Wi-Fi Mesh Systems Compared: eero, Orbi, AmpliFi

11 minute read
| Deep Dive

The future of home Wi-Fi is mesh networking, a new approach to consumer wireless networks that includes smart management and multiple radios designed to handle the load of today’s gadgets. Combine that with the fact that many homes require multiple access points for coverage in different locations and mesh makes the most sense.

With 802.11ac we do finally have some range extenders that actually work now. Even when used at a distance, 802.11ac often gives you enough bandwidth to make an extender worthwhile. It’s never perfect, though, unless you’re using Ethernet (or Powerline or MoCA) for the backhaul between your router and extender. Even a workable situation like this takes a true geek to build and manage it. And when things break, it’s not just the geek who’s upset: the whole family has an opinion on the urgency of fixing these issues.

On top of that, the router/extender scenario isn’t a true mesh—it’s a quasi-mesh. None of the access points knows about the other ones. Yes, they can all be named the same and my client devices can connect to whichever one they deem best, but they do that on their own with no guidance from the router or extender. Client devices have no idea how overloaded a given access point might be nor do they have an idea as to what other devices on the network exist.

eero's mesh – like others – blankets your home in Wi-Fi

eero’s mesh – like others – blankets your home in glorious Wi-Fi everywhere

Mesh routing completes that puzzle because the access points act as one. They are all aware of each other and can work with client devices to decide which access point is best for that client at that time, not just which one is closest or has the strongest signal. If one device starts streaming a ton of Netflix, for example, the mesh can identify this and either tell that client to move or start moving other clients to free up that radio for the video stream.

This kind of setup is simply not possible to build yourself with off-the-shelf routers.

The good news is that as we’ve often said on Mac Geek Gab, 2016 is the “Year of the Router.” A large part of that has to do with how many mesh products we have.

TL;DR

I’ve tested three currently-available mesh offerings: eero, Netgear’s Orbi and Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi. While they all solve the same problem in basically the same way, they each have strengths and weaknesses. If you’re finished reading and just want to buy, my TL;DR advice is that, at this very moment, I feel like eero is the best product to recommend to most users. That said, it’s worth watching what Netgear does with Orbi over the next six months. If they keep adding features to it, Orbi could easily take the lead due to its tri-band Wi-Fi hardware. Still, even today Orbi or AmpliFi might be right for you, and I’ve listed more than a few points of comparison to help you make your choice. For those details… read on!

Table of Contents

  1. Intro to Mesh Wi-Fi
  2. Single SSID Mesh, Range, Speed, Setup and Radios
  3. Ethernet, User Interface, and Form Factor
  4. USB, QoS, and VPN
  5. Apple, Google, Luma, The Prices and The Verdict

Next up: Single SSID Mesh, Range, Speed, Setup and Radios

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danb4me

Bought the eero system based on article review, with special focus on eero offering Qos. My question is how Qos management relates to buffer bloat? I expected my buffer bloat grade to be fairly good using dslreports speed test. Actually it is a gigantic F. I had been using an evenroute router that manages upload buffer bloat and gives me A scores at this site, though drops both upload and download speeds a bit to do so. I am on DSL with 25 down and <2 up and lots of connected devices/game systems, etc.

DDM60
Member
DDM60

Mac users beware. I’ve owned 3 EEROs since August 2016. Despite promises the next update will fix the problem, the EEROs do not work with Mac products. In order to maintain a WiFi signal, I must cycle WiFi on my Macbook pro, iPad, and iPhone off then back on again. And I need to do this every 5 minutes or so. EERO knows of this problem, but they don’t have a fix. Here is a quote from EERO customer support “The Mac issues you are having are issues we are aware of but continue to persist. With each update we… Read more »

gus
Member
gus

Orbi Smart Devices and Hubs Problems Problems with smart hubs and devices that require the 2gh only. Hi I tried past stand alone wifi routers (Asus,Linsky) priced over $300 and now the Orbi. My home is over 4200 Sq Ft. on the Orbi speed test show great speed up and down no matter where I maybe be in or out of the house (Down Load 238 MHPS Upload 35.33 are the avg) The house has over 40 wifi devices smart devices lights,, tv, Ring door bell, harmony hubs and others. The 2 gh devices work intermittently other’s 2gh smart devices… Read more »

NotTellingYou
Member
NotTellingYou

In addition to the other issues relied with Eero did you bother to read their terms and conditions? Did you read they DEMAND you tell them who you are and where you are? Did you read they will cancel your service if they find out you lied? Did you read you can’t use your name etc., to set up a parent’s system? Did you read they can and will update without your knowledge or consent while not telling you what’s been changed? That they will collect data of the wireless networks around you and that you have no control over… Read more »

dominickgarton@mac.com
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dominickgarton@mac.com

Like 30% of the US I don’t get any broadband internet at home. The only way to get any internet at all is a Verizon jet pack cellular hotspot which works fine as long as you don’t get any crazy ideas like streaming movies in 4k or even regular 480p. The jet pack has a USB output which one can theoretically tether to other devices. It covers a radius of about 15 feet ok so a bit weak for a whole home.

Any ideas if the Eero would play nice with this for the 30% without nice broadband?

mrbofus
Member
mrbofus

“Orbi: 2-pack US$399. Add-on Satellite US$249.99. 3-Pack pricing unavailable at press time.”

The Orbi 3-pack is $499 at Costco; it’s been available since at least the beginning of November, but I think I saw it at my local Costco in October too.

webjprgm
Member
webjprgm

If I have my internet router upstairs on the second floor in one corner of the house and my TV in the basement in the other corner of the house, will I need 3 access points to bridge that? My Airport Extreme from upstairs covers floors 1 and 2 quite well, then I have a flaky power line adapter system running from upstairs to the basement and occasionally breaks down when trying to watch anything via wifi with AirPlay to the TV. Since an Airport Extreme cannot reach the basement, I’m assuming the Eero/Orbi/AmpliFi access points won’t reach the basement… Read more »

mbaskin@gmail.com
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mbaskin@gmail.com

Base on this article I purchased 6 eeros ( have 3 floor house). The app has what it calls “Family Profiles”. A very easy way to limit WiFi usage for anyone at anytime. The default name for any new profile is call “Bedtime”

Very easy to use, tells you when you’ve placed a eero too far away from the others, each unit reboots automatically if they detect a problem. One of the best interfaces I’ve ever seen and support QoS so a Netflix’ing/YouTub’ing teenage doesn’t slow down everyone else down.

Member
John Skinner

I have seen other consumer solutions to manage family member usage (only let Sally’s devices on the internet until 8:00 PM). Do any of these mesh systems have usage controls like this?

curby
Member
curby

I just got off chat with the Amplifi support folks, and the rep said you can buy multiple Amplifi routers, connect them via Ethernet, and use the satellites as Ethernet mesh points as you can with Eeros. At $150/router for the HD version, a “3-pack” costs more than the $350 Amplifi HD kit but arguably gives more flexibility and expansion (each can also double as a 4-port switch for wired devices). Can anyone corroborate this info? As noted in the article it would be nice to make use of existing ethernet runs through the walls of a house when possible… Read more »

Ayrstone
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Ayrstone

Great article! Another WiFi meshing product – an outdoor system for farms and rural households – was covered briefly on the Mac Geek Gab back in 2013 (MGG 436) – Ayrstone, which is still around. Not for use in the house like these products, Ayrstone makes WiFi available outside in the countryside – in the garden, on the lake, or across the farm.

Member
Wes Shull

I went w/AmpliFi LR and it was on sale on Amazon…and I couldn’t be more pleased after the first four days of use. Speeds great, no dead spots, easy to use and most important…the fastest tech support I’ve ever seen w/national product. You start a chat and you’re with someone in a few seconds. I also think the plug-in mesh antenna’s are a smart design choice. No wires to plug in and the magnetic heads really help when you walk by and accidentally dislodge them…no way to break these unless you deliberately try. All the units are solidly built. I… Read more »

parallax
Member
parallax

Really great article! All things being equal, I love the way the Orbi sounds. However, the price just seems a good $100 too high. Since my internet connection comes in at the center of the house, to extend the network to all rooms (and particularly to my hammock outside!) I need at least 3 units. So a 3 pack of Orbi would run $650. For $50 less than 2 Orbi, I can get a 3 pack of AmpliFi. I don’t have anything that NEEDs ethernet instead of 802.11 n or AC, so I think I should be fine without ethernet… Read more »

rh1
Member
rh1

How do any of these mesh systems coexist or replace the current router I might have! I have Uverse TV and Internet. I could plug one if these units unto a switch connected to my router. As you may know, the Uverse gateway has wireless transmitters to connect to the receivers if the different TVs I have, so I don’t want to interfere with that part of the network. If I can then use the mesh units to extend my existing network, that would be great.
Thanks for the article. Very helpful.

venus535
Member
venus535

It should be noted that Orbi and AmpliFi (this is exclusive to Amazon for now) are also available as stand alone routers. Also of interest, a second AmpliFi stand alone router can be configured as a mesh point. I’ve had the stand alone AmpliFi router up and running since 11/23 and I’m very impressed with its consistency both with testing and real world streaming. The Orbi might be a better performer and might have been my choice if I needed a mesh system but IMO the esthetics of the AmpliFi is much better and I couldn’t be happier its performance.… Read more »

Mark Withers
Member
Mark Withers

Great article! I have been considering mesh networking for our home and you really gave me great options and points to consider for each.

Tek
Member
Tek

I wanted to point out one of the biggest problems for me with these systems and that is that they need to have connection with the central server in order to work AT ALL. I had Eero that I tested and in the middle of test we lost power due to high winds. I got everything going on my generator but Eero network would not work at all without connection to the Eero central servers. This means that whole internal network in my house was down. This also means that if for whatever reason, Eero servers down, Eero goes out… Read more »

Member
briandigital

Thanks for the article, I look forward to seeing this field grow. I definitely got more from this article than other similar articles. If I were picking one up over the holidays, it sounds like all their wireless performance are similar? I should decide based just on features? How’s the usability of the configuration interfaces? I was interested in eero but the price was high and I’m not sure I want cloud-access into my home’s network, especially considering the insecurity of the IoT. (The network I manage at work does have a cloud based backend to its network hardware and… Read more »

murtuzza
Member
murtuzza

Dave – there is a also Edimax which has also recently released the new AC1200 kit for Wifi Home mesh – you should also include that in your review and tell us how it goes