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An introduction to Wi-Fi mesh networking with the Singtel Wi-Fi Mesh

By Kenny Yeo - 20 Aug 2017


What is a mesh network?

A true mesh network allows nodes in the network to communicate with each other. It is designed to be efficient and resilient.

Mesh networking aims to change the industry, but to be absolutely honest, it has already been around for the past couple of years even in the consumer space. Smaller brands have started selling wireless mesh networks, but these are often offered only by startups and smaller players and were not officially available for sale locally (Singapore). It was only recently that big established names like Linksys and Netgear started introducing their own mesh networking systems and the general public started taking notice of alternate networking solutions.

From a networking business industry perspective, the concept of mesh networks have been around for much longer. This video from Trilliant, a networking and communications provider in US, sums up the idea of mesh networks in about a minute:-

Mesh networking simply refers to a wireless distributed system. In other words, all mesh nodes can cooperate and contribute to the distribution of data in a network. This is particularly useful in solving the problems of dead spots in homes.

It gives homes the ability to have multiple access points (nodes), and these access points can cooperate to expand Wi-Fi coverage. What is unique and attractive about mesh networks is that only a single SSID is broadcast and it provides seamless roaming across an area. 


How is this different from traditional range extenders?

Range extenders are relatively inexpensive and can be effective in the right situations. However, they greatly compromise performance.

Range extenders are really only signal boosters. They work by amplifying an existing Wi-Fi signal. And if your Wi-Fi signal is already weak to begin with, what good is amplifying that signal? 

To make matters worse, because of the way that range extenders work and the fact that these devices can only transmit and receive data one at a time and not simultaneously, bandwidth is typically cut by at least half

In addition, range extenders broadcast a separate network of their own and often using another SSID. This means users might need to manually toggle between networks when moving around their homes to ensure they get the best connection.

Range extenders can only expand Wi-Fi coverage in a single direction as it is not feasible to add a range extender on top of another range extender. This limits the extent to which you can increase your coverage.

Another disadvantage of range extenders is that they only expand the network in a single direction. You cannot add a range extender on top of another range extender to further extend the network. However, you can with mesh networks, but more on this later. 

Mesh networks, on the other hand, are far more sophisticated - which also explains their higher costs. Rather than simply amplify or boost a signal, a mesh networking kit often consists of two or more routers or nodes. One of the nodes will be used to connect to your existing router or modem and will broadcast Wi-Fi like any other router, and you can expand coverage simply by adding more nodes to the network. Data will then be transmitted through these nodes to reach your client devices.

An important thing to note about these mesh networks is that unlike range extenders, these nodes communicate amongst each other using Wi-Fi, which makes them considerably speedier. Some mesh networking kits even have a dedicated network used solely for  backhaul communications and this can boost performance even more. 


What else is cool about mesh networking?

Mesh networking systems are more flexible and effective in providing Wi-Fi coverage over a large area. (Image source: Linksys)

Mesh networking systems are also more flexible when it comes to expanding Wi-Fi coverage. Unlike range extenders which can only expand Wi-Fi coverage in one direction, there’s practically no limit to how you can expand Wi-Fi coverage with mesh networking systems. In fact, you can even daisy-chain nodes to expand or bring Wi-Fi coverage to an area far away from your modem. This flexibility is often very useful for large homes or homes with odd layouts.

Take the home above for example. Let’s assume the termination point and optical modem (ONT) is located at the extreme right of the house, so this is where you would install one of the your nodes. With a mesh networking system, you can spread Wi-Fi across the house by putting another node near the middle and then another one at the extreme end. This ensures the home is sufficiently blanketed by Wi-Fi coverage. But this is only possible with a true mesh networking system (such as a Singtel WiFi Mesh or Linskys Velop).

Performance aside, mesh networks are also more convenient as they typically broadcast only a single SSID and will automatically keep devices connected to the node that provides the strongest connection. This allows users to roam freely about the house and not worry about switching networks or losing connection. And by using complex algorithms, the mesh network will automatically route data across the various nodes to client devices regardless of their position in the network.

Another example of a mesh networking setup. (Image source: Singtel)

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