The ideal smart home has changed a lot over the last few years, from a few smart bulbs and a thermostat to video doorbells and robotic lawnmowers. With an ever-growing number of connected devices in your home, there is an obvious bottleneck that can occur: Wi-Fi reliability.
The more devices you pile onto your network and the more widespread throughout your home they are, the more you’ll notice holes in your Wi-Fi coverage.
That’s why if you are planning on making your home smart, you should have a mesh Wi-Fi system.
What is a mesh network, anyway?
It should first be noted that wireless routers are much better than they were just a few, short years ago. They support faster wireless speeds to better match the speeds your internet service provider delivers. They can also deliver enough range to fully cover a 3,000-square-foot (279-square-meter) house… assuming it’s located near the center of the house.
A mesh network, on the other hand, is a combination of two or more wireless access points that communicate with one another to blanket your entire home with stronger, more reliable coverage. Almost all of the mesh kits available are incredibly easy to set up and use, and they can be tailored to suit your needs.
That means you can add more access points at will, with minimal setup, to bring Wi-Fi into parts of your home that were unreachable before. As CNET’s own Dong Ngo put it, “If you can use a smartphone and have plugged something into a wall socket before, you then can set up a mesh Wi-Fi system.”
How much does a mesh network cost?
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Mesh kits are still expensive. While you can get a stellar router for anywhere from $70 (£53 or AU$94) to upwards of $200 (£151 or AU$270), a starter mesh kit will set you back around $250 (£189 or AU$337).
If you’re prone to choose the most affordable router available, the price difference will feel significant. So, too, will the reliability of your wireless network. On the other hand, if you’re used to buying a higher-end router, the price will be more palpable, and you should see an improvement in the average performance of the network in the far reaches of your home.
Do I really need a mesh network?
The $300 question, of course, is do you really need a mesh network in your home? With the price of Wi-Fi systems still teetering between affordable and a bit pricey, it’s tough to recommend them for everyone.
Want to take an Alexa speaker outside while you cook or work? You better hope you have a strong enough Wi-Fi signal in your backyard. Want to turn the basement into the ultimate home theater with game consoles and streaming devices? This is what a mesh network is built for. (Well, for streaming anyway. For gaming, your best bet is and will continue to be a hard-wired connection for the foreseeable future.) Need a security camera on your detached garage? A mesh network might be the best solution.