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, Subnet Configuration, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. No IPv6 yet, though it’s under consideration. Version 3.5.0 ads 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. No KRACK patch as of last article update.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.

Both eero and Linksys Velop are worth considering, especially given eero’s 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. It’s worth noting that the Velop currently comes in one form-factor, and that’s the unit that has three radios (tri-band) and two ethernet ports. A Velop three-pack is currently $429. eero comes in a few different configurations. For $349 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 $466.

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. While the Orbi doesn’t yet support Ethernet backhaul, each unit does have 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 2.1.1.12 and 2.1.1.16 introduced Ethernet backhaul along with 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.]

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.

If Luma is truly able to add BufferBloat QoS to its system, at less than $200 for a 3-pack that will be a huge advantage. Time will tell!

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.

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. 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.

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

  • 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

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, 2.1.1.12 and the current-as-of-this-comment 2.1.1.16) 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.
    Jeff

  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. https://www.plumewifi.com/

    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.

    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 page specifically talking about virtues of using their routers to “Upgrade from Your Apple AirPort Routers” (https://www.synology.com/en-us/solution/AirPort_replacement).

    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

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