Network companies continue to produce new and more powerful products designed to help you build a faster network that can handle whatever you can throw at it. I wrote a networking article over a year ago but since then, much has changed enabling you to gain far more from your network than ever before. With a few upgrades, you too can have the fastest internet speeds on the block.
Modem – the first step in the internet connection coming into your home. It serves as the bridge between your local network and the internet. These are often provided by your internet service provider. (think of it as a water main)
Router – Connects multiple networks and routes traffic between them, the brain of your network. (think of it as an on/off valve that controls the flow of incoming water)
Wireless access point – A distribution point for a Wi-Fi signal (think of a sprinkler head, a point where the water is released)
PoE – Power over Ethernet, a way to power a device over twisted-pair cable.
Wireless Mesh Network – A network with nodes that can transfer data to and from one another, as well as other devices without a hardwired connection to the router. One of these devices acts as the gateway or router in the system and is hardwired to the modem. Google Wi-Fi, eero and Linksys Velop are a few examples I have used personally.
No two homes are ever alike when it comes to networking, even if they are the same layout. The wiring, placement of appliances and needs of the wireless network are just a few factors that will affect speed and reliability. Look at your home to see how much space you’ll need to cover. Homes that are 500-3000 square feet are often DIY-friendly. If you have more than that, I suggest you invest in a professionally designed and installed network to get the most speed, though you can do it yourself with the right tools.
Recently, wireless mesh network systems have become popular. They require only one ethernet connection to the main mesh repeater or router unit with additional repeaters placed throughout the home. In the past, they were very slow but the tech has improved a lot over the years and they now are a viable option instead of the standard wired router/WAP.
There are three scenarios where using a wireless mesh is usually better than a typical router or access point. The first one is if your home is not wired and it would be difficult to retrofit the appropriate cabling. I have installed wireless mesh networks in homes up to 8000 square feet without issue. The second is to save time and money, mesh systems are cheap and easy to install. Some can be had for around $300-400 and others can cost as much as $1000. They’re usually easy to set up with an app that gives you exact instructions for installation. The third is when you need Wi-Fi in places that can’t be wired, like a pool-house 10 feet from your home that is not actually connected and can’t be wired underground or through an attic. Wireless mesh systems can jump or hop Wi-Fi over very short distances with ease and for little money when compared to other options.
The downside of the wireless mesh networks is the farthest nodes are usually the slowest points of the network and can bog down easily when many devices try to access the network. Mesh networks are often slower than conventional ones because the data has to hop between the nodes to reach the router. I do not recommend using mesh networks with high data loads, like a home with lots of Wi-Fi cameras or a good size home automation system that is installed.
I would say about 80% of the time, if your home’s WAPs and router are installed correctly, it makes the most sense to have a wired network instead of a mesh network. Wired networks still have many advantages over mesh networks, such ease of upgrading the wireless access points and routers, adding more WAPs as needed and not needing power at WAP locations if you can use PoE.
First find your modem, it will have either coax or fiber coming in from your internet service provider (ISP). This is where your network starts, with an outside internet connection. Some modems are all-in-one units that have a router and wireless access point built in. If you are installing your own router or mesh network, you will want to put the modem in bridge mode, which means your ISP turns off the router and WAP functionally of the all-in-one modem. In most cases, that can be accomplished with a phone call to your cable provider.
It’s important to explore all home networking options to find the best solution. If you need something that’s easy to install and will have only a light to medium network load, a mesh network will be a great option. If you are a medium to heavy user and have the proper wiring in place or can easily install proper wiring, a traditional wired network will be the best choice.