Wireless Access Points vs Mesh Network

Every day there’s a new item jumping on your home’s wireless network. It’s gone well beyond tablets, phones and laptops. Now the lightbulbs, the thermostat, the wall sockets, the light switches and the kitchen appliances demand wireless access. But, in many residences, wireless dead zones make this growing whole-house dependency on wi-fi a concerning trend.

If you’re worried this means you picked the wrong router, take heart. According to Cnet, while a good router might be strong enough to cover 3,000 square feet of house, you would have to place it smack dab in the middle of your home to achieve that reach. If your router is based in a home office in a far corner of the house, it’s going to need some help pushing that signal into every room. Here, we look at two options for extending household wireless coverage.

Wireless Access Points

If you’re looking to push your wireless signal out to all parts of your home, a wireless access point can help. This is an excellent option to consider if you have a new, or top-of-the-line, router. Rather than adding another signal, wireless access points make use of the router that you already have. A device is added directly to your router which effectively broadcasts that same signal to the underserved areas of your home. Wireless Access Points should not be confused with Wi-Fi range extenders, which are not able to offer as robust a bump in distribution of signal.

A wireless access point will likely require a professional to install, but the advantage of a WAP is that any future issues that arise with the device may be able to be managed by accessing the device remotely–without a technician needing to visit your home. WAPs must be configured properly, and will need fine tuning, so for this reason, it’s best left to a professional.

Mesh Networks

Another option for extending your wireless reach is to bring in new signals. This route will entail connecting new wireless devices in what’s called a mesh network. Once it’s set up you’ll have a relay-race of sorts happening, where one device handles its immediate area, and the signal’s handed off as you move to another room. In high-functioning mesh networks this is seamless. In less-than-stellar ones, however, users may notice an interruption in their signal as they move about the house. Depending on your home’s size and unique layout, the number of devices, or nodes, that you’ll need to achieve full coverage using a mesh network will vary. One advantage of mesh networks is that they are “self-healing.” If one of the devices that make up the network is not working, the network will discover and use the fastest way to deliver the signal. This is because the individual hubs are connected in a web-based manner (thus “mesh”) as opposed to a linear one.

Because mesh networks utilize wireless devices, this route is the more DIY of the two options. What you may gain with ease of installation, though, you may lose in speed. Mesh networks are typically not as fast as a hardwired network.

Choosing between a wireless access point and a mesh network may come down to cost of the devices themselves and their installation, and speed or performance you’re hoping to achieve. A WAP is a more straightforward device that acts as a bridge, directly linking your router to your devices, but it does require more attention and tweaking. The fact that it is hardwired may seem like a disadvantage in today’s climate where marketing tells us wireless equals easier. But a WAP doesn’t have to hop from one node to another like in a mesh network, thus slowing the signal down and potentially hindering reliability, two things you really don’t want from your network.