How to Choose the Best Mesh Wireless System For Your Home

18 minute read
| How-To

[Update #5, August 11, 2018 – Added new Plume SuperPods and Deco M9 Plus hardware to the list, and started tracking Plume overall (and I’m impressed!). Updated a note in the buying advice section comparing the robustness of eero, Plume, Velop, and Orbi. See Changelog]

Mesh wireless systems are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Mesh networking technology now allows us to have high-speed coverage everywhere in our homes with no dead spots and, equally as important, simple setup and management.

There are a lot of products calling themselves “mesh”, and not all of them share the same features or capabilities. 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.

Sorting your way through this mess of mesh can be a bit tricky, especially as software updates roll out and features previously missing from one are added or enhanced. Remember: software can be changed after you buy, hardware cannot. And while hardware may seem to be the most important factor to consider when buying, you need to discern whether your vendor of choice is likely to update their software at a pace that’s acceptable to you.

I’ve personally tested every one of the systems here, and they all perform quite well. Still, there are specific features that we find important, and even more that you might find important. Read on, and we’ll teach you how to decide which mesh wireless system is right for you.

Summary Chart

Let’s do this in reverse and give you the overview right up front. If you need or want details, we’ve got them for you in spades, but here are the broad strokes.

Mesh Wireless Key Feature Summary

ModelWi-Fi
Radios
BufferBloat
QoS
Ethernet
Backhaul
Intrusion
Protection
Package

Price*

 Amped ALLY2 Yes$198
 eero3 (or 2)YesYes**Yes $399
 Google Wifi2Yes$259
 Linksys Velop3Yes $279
 Luma3 (or 2)No YesYes $129
 Netgear Orbi3Yes Yes*** $323
Plume3NoYes$399
 TP-Link Deco3 (or 2) No YesYes $299
 Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD2Yes**$339

*All prices are in USD for an Amazon Prime-shipped standard packages from each vendor, current as of the listed publication date. Amped ALLY, Netgear Orbi, and TP-Link Dco M9Plus come with two units (one base and one satellite) while all the rest come with three units (one base and two satellites). Other options are generally available, too.

**Ethernet backhaul is only available on devices with Ethernet ports, and the eero Beacons and AmpliFi Mesh Points both just plug directly into AC outlets and have no other ports available.

***Orbi’s Ethernet Backhaul continues to have issues. In our tests it works if you give it time.

Hardware: Streams/Antennas/Radios

The number of antennas describes both the maximum number of streams any one mesh access point can deliver simultaneously, as well as how flexible it can be in terms of getting the best connection to your existing devices. This is expressed by Transmit x Receive, which you’ll see written as 2x2, 3x3, and even 4x4 at times.

Mesh access points with two radios have one each of 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Devices with three radios include a second 5GHz radio for enhanced bandwidth to high-speed clients and/or backhaul (that being the communication between the mesh itself).

  • Amped ALLY: one 3×3 5GHz radio and one 4×4 2.4GHz radio.
  • eero: All first-generation eero devices have two 2×2 radios, as do the new wall-plug-only Beacons. New, 2nd gen eero units have three 2×2 radios within.
  • Google Wifi: Two 2×2 radios.
  • Linksys Velop: Three 2×2 radios in tri-band units, Two 2×2 radios in dual-band units.
  • Luma: Two 2×2 radios.
  • Netgear Orbi: Two 2×2 radios for your client devices, one additional radio only used for backhaul between the Orbi devices. The AC3000 units have a 4×4 backhaul radio, the AC2200 units have a 2×2 backhaul radio.
  • Plume: Three radios per SuperPod. One 4×4 and two 2×2.
  • TP-Link Deco: Three 2×2 radios in tri-band units (M9Plus), Two 2×2 radios in dual-band units (M5).
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Two 3×3 radios in all HD units.

Advice: In our practical experience, most homes do just fine with the basic two 2×2 radios. However, if you have a lot of client devices that are often simultaneously streaming data, having that third radio of the Velop or 2nd gen eero can be quite helpful. Additionally, if you have a very long backhaul between mesh points (stretching to an outbuilding, for example), Netgear’s AC3000 Orbi unit can maintain a 100Mbps connection over more than 100 feet of distance, including through walls.

Hardware: Ethernet Backhaul

Most of us buy mesh systems because our homes are not wired and we cannot easily run Ethernet wires in our walls. That said, if you happen to have wires in your walls (or plan to install them), that can make a mesh system remarkably more efficient. Ethernet Backhaul support means that the mesh access points will link with each other over Ethernet, freeing up the wireless radios for client communication.

  • Amped ALLY: Not supported.
  • eero: First and second gen eero units are all capable of Ethernet backhaul. The new Beacons lack Ethernet ports and, as such, are unable to use it.
  • Google Wifi: Supported.
  • Linksys Velop: Supported for everything except setup. Use Wi-Fi backhaul for setup, then once the system is working you can move the nodes to Ethernet cables and the system will automatically reconfigure itself.
  • Luma: Supported.
  • Netgear Orbi: Ethernet backhaul was added December, 2017 with firmware 2.1.1.12.
  • Plume: Supported.
  • TP-Link Deco: Supported for everything except setup.
  • Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: The base units are all capable of Ethernet backhaul, but the kits come with the mesh points that plug into the wall, and these do not have Ethernet jacks on them.

Advice: if you have wires between your rooms or plan to install them, make sure you get a system that supports Ethernet backhaul. Otherwise, don’t sweat it.

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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dth-boise
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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  

Member
Mahmoud BinJawad

Designed to blanket your home with wireless coverage, Wi-Fi systems are a hybrid of sorts, made up of several networking components. There’s a main router that connects directly to your modem, and a series of satellite modules, or nodes, that you place throughout your house

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

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.