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Very few technologies have taken over the world like WiFi, which started as a luxury, but has become a borderline necessity. WiFi connects everything from our phones to our smart assistants to our cooking tools to the internet, so it’s important to have a strong, rock-solid connection.
Recently, a new type of WiFi technology called “mesh router systems” has emerged to solve problems like troubleshooting bad connections, eliminating dead zones, and connecting to dozens of devices. Mesh router systems are a must-have tech upgrade for anyone living in a large space with a lot of people, or a house with lots of gadgets (which all fight for that WiFi connection).
If you’re still using the WiFi router your ISP (internet service provider) gave you, here’s why you should invest in mesh routers, and which one to get.
What is a Mesh WiFi Router System (and How Does It Work?)
Traditionally, most people have used a single WiFi router to provide internet to their entire house, which is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, your router placement is limited to the location of your cable modem, which is limited to the place where the cable line was placed in your house.
If that’s in a corner of a far away room, or an attic or basement, the signal isn’t going to be strong enough to reach everywhere you need the internet. Second, every WiFi-enabled device will be using one router at the same time, which can cause network congestion and lower connection speeds.
Finally, there’s no way to extend your WiFi network without using repeaters, which amplify the distance of your signal, but sacrifice network speed.
Mesh WiFi Routers fix both of these issues. Instead of having one router, mesh WiFi systems come in a package with two or three units that you place in different parts of your house. Each router in the system connects to one another to create a single, strong WiFi signal throughout your entire place, and your devices connect to the mesh router closest to them, which clears up network congestion.
Don’t worry, if you’re unsure about whether you want to fully invest in a mesh router system, you can buy one mesh-capable route and buy more over time. That flexibility lets you customize your WiFi network based on your personal needs, and lets you adapt as your living situation changes.
How Do You Set Up a Mesh WiFi System?
Setting up multiple WiFi routers seems like an annoying, time-consuming task, but in my experience, it only takes about a half hour. Here are the three big steps:
First, determine the location or locations you’d like to set up your mesh routers. One needs to be connected to your cable modem through an Ethernet cable; the other ones just need to be plugged into power.
Next, connect one mesh router to your cable modem, and plug the other ones into the other parts of your house or apartment (via a regular outlet).
Finally, download the app associated with your mesh WiFi routers (the ones we’ll recommend work with iOS and Android devices) and run through their setup process.
That’s it. All of the controls — checking your network speed, diagnosing problems, adding additional mesh routers — is handled through an app. In reality, you’re probably not going to open the app after you set the routers up, but it’s good to have quick access to your settings in case something goes wrong.
Which Mesh Router Do We Recommend?
Based on personal experience, I’m recommending mesh WiFi routers from eero, the startup who kickstarted the recent boom in this technology. The company has three different sets of mesh networks, which are suited for different types of apartments or homes, and I’m going to break down each one below.
All of these routers use the same app, and have the same underlying technology; it’s just a matter of how big your place is, and how many devices you have.
1. Eero Mesh Wi-Fi Router
If you’re just dipping your toes into the world of mesh WiFi routers, and live in a smaller place, eero’s standard option is a good place to start.
You can get a single router, which creates a network that covers up to 1,500 sq. ft. with speeds of up to 550 Mbps. It works on both 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz wireless frequencies, which clears up network congestion, and allows both newer and older devices to work at their maximum speed.
You can expand your network by getting a two-pack or three-pack of the standard eero router, which increases its range to 3,000 and 5,000 sq. ft. respectively, but drops the maximum network speed down to 350 Mbps.
This drop seems significant, but most popular internet plans have speeds between 200 and 400Mbps, so you likely won’t notice any reduction in speed. Additionally, in my experience, eero routers have consistently over-performed in speed tests, so I find the company’s numbers conservative.
A single eero router is worth it for people living in a studio apartment without a lot of smart home accessories or WiFi-enabled technology. The improvement in network speeds and consistency — and the ease of setup — will be a big jump over traditional WiFi routers.
2. Eero Pro With Beacons
If you live in a multi-room apartment or small home, your best bet is Amazon’s eero Pro with beacons.
This package comes with three routers: one eero Pro, which connects to your cable modem over Ethernet, and two “beacons,” which get plugged directly into your walls. Beacons don’t have any sort of cable; rather, they connect to your wall via a built-in plug, and resemble a night-light. In fact, they even have a night-light on the bottom, which is great if you connect them in a hallway.
The downside to the beacons is that they have no Ethernet jacks on them, so if you’re using a smart-home accessory or computer that requires a physical connection, you’re out of luck.
This WiFi system can creates a network up to 5,500 sq. ft. with a maximum speed of up to 350Mbps. Like the standard eero, the Pro system works on 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz wireless frequencies. The reason eero calls this system “Pro” is because the router plugged into your cable modem is three bands instead of two. The additional band allows the router to connect to even more devices without sacrificing network speeds.
If you want to create a larger mesh WiFi network with as few wires as possible, the eero Pro with Beacon system is a good choice.
Eero Pro (1 Pro + 2 Beacons), $399, available at Amazon (Additional Beacons can be purchased for $149 each.)
3. Eero Pro (Three-Pack)
If you have a large house, a lot of devices, or a home with very thick walls, eero’s Pro Mesh WiFi System is the ultimate upgrade.
The system comes with three, full-sized three-band eero Pro routers, and can create a network that can cover an area up to 6,000 sq. ft. The network will have a maximum network speed of 550 Mbps, and the routers work on both 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz wireless frequencies.
The larger routers will take up more space, and you’ll have to deal with three power cables instead of the one that comes with the eero Pro + Two Beacons system, but it’s a worthy tradeoff for the extended range and increased speed. Again, the other eero systems will most likely be able to take advantage of your maximum internet speed, but getting this one is like getting a little extra insurance.
Eero’s Pro Mesh WiFi System was designed for larger homes, and will likely be overkill for most people. It’s great for offices and restaurants too. Its faster maximum speed futureproofs them a little more, and can be a great option for people who also want fast WiFi on a front porch, or big back yard.
4. Mix and Match
Eero has three pre-specified router systems, but one of the big advantages of using mesh routers is that standard eero routers, eero Pro routers, and eero Beacons are all compatible with one another, so you can create your own bundle based on your living situation and preferences.
For instance, you could pair a regular eero with an eero Beacon, for a less-cluttered but further-reaching network. Or, get two full-sized eero Pro routers and a regular eero if you have a larger first and second floor, but smaller furnished basement. The one eero router that cannot be used on its own is an eero Beacon, because it cannot connect to your cable modem.
There are a lot of opportunities to get creative, and you can build up your ideal system over time. Eero has a strong track record of supporting older devices, so you’ll be able to integrate new routers into your system without having to replace the ones you currently own.
If you’re ready to have total control over your WiFi router setup, I strongly encourage you to consider all of your options. There are no wrong answers, but one may be a little more right.