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: 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.
  • Luma: Limited device prioritization feature, no real BufferBloat protection yet (they say it’s coming in a future update, but they’ve been saying that for a long time).
  • 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: No.
  • TP-Link Deco: No. Their QoS just supports 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. 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.
  • Luma: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Netgear Orbi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
  • Plume: 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.

  • 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.
  • Plume: Cloud only, and as soon as your internet connection drops the Plume Wi-Fi shuts off entirely, leaving you without local Wi-Fi access. They say a fix is coming.
  • 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

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jkdawson
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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 »

Member
curtisflloyd

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
Member
davidson

Thank you so much for info!

dth-boise
Member
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.

Member
Seran Seran

thanks for that  

Azcaddyshak
Member
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?

Member
Mary Lovato

thanks for that 

theweekend99
Member
theweekend99

Thanks for this article! 🙂

amazon004
Member
amazon004

thnkew for sharing this info 

Jay7
Member
Jay7

Great article, Dave! Thanks! I currently use a Time Capsule to do Time Machine backups and I have a couple of questions… 1. Are any of these units easier (or harder) to connect a Time Capsule to in order to continue backups? And, how is that connection made? 2. My Time Machine is starting to give me occasional issues, and so it might be on it’s way out. Do any of these mesh units allow easily connecting a hard drive (via either USB or ethernet) in order to do Time Machine backups that way? If so, which units allow that,… Read more »

pjs_boston
Member
pjs_boston

My setup uses an 802.11n Apple Time Capsule and an 802.11n AirPort Extreme connected in bridge mode using Ethernet backhaul. It covers my entire house and seems to work quite well.

I’m wondering if a newer mesh network would deliver any meaningful performance improvements compared to my legacy Apple setup.

Member
Edward Stavick

With the app release of version 2.17, eero introduced a new section in the app called eero Labs as well as the first feature in Smart Queue Management (SQM). This seems like their QoS implementation at the moment. Here’s what it does per Jeff, an eero Community Manager, unlike traditional QoS, which only allows specific devices to receive priority bandwidth at the expense of others, SQM works automatically across your whole system – removing confusing manual steps from the process, and making the overall internet experience better at any given moment. This means all devices can benefit from better queue… Read more »

Black_Dog
Member
Black_Dog

I installed the 3-unit TP-Link mesh in January 2018. While I have not tested all of the others, it works fantastically well with great coverage over our 2,850 sqft two-story home. In fact, there’s no where on our 5th acre lot that we cannot get reception, and it only weakens in the furthest corners of the lot. I would guess we are an average use home for which the network supports a desktop, a laptop, a couple iPads, three AppleTVs, two Apple Watches, four iPhones, and half a dozen HomeKit light devices. Only issue is that after three month one… Read more »

maersk777
Member
maersk777

Truly shines a very fact-based light on the this emerging home network technology, and the vendor offerings. Everything else that I’ve read up until this point has been opinion first – then only the facts that support that opinion. Thanks.

Member
krispucci

Huawei has also just recently announced their solution in this space.

https://www.cnet.com/news/huawei-wifi-q2-thinks-its-solved-wireless-router-problem/

pjs_boston
Member
pjs_boston

I’ll pass on anything from ZTE or Huawei. I’m not interested in having the Chinese government monitor my internet connection.

NicevilleSteve
Member
NicevilleSteve

To Mesh or not to Mesh that is the question. Dave, 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… Read more »

Member
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. https://www.plumewifi.com/

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

Member
Darren Trotman

Hi Dave,

Will any of these work with Strong VPN (Open VPN) or any VPN service provider?

jsafire
Member
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.
Jeff