick.

Tenda Nova MW3

At a price point of around £85 + vat the MW3 is easily the best value product on the market! It has no competition at this price especially when you consider the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi kit is twice the cost at £200.

The MW3 system brought to life Wi-Fi dead zones in the properties we tested. With practically zero configuration we were able to stream 4K video and perform bandwidth hungry tasks over the entire footprint of the spaces we tested.

The app also allows you to implement parental controls, to disable or enable groups of devices, to create a guest Wi-Fi network separate from your main one, to set up QoS for traffic prioritisation, and to block unauthorised users. Amazing features for this price!

The MW3 units are unobtrusive white cubes measuring just 90mm x 90mm. They will complement the décor of any modern home or office. They worked perfectly out of the box and are highly recommended for most regular sized homes and small offices.

Tenda Nova MW6

If you have a larger home, an unusual shaped property or split-level office configuration, then the MW6 is a suitable upgrade. Like it’s little brother, it performed well across the properties we tested, but additionally it reached more comfortably into attics, gardens, out-buildings, nooks and crannies around a much wider footprint.

In our tests it also demonstrated impressive solid wall penetration and seamless Wi-Fi roaming. We were able to walk from room to room without losing connection while making a lag-free video call!

Nova’s Automatic network optimization is designed to keep you online. It automatically maintains your network status as you move about. So, if one Nova is disconnected it will reconnect to an available Nova to keep you online.

Set up was a doddle using the app. The Tenda Wifi app is available for iOS and Android devices. You scan the QR code on the base of the first mesh point and the app will automatically switch your device over to the new Nova network, and connect the Nova to IDNet Internet for you.

Anyone interested in the detailed technical specification should know that each mesh unit supports Wi-Fi protocols IEEE 802.11ac/a/n at 5GHz and up to 867Mbps, and IEEE 802.11b/g/n at 2.4GHz and up to 300Mbps. They support MU-MIMO, WPA2-PSK security, wireless roaming, DHCP, UPnP, IPsec, PPTP and L2TP. The MW6 units also support beamforming.

The MW6 is on the market for around £150 + vat and is still excellent value compared to other products on the market aimed at larger properties.

IDNet customers are able to order MW6 units direct from IDNet at the discounted rate of £130 + vat. See our ‘Broadband Hardware‘ page for more information.

Technical Review Summary

In tests lasting several weeks for both the MW3 and MW6 units, our support team reported:

  • Fast and stable connectivity
  • Seamless WiFi roaming around each property.
  • Uniformly strong coverage indoors and throughout gardens
  • Wall penetration better than most other brands
  • Covering 300 square metres (MW3) or 600 square metres (MW6)
  • Aesthetically pleasing contemporary design. Neat and unobtrusive.
  • Product units are pre-paired and easy to setup out of the box
  • User friendly app with easy network management controls

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