It wasn’t that long ago when a home Wi-Fi system was only necessary to connect a few computers and maybe a smartphone. Today, it seems that everything that’s electronic in a home requires an internet connection, from tablets to televisions to smart appliances. Traditional routers can’t always handle the load required to connect to all of those devices. It’s here where mesh Wi-Fi systems come into play.
In this article, you’ll learn more about this new type of Wi-Fi system for the home and hear more about three of the most talked about Wi-Fi mesh products on the market, Eero, Google Wifi, and Orbi.
What Is Mesh Wi-Fi?
In a home environment, most people have a modem from a service provider connected to a traditional Wi-Fi router, which allows users to connect to the network wirelessly. Depending on the size of your home, a Wi-Fi extender might be necessary to eliminate Wi-Fi dead spots. As its name implies, Wi-Fi extenders take your existing Wi-Fi signal and repeats it to extend the range.
Wi-Fi extenders require that you use a new network name, called an SSID. Depending on the number of extenders you use, this can be a major hassle, especially when using mobile devices since you need to manually change the network to use, depending on where you are in the home. Extenders also tend to weaken Wi-Fi speeds, depending on how far they are from the router.
With a mesh network, a network connection is spread out among various nodes that “talk” to one another. In doing so, they share the network connection across a larger area, thereby saving you time. Additional advantages of using a mesh network include easier setup and control over traditional systems, automatic system updates through the use of mobile apps, and more.
First introduced in 2015, the first Eero mesh Wi-Fi system launched in February 2016. Each Eero unit measures 1.3 inches tall and 4.75 inches wide. You connect one unit to your modem, with additional units recommended for every 1,000 square feet of living space.
Like other mesh products in this article, you perform most of the setup work for Eero using an app for either iOS or Android. The first unit pairs with the mobile app via Bluetooth; additional units are installed to the network automatically.
Setup includes the ability to name your network, set passwords, setup a guest network, name individual units, test internet connection speeds, and more. You can also use the app to schedule downtime, which is ideal for homes with kids. Eero connects to a cloud, which issues updates, diagnostics, and fixes to the system.
Eero uses TrueMesh, which the company claims “means that your Wi-Fi is not only fast and resilient, but also intelligently adapts to your home.” It does so by looking for the best route for data to take in the home to avoid interference. It works with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
Since first launching, Eero has added support for Amazon Alexa. The integration allows you to communicate with Eero using your voice. For example, you can ask Alexa which Eero unit controls your laptop, or ask it to pause the internet.
Most of the reviews floating around the web note that Eero is among the easiest mesh networks to setup. It’s also received criticism for being one of the most expensive.
CNET notes that “the hardware is well designed, easy to use and you can quickly scale up your home network by adding more units.” However, “the system is expensive, not fast enough for bandwidth-heavy local tasks and requires you to connect to Eero’s servers to manage it.”
Business Insider justifies the higher price, explaining that with Eero, “you truly get what you pay for, which is strong, fast WiFi wherever you go in your home.”
The newest mesh solution on this list, Google Wifi, launched towards the end of 2016. It’s noted for being one of the least expensive mesh products on the market, and also the tiniest. Each unit measures just 4.17 by 4.17 by 2.7 inches. Google says that a single unit can cover a 1,500 square-foot home.
Like Eero, Google Wifi includes both a 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band, with setup and maintenance performed on a mobile app. You can also use this app to share your Wi-Fi password, see the devices online and prioritize them for better performance. The Google Wifi app also offers family controls, allowing you to pause the signal to individual devices at certain times.
With Google Wifi, you connect to Google’s servers 24/7, for better or worse.
Early reviews suggest Google Wifi is just as good as Eero, yet at a lower price.
The Verge, for example, says “Google Wifi strikes a nice balance between price, performance, and ease of use.” It concludes that “if all you care about is raw performance, Orbi is a better router, but for overall experience, including cost and maintenance, Google Wifi is an easier system to use.”
Meanwhile, CNET says “Google Wifi is the best Wi-Fi system on the market.” Nonetheless, they admit that some might not want their home network connected to Google at all times.
Netgear’s Orbi first arrived on the scene in late 2016. One Orbi unit connects to your modem, with satellite units placed in key spots. Each unit measures 6.67 by 2.36 by 8.89 inches. An Orbi system (one router, one satellite) provides Wi-Fi coverage of up to 4,000 square feet.
Like other Netgear products, Orbi setup is primarily performed on a web page, accessible through your home computer or mobile device. You can also use the Orbi app, which provides step-by-step directions. At launch, this app isn’t nearly as robust as the ones offered by Eero and Google Wifi.
Unlike the other two solutions on this list, Orbi creates a dedicated connection that functions between each Orbi unit to transmit internet data. Netgear says this dedicated connection leads to faster connection speeds on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
They note that “Orbi’s Tri-Band system creates a high capacity superhighway, while other systems experience slow speeds, as you add units.”
Business Insider found that Orbi performs slightly better than Eero regarding recorded download speeds. However, in “real life,” they didn’t see much of a difference.
The reviewer noted, “There was no perceivable difference between the two systems. I could browse the web and stream YouTube and Netflix videos just as well with the Eero as I could with the Orbi.”
In a separate post, Business Insider praised Orbi for its “great performance” and “sleek design.” Still, it thought that each unit was “large” and setup not “as easy as Eero or Google Wifi.”
The Wirecutter didn’t agree, claiming the “two-unit Orbi kit is faster and easier to set up than every three-unit kit we tested.”
What’s Best for You?
My research failed to find an overly negative review for any of these mesh Wi-Fi systems. Each received high marks for reliability and performance. Setup and price were two areas of concern, however.
Most celebrate the easy setup for both Eero and Google Wifi, while Orbi gets high marks for its wireless range. Eero, while receiving major kudos overall, has often been criticized for its premium price tag.
For most folks, Google Wifi is probably the way to go. For those in a larger home, Orbi’s probably the answer. Because it’s been around a little bit longer, you might want to choose Eero. Look for occasional discounts through Amazon.com or another retailer.
The bottom line: If you’re looking to eliminate a Wi-Fi dead spot in your home, you can’t go wrong with any of the solutions presented here.
Which mesh solution are you using in your home and why? Let us know using the comments below.