How to Choose the Best Mesh Wireless System For Your Home


| How-To

Page 4: Geekier Features, Buying Advice, and Article Changelog

Screenshots of eero, Deco, and AmpliFi iOS Apps

iOS screens, left-to-right: eero’s main screen, Deco’s Antivirus, AmpliFi’s client details (click image for larger version)

Geekier Features: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, UPnP, KRACK

The features we listed in the previous sections here are generally the ones most people care about. That said, there are more than a few of us who have setups which require some of the geekier, more esoteric features of each router. We didn’t want to leave any of that out, so we’ve listed all of these features above as the subject heading here, and then in the per-device comments below we’re showing which features each of these systems supports.

  • Amped ALLY: Bridge mode, Guest Network, Subnet Configuration, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. No KRACK patch as of last article update.
  • eero: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Version 3.7 added IPv6 and Thread support, and 3.5 added KRACK patches.
  • Google Wifi: Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Bridge Mode is not supported for mesh configuration. KRACK patched with 9901.53.2.
  • Linksys Velop: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. KRACK added with 1.1.2 in December, 2017.
  • Luma: Guest network, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Bridge Mode and IPv6 are not. Subnet is limited to 192.168.55.x. KRACK patch with firmware 2017.12.08-0.
  • Netgear Orbi: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, UPnP, and Inbound OpenVPN Server are all supported. KRACK patch with 2.1.1.12 firmware.
  • Plume: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported.
  • TP-Link Deco: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Subnet defaults to 192.168.0.x and is not changeable by the user. KRACK Patch with 1.1.6 firmware.
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Firmware v2.4.3 adds KRACK patches.

Advice: For most folks these features won’t be deal-breakers, but guest network, bridge mode (also called access point mode), and IPv6 are popular enough that it’s worth considering those before making your choice.

Mesh Wi-Fi Buying Advice

There is no one system that makes sense for every scenario. For most folks in most homes, though, it’s hard to look past the TP-Link Deco right now. At less than $250 for a 3-unit system, it performs well and TP-Link has been very aggressive at adding features with regular software updates (they even just released their tri-band Deco M9 Plus, which shows their commitment to the mesh product line). It’s not the fastest unit, though, so if high speed and efficiency are top-of-mind for you, it’s worth expanding your budget and looking upwards.

eero, Linksys Velop, and now Plume are worth considering, especially given their new hardware that keeps the feature set and performance very high while keeping the costs down. Tri-band units are definitely more efficient, but they bring the cost up quite a bit. Velop now comes in two form-factors, the original, tri-band Velop three-pack is currently $399 and the new dual-band three-pack is $279. eero comes in a few different configurations. For $399 you get a tri-band 2nd gen eero base station and two dual-band eero Beacons that plug right into your wall outlets. To get an eero setup that’s similar to the Velop with three tri-band units currently costs $499. Plume is a slightly different beast, with the option of an annual or lifetime subscription to the adaptive management service and updates. For $399 you get three, tri-band Plume SuperPods and lifetime service. Plume also has the very best adaptive Wi-Fi that we’ve seen, with devices constantly being pushed around to the best access points and radios, resulting in a very efficient system.

The NETGEAR Orbi is worth considering, too, especially if you have a very long distance to cover between satellites. In our tests, the AC3000 Orbi with its 4×4 backhaul radio was able to reach a satellite 125-feet and two buildings away and still maintain a rock solid transfer at over 110Mbps in both directions. Orbi now has  support for Ethernet backhaul, and each unit does has 4 Ethernet ports, which can be handy if you’ve got more than one thing to plug into either your router or a satellite. [Update: OrbiOS 2.1.4.16 significantly improves the stability of their Ethernet backhaul connections.]

If you’re into the geekier details of your network, Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi HD is an option to consider. The AmpliFi iOS app currently has the most-detailed data available in terms of who is connected to your Wi-Fi network, and how. With it’s 3×3 radios, too, the AmpliFi HD has the ability to outperform some of the other systems, depending upon your specific scenario.

Google Wifi is in an odd spot in this market. It’s one of the fastest dual-band mesh systems available, but lacks some of the important features like BufferBloat protection, Bridge Mode, and Intrusion/Malware protection. For the money, there are currently better options available.

Which Mesh Wi-Fi System is Best?

The one question I can’t answer for you is, “which mesh Wi-Fi system is best?” I’ve personally tested every system mentioned here, and they all work very well. If you’re moving from a single router setup where you have some weak or dead spots, any one of these mesh solutions is very likely to bathe your home in Wi-Fi bliss.

I can also tell you that, price aside, the gen 2 eero is my current favorite hardware. It’s got three radios, setup is a breeze, the app provides enough detail to satisfy most of my inner geekiness, and it just works. But that may or may not fit your criteria or your budget. And it’s worth noting that the Plume SuperPods are a very close second on my list. If/when they get the software sorted out such that it doesn’t kill my Wi-Fi the moment I have an internet connection hiccup, it may well jump to first place for me.

The point of this piece is to teach you enough to make this decision for yourself. By now you’ve probably got a feeling about which units resonate with your scenario. Pick from those and you’ll be fine.

Update August 11, 2018I’m asked a lot about choosing between eero, Plume, Velop and Orbi. On the surface they all seem quite similar in terms of them being tri-band, higher-end units aimed towards the person who wants to spend a little extra money to get the right solution. Every time I’m asked this question, I wind up recommending eero because of eero’s robustness, though as noted above Plume is making a run for first place here. It’s important to note, though, that I tend to color outside the lines a little in my testing. I do a lot with Ethernet Backhaul, Bridge Mode, and other features that most people might not ever use. Recently I tried adding a unit to my Velop system to find that I couldn’t add a unit in Bridge Mode. It needs to be in normal/router mode. With my Orbi in Bridge Mode I tried changing the SSID and only one unit’s SSID changed while the others remained the same. I’ve tried both of these things with eero and they worked perfectly, just as expected. You may never try any of these things, but it’s worth noting that eero and now Plume tend to test and cover more edge cases than any of the others, and that’s important to me.

We’ll keep this article up-to-date as new updates and features are made available, and well track a changelog right here so you can see how this industry evolves, too. Mesh Wi-Fi is a fast-moving market, and we’ll help you stay as current as we can. If there’s a feature or a system you’d like to know more about, ask us in the comments below and we’ll take a look!

Article Changelog

  • August 11, 2018
    • Added Plume to the list, started tracking them and reviewed Plume in Mac Geek Gab 713. Added “lifetime” subscription price, though annual options are available.
    • Added the new Deco M9 Plus to the list.
    • As we’ve learned more about Deco’s capabilities, their engineers have confirmed for us that they do not currently have any BufferBloat protection, and we’ve updated everything to reflect that.
    • Since Luma still doesn’t have any BufferBloat protection, we’ve changed “Coming Soon” to “No” in the chart.
  • June 1, 2018
    • eero’s 3.8.0-1205 firmware (May 29, 2018) adds support for Bufferbloat-preventing QoS under the name “Smart Queue Management” in the (beta) eero Labs section of the App.
    • Linksys has released the dual-band version of the Velop, bringing a lower-cost alternative to its tri-band mesh product. All other features remain the same.
    • Added a note comparing robustness of eero, Velop, and Orbi to the Mesh Wi-Fi Buying Advice section.
    • Added a note about the continued issues with Orbi’s Ethernet Backhaul. In our tests it will work, but it often takes time (30 minutes) for the Orbi to “see” and map things properly.
  • March 30, 2018
    • eero’s 3.7.0-948 firmware (February 22, 2018) adds IPv6 and initial support for the Thread radio.
    • AmpliFi’s 2.6 firmware builds added in support for Hardware NAT, allowing full gigabit speeds for wired connections, plus the beginnings of 802.11 k/v/r support for faster/smoother roaming between access points.
    • Google Wi-Fi 10032.86.2 (February, 2018) adds some packet queuing improvements for voice and video calls.
    • Amped ALLY updates to 1.10.02 (January 26, 2018), with UI, stability, and memory management fixes.
    • NETGEAR continues to struggle with stability of their 2.1 series firmware. This brings major topological changes, including true mesh and Ethernet backhaul. NETGEAR has officially pulled the 2.1 firmware from autoupdates (their support site recommends 2.0.1.4), but on March 23, 2018 released 2.1.3.4 as a beta for some Orbi models, addressing quite a few issues and encourages users to test it. We’ve got it installed here. It’s too soon to tell yet, but we’ll keep on it for you.
    • KRACK updates for Linksys Velop.
  • December 13, 2017
    • NETGEAR’s Orbi firmware v2.1.1.12 (December 5, 2017) adds Ethernet backhaul. Combined with the daisy-chain topology introduced in October, this makes Orbi a full contender in the mesh scenario, especially for folks that already have some wired points in their homes.  Our ratings and preferences have not been updated yet based upon this… we need time to test, and we’re doing that now. [Update 22-Dec-2017: OrbiOS 2.1.1.12 and 2.1.1.16 introduced a torrent of reports about stability issues relating to Wi-Fi backhaul, many of which we have experienced in our test environment, too. We are suspending our testing of Orbi pending further updates.]
    • Orbi’s v2.1.1.12 firmware also adds Disney’s Circle for full-featured parental controls.
    • Google’s 9901.53.2 (November 29, 2017) adds the ability to edit the LAN IP address range, allowing folks to (finally) change their networks to something other than the 192.168.86.x range.
    • KRACK also added to Orbi, Google Wi-Fi, Luma, Deco.
  • October 18, 2017
    • Updated QoS and BufferBloat Protection to clarify that eero does not currently support any such thing.
    • Added KRACK to the Geekier Features list, noting patches from eero and AmpliFi. No one else…yet.
    • NETGEAR’s Orbi firmware v2.0.0.74 adds “daisy-chain topology”, which means one satellite can get its connection from another satellite. Previously all satellites had to talk back to the main router, effectively limiting range (though Orbi’s range has always been stellar). This is an improvement to that, and lets Orbi check the “actual mesh” box now.

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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Dave HamiltonAri Laquidaratheweekend99Jay7 Recent comment authors

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Mary Lovato

thanks for that 

theweekend99
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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

Member
a4avant

Great summary!

FYI – Velop now updated for KRACK as of 11/20/2017 – Firmware version 1.1.2.184933

http://downloads.linksys.com/downloads/releasenotes/WHW03_Velop_Customer_Release_Notes_1.1.2.184933.txt

pnielan
Member
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.

Member
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.

2old4fun
Member
2old4fun

How is this different from using two or three AirPort Extreme units as I do?

John Kheit
Member
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!

whshep
Member
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,… Read more »