Whether you live in a prewar apartment with thick plaster walls, a tall and stretched-out townhouse, or a sprawling ranch-style home, you probably know that getting a wireless signal from your router to the spot you happen to be in isn’t always so easy — especially if you’re relying on the combination modem and router you got from your internet service provider. That problem is increasingly important now with so many of us working from home — often alongside kids attempting to learn remotely.
Until a few years ago, the only solution for wireless dead zones (other than getting up and moving somewhere else) was to buy a range extender. These devices take the signal from the edge of your Wi-Fi coverage and use it to create a separate Wi-Fi network, says Steve Koenig, VP of research at the Consumer Technology Association. “The extender just propagates the signal,” he says. They work, to a degree. But you’re constantly switching back and forth between Wi-Fi on your devices, looking for the stronger signal (and often finding neither to be adequate).
The new mesh networks, on the other hand, work quite well. “A wireless link is created between each mesh node, and clients (laptops, mobile phones, TVs, etc.) connect to the mesh nodes,” says Tom Carpenter, CTO at Certified Wireless Network Professionals. Placed strategically around your home, these nodes leapfrog your Wi-Fi signal to hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. According to Koenig, mesh networks handle connectivity in the same way that our cell phones connect to different towers: “A signal is handed off to another tower as we move around, and that’s exactly how these systems work at home.” As you move through your home, the system is constantly figuring out which node has the strongest signal and automatically connecting you to it.
We spoke with Koenig, Carpenter, and two other experts to help you figure out which system is best for your home. With the right one, you’ll never have to watch another movie in your closet or take a video conference call from that sweet spot under the dining room table again.
The best-designed mesh Wi-Fi system
Google’s second-generation system comes with two nodes and can cover as much as 5,400 square feet, almost double the range of the original Google Wifi. It has a simple, elegant design that wouldn’t look out of place on a bookshelf, and it comes in three colors, in case you want to match it to your décor. Miguel Melendez, a senior technologist at B&H Photo, suggests the Nest system for users who are already in Google’s smart-home ecosystem or are interested in it. Each of the access points is basically another Google Nest home device, with a built-in speaker and Google Assistant. Setup is super-simple, too, he says. And you can buy the router and access points separately. That way, if you have a smaller home, Melendez suggests buying the router first and adding nodes later if needed.
The best-value mesh Wi-Fi system
Eero introduced the idea of mesh Wi-Fi to the world in 2016. The company is now owned by Amazon, which brought down the price by nearly half, making them the best bargain, by far, in a relatively expensive category. This newest Wi-Fi 6 version won’t be available until November 2, but you can preorder it now. It’s being touted as the fastest dual-band Eero system yet and can cover up to 5,000 square feet. Like the older mesh points, they are small, discrete, and can handle the needs of many households, however, the newest iteration also comes with two Ethernet ports and a built-in Zigbee smart-home hub. Damien Corr, digital product manager and IT consultant at Systems Evolution Inc., says, “The price is right and it’s not unduly clunky.” According to Dan Seifert, deputy editor at our sister site, the Verge, “Eero’s prior products have had a great user experience, and other Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers that have come out before haven’t been as nice to use. It will be interesting to see if Eero is able to preserve its user experience while providing the performance benefits of Wi-Fi 6 in the new system.” Another benefit, Seifert says, is that existing Eero owners will “be able to integrate the new Wi-Fi 6 system with existing units, which isn’t possible with Netgear’s Orbi and others.”
The fastest Wi-Fi mesh system
This pricey two-piece system launched in late 2019. It’s based on the newest, fastest Wi-Fi 6 technology and uses dual bands of 5GHz (as compared to 2.4GHz signals, which are slower but have a longer range). Our experts tells us that setup is easy and the app is easy to use. But is it worth the money? Yes, they say, depending on your needs. Not only does the Orbi 6 permeate every last corner of even the largest home, the added power and top speeds of almost 900mbps will handle the needs even the most extreme users. “This is simply the highest performer, which is also aimed at multiple-device gaming and other high-bandwidth folks,” Corr says.
The easiest-to-use Wi-Fi mesh system
This powerful and stylish system is simple to install and is designed for larger homes. The small, circular touchscreen on the router conveniently shows you information at a glance, like current internet speeds. The mesh points are a bit bigger than other brands, but they plug into the wall and tend to offer more coverage and multiple ways of positioning them for optimal reception. “Ubiquiti is very well known and established in enterprise networking equipment. They have a good track record,” Melendez says. He recommends it for most homes because of its combination of reliability and ease of use. “The accompanying mobile app is well designed and probably the best one I have personally used in this space,” he says.
The most customizable mesh Wi-Fi system
This mid-priced system is a little larger than Eero or Nest and comes with two identical pieces, both of which can work as the router or the satellite device. Installation is simple and takes only ten minutes. For quite a bit less than the Orbi 6, the ZenWiFi AX is Wi-Fi-6-enabled and has similar speed and performance. But what really makes it special is the depth of controls offered on the app, which lets you see exactly what is connected to the network and how each product is performing, as well as setting basic parental controls. “This is a powerful system that supports even more connected and demanding devices,” Corr says. “If your family has extra streaming needs or uses a higher density of connected home devices, this is a solid choice.”
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.