How to Choose the Best Mesh Wireless System For Your Home

| How-To

Page 2: Software: QoS and BufferBloat Protection, Band Steering and Access Point Steering, and Cloud vs. Local Management

TP-Link’s Deco is one of the lowest-priced, full-featured Mesh Wireless options available.

Software: Internet Connection QoS and BufferBloat Protection

Quality of Service (QoS) is an umbrella term that is used to describe many different aspects of a network (and beyond). For our purposes, we’re focusing on internet connection (or WAN port) QoS, specifically a router’s ability to manage your bandwidth such that one device on your network can’t slow down everyone else’s access to the internet. Think about a scenario when your Mac decides to back up all its photos to the cloud and suddenly your other devices are slow to browse the web or check email. This is commonly called “BufferBloat”, and a router with proper internet connection QoS can eliminate or reduce that slowdown.

  • Amped ALLY: No.
  • eero: No. eero has informed us that they do not employ any BufferBloat protection on the WAN connection of any eero, but they are investigating this. [Updated 18-Oct-2017]
  • Google Wifi: No.
  • Linksys Velop: No.
  • Luma: Limited device prioritization feature, no real BufferBloat protection yet (they say it’s coming in a future update).
  • Netgear Orbi: Yes. Was recently added with a software update, and a hidden QoS web page implies more may be coming, though nothing has been announced.
  • TP-Link Deco: Yes. Supports both BufferBloat protection as well as device prioritization.
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: No.

Advice: You want this. Second only to having solid coverage everywhere is having a well-managed internet connection.

Software: Band Steering and Access Point Steering

Every mesh product supports both 5GHz and 2.4GHz radios, and most of your client devices (iOS and Macs) will support both of these, as well. Generally-speaking, your devices will choose the radio that appears to be strongest and fastest at your current location, but your iPhone and Mac don’t always know how congested a given radio frequency is. Your router has this information, of course, and Band Steering means that your router participates in that decision process, helping your devices choose the best radio band for your current conditions. Access Point Steering means that the mesh will actively direct clients to the best access point at any given time.

  • Amped ALLY: Currently no band steering, but firmware to support it is in testing right now and is due to be released in the next 2-4 weeks.
  • eero: Clients choose their access point and radio band, and then eero’s proprietary TrueMesh algorithm reroutes traffic dynamically based upon congestion patterns to maximize the efficiency of your network.
  • Google Wifi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Linksys Velop: Access Point steering and roaming is supported, Band Steering is not.
  • Luma: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Netgear Orbi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • TP-Link Deco: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Supports both Band Steering, as described above, and Router Steering, which directs appropriate clients to talk directly to the router and avoid the additional hop of going through an access point. This is a form of Access Point Steering, but slightly different because it only directs clients back to the main router.

Advice: There are certainly scenarios where having Band Steering helps, like if you have a lot of 2.4GHz devices that are routinely transmitting large chunks of data. In those, it’s helpful to have the router help steer your other clients to the 5GHz network. From an engineering/efficiency standpoint, Band Steering makes a lot of sense, but in our testing the throughput of a mesh network being used for general Internet access in a standard home isn’t usually affected by it one way or another (with single, standalone routers we find it much more important). Access Point steering, however, is quite helpful, and that’s why every mesh vendor we’ve tested supports it in one way or another (with ALLY coming soon).

Software: Cloud vs. Local Management

For years, the majority of routers were locally-managed, meaning you would connect directly to your router from inside your network, tweak its settings, and be done with it. That changed with mesh networks, where many of them are managed via the cloud. You connect to the manufacturer’s cloud service, make your changes there, and those changes are pushed back down to your mesh network.

Cloud management generally means easier tech support as well as the ability to remotely manage your network. It also comes with the risk that if your router manufacturer’s cloud goes down for any reason (technical or business-related), you may not be able to change your router’s settings.

  • Amped ALLY: Cloud managed only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
  • eero: Cloud managed only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
  • Google Wifi: Cloud managed only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
  • Linksys Velop: Both local and cloud management supported with web interface and iOS/Android apps.
  • Luma: Cloud only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
  • Netgear Orbi: Local and remote management supported, all direct to router. No NETGEAR cloud used. Web interface is the main UI, NETGEAR Orbi and Genie apps are also supported, with the latter allowing remote management.
  • TP-Link Deco: Cloud only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Local and remote management supported. Mostly with iOS/Android app. Web interface is very limited and basic.

Advice: It’s easy to get caught up in the aforementioned risks of cloud management, but for most folks it’s best not to use this particular feature as a make-or-break factor in choosing your mesh solution. Anything is possible, but generally-speaking you’re probably going to change routers again before any of these companies or product lines are discontinued.

Table of Contents

  1. Summary Chart, Hardware: Streams/Antennas/Radios, and Ethernet Backhaul
  2. Software: QoS and BufferBloat Protection, Band Steering and Access Point Steering, and Cloud vs. Local Management
  3. Software: Intrusion/Malware Protection, and Parental Controls
  4. Geekier Features, Buying Advice, and Article Changelog

27 Comments Add a comment

  1. Graham McKay

    In the overview/summary it’d be nice to know which of these has been “internationalised”. Last time I checked there were a few mesh systems that were US only.

    • nicol

      From Google Wifi – we’re now available in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and France (we’re adding more countries later in the year too)

    • Dave Hamilton

      Plume is off the list solely because we’ve been unable to work with them on a test unit.

      I’ve heard very good things from Plume owners, but I only include things here that we’re able to personally test and work with, both short-and-long term.

      Every device listed here is up-and-running in some capacity, long-term, in a real household. I test short-term in my home and off office, and then relocate the systems with colleagues, friends, and family, to get true, real-world performance reports.

      We’d love to work with Plume, and have been trying for almost a year, but their review availability is unfortunately limited. We’ll get there with them. They just need some time.

      • John Kheit

        That is crazy. Do you have more than one going at a time. Just the sheer logistics of it all! Kudos Dave!

  2. whshep

    Surely this article should note a significant downside to the Eero: if the internet goes out, the whole network is likely to go out with it.

    According to Eero support, there is no guarantee of “Persistent LAN,” because while “the eeros will typically maintain the LAN when the internet connection drops,” eventually their “self-repair function” will try “to reestablish connection, and if the ISP service is still down when the eero does this, the LAN will be lost.” In other words, when you lose internet, you are likely to lose the entire network—no local streaming, no printers, no file transfer, no nothing. Forget listening to iTunes while you’re waiting for the Comcast truck.

    Never in my wildest imagination did it occur to me that a modern router—a premium-priced one at that—would be completely disabled simply because it could not connect to the internet (which around here goes out all the time). I wouldn’t recommend Eero until this is fixed.

  3. John Kheit

    Great article and info Dave. One more column on your table would be great. Privacy. Several of those products send your data/surfing habits (anonymized or otherwise) up to the cloud for analysis. Those are nonstarters for many privacy minded Apple folks. It would be nice to know which are wiretaps, which are not, and which have an option to turn that off.

    Anyway, as always, your analysis is a super service to the gear head community, so thanks!

    • Dave Hamilton

      On page 2 there’s a section titled, “Software: Cloud vs. Local Management” that discusses this. For the chart, I chose to distill things that matter to most people… and the remainder of the article goes deeper into those and other topics.

      • John Kheit

        Yea the cloud part is very useful, and I guess you can just assume if it has cloud ability, it will take your traffic. I suspect there might be some control over that, but the conservative approach is to just assume, if it has a cloud option, it’s a wire tap, even if it aint necessarily so, or there is an option to opt out…

      • John Kheit

        Which means only the Netgear Orbi or the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD are options if you have privacy concerns. Thanks Dave!

    • Dave Hamilton

      The main difference is essentially what I described in the intro to the piece:

      For our purposes, we define mesh as a system that uses multiple wireless access points positioned throughout your home that all broadcast the same wireless network name (SSID) and are all managed from one interface. This last bit is important because, in most cases, being managed from one interface means that all the devices are aware of each other and can work together to manage the Wi-Fi throughout your home without you having to worry about it.

      With multiple routers (from the same or different vendors), one must manage each individually. On top of that, the routers are (generally) not aware of the fact that others are involved, so things like handoffs between the two can’t be managed gracefully, nor can the access points all participate in load balancing between the radios and each other.

      The setup you have is what I call “quasi-mesh”, and is essentially what I ran at my home and office for over a decade. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and, especially with Ethernet backbone tying everything together, can work very, very well.

      But management of a quasi-mesh is a headache, and that can get even trickier when you don’t have Ethernet and want to link everything together wirelessly. Mesh, as described in the piece here, solves all of those problems internally, making it a plug-and-play experience for most.

  4. Lou Burt

    Thank you so much for the great article! I have been using airport extremes since 2008 and the all still work unlike the parade of Linksys etc. routers I used and had to replace about every year.

    How is the build quality of the various units? This is a big deal for me and why I love Apple hardware.

    Thanks again for the best article on this subject that I’ve come across.

  5. pnielan

    Currently using Apple routers and access points. What will I give up by going to mesh? Back to My Mac, Screen Sharing, Any Bonjour services? Anything?

    Thanks very much for the continually updated article. Costco has $70 off Orbi this holiday and with ethernet backhaul added may pull the trigger.

    • Dave Hamilton

      At this moment, we have to recommend caution when considering Orbi, and I’ve updated the piece above to reflect this. OrbiOS 2.1 (specifically, and the current-as-of-this-comment have introduced a TON of reports about Wi-Fi stability, and we’ve experienced those in our test environment here, too. Things were quite stable before 2.1, so I have no reason to believe that Netgear can’t resolve this but, for right now, we don’t recommend you update to 2.1, and for new buyers I just want you to be informed. Read the thread and decide for yourself, as always, but I just wanted to make sure everyone had the info that we have.

      • pnielan

        Thanks very much for this update. I went to the Netgear site and see some of this reporting. (Also see many satisfied users of prior systems).

        To Dave and all, back to original question. Currently using Apple routers and access points. I see what is to be gained by going to mesh (which by definition is non-Apple). But what will I give up by going to mesh? Back to My Mac, Screen Sharing, Any Bonjour services? Apple TV throughput? Wake over Network? What is dependent on Apple router?

  6. jsafire

    What about port-forwarding? I need this for remote access to fam and friends’ networks 8-| I assume these devices all have this capability but, I don’t see it mentioned – unless you’ve called it something else and it’s just not obvious to me. Thanks for a most excellent review, Dave.

  7. krispucci

    Great article. Very comprehensive compared to the others that I have read.

    Might be useful to add a section pertaining to integration with voice assistants such as Alexa or Google Assistant.

    I have also come across Plume which is another option.

    I hope these come down in price as they are all very expensive in CAD dollars.

  8. NicevilleSteve

    To Mesh or not to Mesh that is the question.


    I just finished reading your excellent 2017 blog addressing Mesh networking and I like the use of tables to highlight their capabilities.

    My 2-story 4,000 ft. home has an Ethernet backbone and I currently use two 802.11ac Airport Extremes and an 802.11n Airport Express to seamlessly cover my home in Wi-Fi. I am going to update my connection with a DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem and am considering an upgrade my wireless network.

    You have spoken highly of the Synology Router RT2600ac capabilities and I notice they have a web page specifically talking about virtues of using their routers to “Upgrade from Your Apple AirPort Routers” (

    This leads me to my question about the gains I would see using their technology vs adding a Synology Router RT2600ac as my router and operating my current devices in bridge mode?

    Thanks for the entertaining, informative and educational Podcast. It is truly the best on the web!

    Happy New Year

    Niceville Steve

Add a Comment

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter, Facebook) or Register for a TMO Account