Mesh vs. Single Point WiFi Routers: Which One Should You Use?
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If there’s one thing we can all agree on, especially right now, it’s that having fast WiFi is non-negotiable. You can always contact your ISP (internet service provider) to upgrade to a faster internet package, but you can get the most out of the one you’re paying for now with a good WiFi router.
There are two styles of WiFi routers available right now: single point, and mesh. Each has its own sets of pros and cons, which we’ve broken down below. It’s important to stress that neither router type is perfect, and both share a lot of similar technologies. Once you’ve decided which type of router works best for you, check out our recommendations for the best option in both categories.
What Are the Best Routers?
Both mesh and single-point routers do the same thing: send and receive wireless signals that connect all of your devices to the internet.
As the name suggests, a single-point router sends its signal from one place. It has multiple antennas that can be pointed in multiple directions, so all of the devices in your house get a strong signal. The downside is that this one router has to maintain a connection from all of your devices, which can lead to network congestion.
Its signal may also be compromised depending on the room it’s in, and the materials of your ceilings and walls. Those issues are present in all wireless technology, but they’re the problems that led to the creation of mesh WiFi routers.
A mesh WiFi system is made up of multiple routers connected in different parts of your home. One mesh router needs to be connected to your cable modem with an Ethernet cable, but the satellite routers only require power. Each router connects to one another to create a larger network, and your devices connect to the router it’s physically closest to, which relieves network congestion.
These satellite routers are more powerful than a standard WiFi range extender, and you can monitor all of the routers in a mesh system inside a single app. The biggest downside to a mesh WiFi router system is that you need to keep routers plugged into outlets in multiple rooms of your home. If you live in an apartment, or older house with fewer outlets, this may be hard to justify. It can also be a little off putting to have WiFi routers strewn throughout your house.
Mesh vs. Single-Point Routers: Which One is Faster?
The biggest advantage of using a single-point router is its speed. Many have started to adopt WiFi 6, a new, faster wireless standard capable of speed of up to 4,804Mbps (Megabits Per Second). Mesh routers, which generally use WiFi 5, tap out at 1,300Mbps.
Most internet plans offer speeds of roughly 200Mbps, so both single-point and mesh WiFi routers allow you to get the most out of your network. But, as you connect more devices, the extra bandwidth comes in handy. Keep in mind the numbers I mentioned are the maximum potential speeds you can get out of these routers. Your actual internet speed will depend on router placement, and the location of your other tech.
While single-point routers do well in the speed category, mesh routers perform better when it comes to range. Because there are multiple routers, you’re going to get a more consistent signal spread across a larger area. For example, the mesh WiFi system we’re recommending is rated to cover an area up to 5,500 square feet. The company who makes our single-point router pick doesn’t list its range anywhere.
The Bottom Line
If you live in a smaller place, and care more about speed than range, your best bet is a single-point router. If you live in a larger area, and like the idea of having a network with no “dead zones,” you should invest in a mesh WiFi router system.
The number of WiFi-connected devices, their distance from your router(s), and materials in your home will have a big impact on your experience using the internet, but getting good hardware can help neutralize those issues.
Best Mesh Router: Eero Mesh WiFi Routers
Eero, a startup acquired by Amazon in 2019, is responsible for popularizing mesh WiFi router systems, and its Pro system is still the one we recommend.
It comes with three routers: An Eero Pro, which needs to be connected to your cable modem with an Ethernet cable, and two eero Beacons. The Beacons can be plugged in anywhere, and have a discrete look that helps them blend in with lighter colored walls.
Eero says this system has a maximum range of 5,500 sq. ft., and can achieve speeds of up to 1,300Mbps. I’ve personally tested this mesh WiFi system for several years in a two floor condo with notoriously harsh conditions. The system worked very well, with consistent speeds and no dropouts, even when more than a dozen devices were connected to the same network on different floors.
You can set up and troubleshoot Eero’s routers by downloading its app (iOS and Android). It has a very easy to understand interface, which makes testing your internet speed, seeing if a router isn’t working properly, or changing your password very simple. These settings used to be hidden behind hard-to-understand web interfaces, so this is a big upgrade. Another nice feature is that these routers automatically update themselves overnight (you can specify the time), to add new features and patch security holes.
Ease of use and consistent performance are why I personally recommend Eero mesh routers for anyone looking to upgrade from the one provided by their ISP.
Best Single-Point Router: TP-Link AX6000
TP-Link’s AX6000 is the perfect example of a modern, powerful, single-point router.
It has eight individually-adjustable antennas, and supports WiFi 6, giving it a maximum speed of 4,804Mbps. Although TP-Link doesn’t list its range, the company says this router supports a technology called BSS Color, which reduces interference, and Beamforming, which allows it to focus its signal in the direction of connected devices.
Under the hood, the AX6000 has a lot of power. Its 1.8Ghz quad-core processor was designed to ensure stable performance, and its eight Ethernet ports let you create a large wired network if necessary. Wired networks are still faster and more consistent than wireless ones, and plugging in a few devices reduces WiFi signal congestion.
You can set up and manage the router through TP-Link’s Tether app (iOS and Android), which gives you advanced options like per-device parental controls, or the ability to group multiple devices under a single profile.
If you create a profile for all of a kid’s devices, for example, you could automatically cut internet from them at a certain time at night. You can also set up content filtering, so certain devices can’t access certain content. Finally, the AX6000 has built-in antivirus monitoring, and auto updates to protect you from new threats.
TP-Link’s AX6000 is a fantastic choice if you need an ultra fast, powerful WiFi router with excellent parental controls.
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