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.

  • eero: Yes. In May, 2018, eero added their eero Labs Smart Queue Management feature, which directly addresses this very problem. [Updated 1-June-2018]
  • Google Wifi: No.
  • Linksys Velop: No.
  • 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.
  • Plume SuperPods: No.
  • TP-Link Deco: No. Their QoS just supports device prioritization.
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: The AmpliFi Gamer’s Edition now does include WAN-based QoS (aka BufferBloat protection), but only in the Gamer’s Edition.

Advice: You want this. Second only to having solid coverage everywhere is having a well-managed internet connection. The reality, though, is that there are only a few mesh options that have it. Good news: if you’re running a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem, it has a much-improved queueing algorithm in it (called DOCSIS PIE) that all but eliminates this problem for most folks, alleviating the need for it in your router.

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.

  • 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. In June, 2018, eero added Band Steering as an official capability in eero Labs.
  • Google Wifi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Linksys Velop: Access Point steering and roaming is supported, Band Steering is not.
  • Netgear Orbi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Plume SuperPods: 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 but also very difficult to implement properly. eero has tried and failed in the past, but we’re told they’re still working on it. Plume is currently doing it better than anyone else, and all the others claim to do it, but our tests don’t necessarily show it being done often.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Plume SuperPods: Cloud only.
  • 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

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

65 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
NicevilleSteve

Dave, I was wondering when you might update your article?  Some mesh makers are now offering WIFI 6 and while I am very happy with my Orbi’s performance I will need to update my son’s home someday soon and he may be the recipient of my Orbi’s.  With all the chatter about the super plume, Ubiquiti, and others I would like to be able to make the best choice when his system fails. Is Synology going to have a new WIFI 6 mesh system?  Also I thought that the ability to use WPA3 was controlled by the router but my network… Read more »

melaniestaines

Are you peeps looking for a massive discount on VPNs this Cyber Monday?

One of the most reliable names in the industry, PureVPN, is offering their 5 Year plan at 88% OFF. This means you only pay $79 for 60 whole months of VPN service!

melaniestaines

Yeah i also have no idea of it.

melaniestaines

I had nice read on your informative write on wireless system. Keep up the good work and keep sharing such useful information. Share something on how to secure your wireless system and on VPN. Great deals are live this Black Friday like

PureVPN’s Black Friday VPN Deal With More Than 88% Off offering 5 Year Plan for $1.32/m per month and total $79.

melaniestaines

Thumbs up and thanks…

melaniestaines

Where are the tips?

Hi Dave
Can’t wait much longer, need to either put in Synology mesh to extend my 2600 router, or scrap it and buy another mesh system (ouch), any hints or preview you are willing to share of your review findings so far?  
Greg

I have just completed the installation of a MR 2200ac Synology Mesh router extending my 2600AC to my entire house. I started by following the instructions to set the two units physically together and go through the setup process via a wireless connection, then moved the 2200ac to the other side of my house and connected it via ethernet (for a wired ethernet backhaul) between the two units. It took a while for the units to complete each step, but the process was fairly painless and the units now appear to be working flawlessly. Speeds are at the max expected… Read more »

jforbush

I wonder how the new UniFi Dream Machine (and the pending “Pro”) will fare?

Hi Dave! Any updates on your Synology mesh test?

thanks, I will try

@Dave, thanks for the great comparison. Since you’ve used them all I wonder if you could answer 2 questions? Is there any other difference in the Ubiquity Gamer Edition? And do you HAVE to connect a social media account to do remote administration or can you creat an account with username/password?

Thanks!

John Kheit

Great compendium Dave. Any chance you might add the Synology mesh to this list? Also, any thoughts on if when we will see AX and/or AD added to these mesh offerings?

ari

@Dave Hamilton sounds good — I’m already such a huge fan of Synology that it might be nice to just use their mesh and be done with it. Looking forward to that review!

jkdawson

I got the two node Orbi system for a little over $200 back in Black November and it has been great. The three node (AC3000) system is regularly available at Costco for for about $300. A friend of mine put one of those in his more challenging for wifi home and it has also worked out very well. In both cases, wifi performance now matches the performance of ethernet direct to the cable modem anywhere in the house. The Orbi app and admin web page both are mediocre. Strangely, there are some functions one can only do on the app… Read more »

Great article. With the demise of Apple’s offering, the search for a worthy replacement has been daunting. This article definitely helps. However, I recently switched to CenturyLink fiber 1Gbs service. I’m told I don’t need a modem if the router supports PPoE and VLAN tagging. Do any of these mesh systems support those?

davidson

Thank you so much for info!

dth-boise

Nice article. Can you also visit how well Apple AirPlay works with the various mesh Wi-Fi systems? I installed Google WiFi and it substantially degraded the Airply performance between a newer iPad and older Apple TV located just 3 feet away.

thanks for that  

Azcaddyshak

In the conclusion, you cited Plume’s adaptive management service as one of the features that earned Plume its recommendation. However, I have scanned the article (albeit from my phone) and cannot find any mention of such a service. Can you help me by pointing to what I am missing?

thanks for that 

theweekend99

Thanks for this article! 🙂