If you are reading this you already know that there is a new kid on the block - the mesh wifi network system. While most people are still using old conventional routers, they have a few shortcomings. They are ok for small houses and apartments, but people with bigger places might find that they have more than a few dead spots of WiFi coverage in their home.
Best Mesh WiFi 2018
AC / Band
AC2200 / Three
AC1200 / Dual
AC2200 / Three
AC1200 / Three
AC1300 / Dual
AC3000 / Three
AC1200 / Dual
AC2200 / Three
AC1300 / Dual
YES / Charging Only
AC1750 / Dual
Whole home wireless coverage is now more important than ever. We are all so used to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime that we can't afford a dead wireless spot anywhere in the house. There are countless other services offering all kinds of life luxuries - smart home automation like Google Assistant and the almighty Amazon Alexa, wireless thermostats and other appliances, music streaming like Spotify and, I'm sure we're missing some, many more services and devices that require an active wireless internet connection.
So how do we cover the whole house with a reliable WiFi signal?
With a mesh wireless system, of course!
Editor's Choice - Netgear Orbi
We tested the Top 10 Mesh WiFi Whole Home wireless systems and the results are pretty conclusive.
We really think that the Netgear Orbi is by far the best mesh wireless system on the market at the moment. It outshines the competition in every aspect that we could think of - wireless speed, features and especially in the speed between the nodes themselves. The Orbi has a dedicated channel for communication between the Orbi nodes that improves the overall performance on the system by a mile. There is no signal lost while extending the network and there is no wireless speed cut when jumping from node to node.
Yes, the price is high but for the features and performance the ORBI is without any competition.
Whole Home WiFi
What Is A Mesh WiFi And How Does It Work?
Mesh WiFi, unlike traditional routers, doesn't rely on a single router rather than a mesh-style network of multiple devices that connect to each other and provide much wider coverage without sacrificing speed. They work in a very similar way to wireless repeaters but there is one major difference between them.
So what's the difference between Mesh WiFi and Wireless Repeaters?
As many people might know, wireless repeaters work in a way that they repeat the main router's signal while cutting the throughput in half, effectively cutting the speed in half too. If you daisy-chain them there will be no bandwidth left at the fourth or the fifth node, let alone more. That's because they use the same channel for sending and receiving, halving the speed too.
Wireless mesh units create a mesh-style network where every unit can connect to every other unit to relay the wireless signal. They use different channels for receiving and transmitting so there is no theoretical loss of bandwidth. Most mesh systems automatically select the most effective channel for communication so there is no interference and loss of signal.
The average mesh wireless kit includes two or three nodes (effectively, routers) which act like ancillaries to your wireless network. One of the nodes usually acts as a gateway that connects to your wired network or your ISP provided modem. The rest of them are then designed to communicate with each other and effectively expanding your wireless network and covering the whole house with wireless network blanket. Instead of relying on a single router to provide the signal to repeat it, each node of the mesh network talks to each other and expanding the network coverage with each additional node.
Like with a traditional router, one of the nodes is connected to the modem, but the main difference here is that with extending the range from the modem you don't lose speed anymore - they effectively cover all WiFi dead spots. The mesh nodes can be placed anywhere around the house and direction doesn't matter anymore, unlike the case with traditional routers. Each node transmits and receives a signal without cutting speed or bandwidth.
What Are The Main Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Mesh Network?
The main advantages of mesh wireless topology are as follows:
Additional devices will have no effect on the network speed.
If a single node goes down it won't affect the mesh network as much as if a traditional router goes down.
It can handle large amounts of traffic since communication doesn't get reduced in relay
Connected nodes can transfer data without losing speed like repeaters
It can provide a whole house wireless signal by blanketing the signal all over the place
The main disadvantages of mesh networks are as follow:
Price - single mesh nodes are usually the price of a decent router
Stability - while s traditional router has to deal with all the connected devices, a mesh node has to deal with those devices and the rest of nodes. that creates lots of traffic and the nodes need to be 100% stable in order to perform adequately.
Latency - sometimes the signal has to travel wireless from node to node to get to you so latency might get higher than usual - not ideal for gaming, for example.
Power Consumption - while the nodes don't consume a whole lot of power, it can really add up if you are using a number of nodes
Who can benefit from a Mesh Wireless System?
You have a agree with me when I say that mesh is not for everyone. In reality, there is no need to spend money on mesh if you live in a single story house or a small apartment. A good wireless router should be able to cover most small houses and apartments. Big houses and multi-story buildings are a whole different ballgame. They can hugely benefit from a mesh system, especially is they are currently experiencing dead spots of wireless coverage. Most routers, if any, cannot effectively provide reliable WiFi signal over more than two floors apart. Even in a traditional family house, you can find areas with a questionable signal strength. Mesh usually solves that problem and you can add as many nodes as you like to the system without severely impacting speed and bandwidth.
1. Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wireless – The Best Mesh WiFi
Until recently, the Netgear Orbi wasn’t a proper mesh networking solution but a mere router and extender setup. Netgear fixed that recently with their “daisy chain support” firmware which transformed the Orbi into a full blown mesh Wi-Fi networking kit. Now all the Orbi nodes can talk and communicate with each other regardless of which one is the router and which the extender.
The Netgear Orbi is an interesting bird too. While in theory, it is a tri-band system with six high-powered antennas, it uses the second 5Ghz band exclusively for background communication between the nodes. While it is labeled as an AC3000 wireless, the consumer is left with a mere 1266Mbps bandwidth spread between the 5GHz and the 2.4Ghz bands, making it an actual dual-band device. The 5G gets a total band of 866Mbps and the rest is going to the 2.4G – 400Mbps. A whole of 5GHz 1733Mbps is reserved for background communication between the Orbi devices. Let’s take a look at the results we managed to record:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
The positives far outweigh the negatives, though – the Orbi is the first mesh wireless that feels like a decent networking kit. Setup is easy and intuitive and the Orbi finally offers a web-based graphical interface that can be accessed from a computer. That’s a breath of fresh air compared to the Google WiFi and the Linksys Velop listed above. It has quite a lot of advanced options compared to the latter too – port forwarding, MU-MIMO like a proper router, beamforming and lots more.
There are more Gigabit LAN adapters on each unit than both Google WiFi and the Velop – three on the main router and four on each of the satellites. There is a USB 2.0 port too on each unit. The USB, according to the Genie App can only be used to share printers over the network, but we tried connecting a USB hard drive and we were able to access its contents over the network. Maybe with a new firmware update they will fix that eventually.
There are a few downsides too. For starters, like most mesh systems, it can’t work behind an existing router – it needs to connect straight to the modem or you will lose important features. The second one, which is existing in both systems above, is the inability to set separate 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. That’s not a big deal for most people, but I, for one, like to have them separately. Guest networking is available, on the other hand.
Overall, the Netgear Orbi is a solid system with many postivies and a few minor shortcomings. Highly recommended for both novice and advanced users if you can get by the high price tag.
2. Google WiFi – The Best Selling Whole Home Wireless
Google WiFi‘s team took over four years to design and compete Google’s mesh wifi system but I can’t help the fact that it feels a bit “simple”. I just can’t find better words to describe it so let’s take a quick look at the most important specs and features and if you don’t feel the same way about it at the end – please let me know why in the comments below!
Let’s start with the wireless – the Google mesh system offers dual-band 2×2 MIMO wireless on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously. Top speed is AC1200 or roughly 1200Mbps. It is not a lot but today’s standards, but it can easily saturate the most common home broadband connections. It supports beamforming and it is Bluetooth smart ready. It also automatically measures wireless performance and optimizes the wireless channel for minimum interference. Firmware updates are automatic too and there is no need to do anything about it.
It comes in two packages – one as a single unit and one as a pack of three. The single unit is designed to theoretically cover an area of around 1200 square feet and the pack of three is designed to theoretically cover an area of around 4000 square feet, give or take.
Each unit is powered by a USB-C port and it has two Gigabit LAN ports that can be used for connection between the units themselves, to a broadband modem or other network devices.
While they are pretty cool to look at and have a very nice, minimalistic design, they are nothing to write home about in terms of features and performance. The performance is OK for the most part, but the drop in network speed with each extension leads me to believe that there is no dedicated channel for communication between the separate nodes and each extension virtually cuts speed in half. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see above, Google WiFi is a capable performer if your broadband is slower than 100 Mbps. If you have to connect over two or more nodes apart from the main one your signal speed will suffer significantly.
Google WiFi is pretty basic too. It is perfect for inexperienced and non-tech inclined households as it doesn't offer ANY advanced features. No DyDNS, no port forwarding, no band separation, no channel selection and certainly no QoS or anything like that. Yes, the parental controls are well executed and they work well. Yes, you can group devices and pause them, but there is no MAC address filtering, no static IPs to certain devices, no DMZ zones, no manual traffic prioritization. I can go on, but I'll stop here.
To setup the Google WiFi you will need to connect it to your home broadband via a router - there is no modem included. Even worse, Google WiFi can not properly work behind a router. If your ISP provides you with a modem/router combo you can certainly use them together, but all the features that make the Google product unique will be disabled. What's more is that it can't be setup without a Google account. You have to have a Google account to use the wifi. Also, it has to have a constant connection with Google servers in order to work. It shares network data with Google and to me, personally, that's a major concern. Or maybe a paranoia on our end, but I really can't help feeling that my privacy is in danger and I'm maybe sharing a little more data with Google that I'd like to.
Overall, the Google WiFi is a very popular mesh WiFi kit, but it has more than a few shortcomings. The performance is pretty good if you don't extend the kit over more than one node. It is very simple to use and the price is right, but we feel that the Tenda Nova Wave is capable opponent that maybe offers just a bit more for a lot less money.
3. Linksys Velop Mesh Wireless – Better Than Google WiFi?
That’s where the differences between Google Wifi and the Velop finish, pretty much.
The Linksys mesh WiFi offers a very similar configuration to the Google option – three nodes pack for the somewhat similar price. See, the Velop used to be very expensive – it was often seen above the $500 mark, but recently the prices dropped and it could be found in the 400 dollars mark around Christmas and Black Friday.
Each Velop node features two gigabit LAN ports for wired connection to either a modem or between the nodes themselves. There is an On/Off switch on the bottom of each unit as well as a power plug.
The Velop, just like Google WiFi, it doesn’t feature USB port and you can’t connect any USB peripherals that can be shared to the network – like external hard drives, printers and such.
Wireless performance is overall acceptable, but stability was iffy at best in our tests. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see from the speed tests above, the Linksys Velop can saturate most home broadband conenctions up to about 100 Mbps. If you have anything faster than that, we are a bit envious. Besides that, you can't really take full advantage of your internet connection speed with a full Linksys Velop mesh WiFi.
True, you might be get a decent speed at the first node, but if you hop over to a second ot third in a chain the speed drop significantly. Not that you're supposed to daisy-chain them like extenders, but having jst one radio on each channel means that the Velop is basically a extender with cutting the speed due to having to use the same radio for communication between both the client and the main router.
Setup is both easy and complicated at the same time. The Velop, just like Google WiFi, doesn't have a built-in graphical interface. You have to use the proprietary Linksys App available for both iOS and Android devices. It takes a bit to get it right too - we had issues connecting to the setup initially, but that might've been due to a bug in the system. The second try everything was smooth as butter.
The main problem is that the Velop doesn't work behind most routers. Just like Google WiFi you'll have to connect ti straight to a modem or lots of important features won't work. That was the initial problem we had when trying to set it up - it just couldn't find the system connected to our broadband router. See, some providers don't offer just modems and insist on using their own proprietary routers and the Velop, just like Google WiFi, doesn't play well with others. You'll lost port forwarding and lots of advanced features, not that there are many to begin with.
Overall, the Linksys Velop is a decent performer, but the price is way too high for the performance it offers. If I have to choose Velop vs Google WiFi - I'll choose the Google product, as much as I dont' like it.
4. Eero WiFi System – What Started It All
Let’s take a look at the second generation Eero from the startup that actually triggered the whole mesh Wi-Fi revolution that we are witnessing lately. The Eero comes in a plethora of different kits and configurations – there are two “Home” editions with either one or two Beacons or a “Pro” edition with three full-featured Eeros.
The main difference between the first and the second generations of Eero is the introduction of the satellite units called Beacons. The beacons are not full-featured nodes like the previous version, but they have a few interesting features that somewhat make up for it and I’ll cover those in a bit.
Let’s start with the Eero design. It resembles the same slick square box like the first generation. It offers two Gigabit ports for wired communication and a single USB-C port for charging. The old style power connector has been removed, but the USB 3.0 port has been scraped as well. Unfortunately, the Gigabit LAN ports are available only on the Eero devices, the Beacons don’t have those and they can’t be connected to the main Eero with a wired connection.
In terms of networking features, the Eero, unlike the Orbi above, can take full use of all three bands, but the speed is a bit limited compared to the Orbi. The main Eero unit has a top speed of 240Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band and up to 600Mbps on each 5GHz band. The Eero Beacon have only two bands though – one 2.4 and one 5GHz.
Let’s take a quick look at the performance of the Eero:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see from the table above, the Eero is a competent performer but not really in the league of the Orbi system, let alone the expansion and customization options available inthe latter.
While the Eero Beacons have limited connectivity, they have a really cool feature - the LED lights on the bottom of the unit can illuminate around the area where they are plugged in. This is very usefuly if you connect them in a hallway or a dark room - they will help you navigate dark places at night without turning the lights.
Let's take a look at the shortcomings of the Eero mesh wireless system.
The first and main one is the absence of a USB port. For people who want to share USB printers and external hard drivers over the network that will be a disappointment.
The second one, almost equally important, is the absence of the option to connect the Eero and the Beacons via an ethernet cable. While this is not an issue for most people, it might be a breaking point for some of the more advanced users of Eero.
The third one is becoming a trend in recent mesh wireless devices - the absence of web interface and advanced features. While the Eero wireless does sport beamforming and MU-MIMO, there is no user customizable traffic prioritization or QoS. Eero claims that it is all automatic and it runs in the backgrounf, but I really think it would be nice to prioritize your online gaming when you are in a heated session over anything else, for example.
Another issues is the so caller Eero Plus - a subscription based security and parental controls. It offers grand services "advanced protection", "SafeSearch" and AdBlock / Content Filtering but for a steep price. The want to charge $9.95 for them a month or a single year license for $99. That's pretty expensive for a set of features available as standard no mose wireless routers sold today for a fraction of the price.
5. TP-Link Deco M5 – A Very Speedy Performer
Let’s take a look a the TP-Link mesh wireless interpretation. It comes in a few different kits, as well as a single unit. Unlike some of the mesh systems above, the TP-Link Deco M5 has no dedicated main router and lesser satellites – all Deco M5 nodes can play both roles equally – of both router and extender.
The Deco units are capable performers. The feature dual-band networking with a theoretical output of 1267Mbps maximum speed. That translated to up to 400Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 867Mbps on the 5Ghz band. They all have four internal antennas and support 2x2 multiuser – multiple input/multiple output connection.
Each Deco M5 node has two gigabit ethernet adapters on the back and a single USB-C connection for the power adapter. What it doesn’ have, as typical for mesh Wi-Fi units, is a built-in modem. The Deco M5 will have to be plugged in straight to the router if you want all advanced features to work – port forwarding, DNS and stuff like that. It doesn’t support manual DNS or IP settings and we couldn’t get the Deco M5 to work with a LAN printer connected to the original router that initially we used as a starting point of the network.
Being a dual-band setup led us to believe that the performance might be lacking compared to the Eero and the Velop but that couldn’t be further away from the truth. The TP-Link mesh Wi-Fi managed to blanket my two story house with a consistent and quite speedy wireless signal. Take a look at the results:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see from the table above, the Deco is one of the fastest mesh WiFi systems on the market today. Quite stable too - we didn't experience any lags or drop-outs.
Setting up the Deco M5 is very similar to most mesh WiFi systems, but unlike the Orbi, it too doesn't have web interface. To connect to the Deco M5 you'll have to download the Deco app, which is available for both Android and iOS devices. It uses Bluetooth connection to check in the first Deco unit connected to the internet. Once it verfifies it it will ask to setup wireless network names and all the advanced options. We had a few issues connecting to the Bluetooth connection of the Deco M5 and evidently we're not alone - quite a few reviewers report the same thing. We managed to get it working in the end but it took a few tries before it actually connected and started working.
Talking about advanced options, the TP-Link is very similar to the rest of the mesh family - it can't really compete with a full pledged wireless router. It provides guest networking and you are even able to hide your wireless network from your neighbours. It has basic port forwarding and traffic prioritization with five separate profiles - gaming, streaming, chatting, surfing and regular. Gaming performance over WiFi is questionable even with a good gaming router so I wouldn't imagine having a great ping in 3D shooters connecting over more than one mesh nodes.
There is another interesting feature of the TP-Link. it comes with a three yars subscription to Trend Micro antivirus protection for the whole network. Parental controls are well executed too - you can block certain sites from access, you can stop or pause network groups when you don't want the kids accessing the internet and so on.
Overall is a very capable system for an affordable price. It has all the advanced features that Google WiFi is missing and the price is right too. It is much faster than the basic first two kits and it comes highly recommended from the Zilla Best staff.
6. Zyxel Multy X AC3000 – Best Mesh WiFi Runner Up
The Zyxel Multy X is a capable AC3000 mesh wireless system. Unlike most mesh systems on this list, the Zyxel multi resembles an ordinary wireless router more than anything else that we tested. It’s quite big and bulky compared to the likes of Google WiFi, for example. The kit comes with a set of two devices with theoretical wireless speeds of up to AC3000.
Any of the Zyxel routers can be used as a main or satellite, there are no differences between them. Each device has 4 Gigabit LAN ports on the back along with a USB port, power connection, and a hidden reset button. Each device sports tri-band networking – a combination of a single 2.4GHz and dual 5GHz connections with a speed of up to 3000Mbps.
Setting up the Zyxel is done using the proprietary Multy X app that is available for most phones and tablets. It is an easy process that doesn’t take too much time, unlike the Luma experience. Once connected to the Bluetooth network, you just have to go through a quick questionnaire about the network name, location, and security settings. Once that is complete you can proceed to add the second unit.
The plethora of network ports and USB connectivity make the Zyxel Multy X a very well positioned product. You can connect external hard drives and printers to the USB 2.0 slot and share them effortlessly around the network. Parental controls and guest networking are executed fluently as well.
Let’s take a look at the results we managed to achieve with Zyxel Multy X mesh wifi:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see, the Multy X is one of the fastest mesh WiFi systems on the market today. They don't seem to cut signal like most extenders do either. I couldn't find much information whether the Zyxel has a dedicated channel for communication between the two nodes, but it certainly seems so according to the tests. I can't back this claim with technical data as I don't have access to the Zyxel's data - just an opinion.
The Zyxel Multy X is compatible with Amazon's Alexa and you tell Alexa to turn off the internet, turn off certain groups or disable the guest network by using your voice. It has some advanced features like port forwarding and traffic priotitization but all this stuuf works if you are behind a modem only. If you are behind an existing router you won't be able to see devices in the same network as the original router. The Zyxel doesn't support network bridge hence the invisibility of shared computers and storage devices.
Overall, the Zyxel is a capable mesh WiFi system with plenty of options. It works well with Alexa, it provides very fast wireless speeds with a very few faults. Maybe the biggest drawback is that the Zyxel is big and bulky and there is not much difference between most traditional routers and the Zyxel Multy X in terms of apperance.
7. Tenda MW6 Nova Wave 2 – The Best Budget Mesh
Tenda is a relatively unknown networking equipment manufacturer from China. You might have seen their budget range routers and extenders in various sales and stores, but they have nothing impressive about them, to be honest. The Tenda MW6 Nova Wave, however, is a whole different matter. It seems like a really well-made kit and it puts up a serious fight in the budget mesh WiFi segment.
The MW6 Nova Wave costs significantly less compared to most kits on this list, but the performance is not that far behind, especially considering the price. The Tenda mesh wifi comes in a pack of three separate nodes. They are very well made white cubes. Each Tenda cube has two Gigabit ports on the back of it – one for internet connection and one for home network devices. There is no USB port but you can really expect one for the price.
The Tenda Nova Wave is a dual-band device with a wireless speed of up to 1167Mbps. That translates to a max of 300Mbps on the 2.4Ghz and up to 869Mbps on the 5Ghz band. Of course, these speeds are theoretical and devices can rarely reach these top speeds. MU-MIMO is present and working well, as well as a 3×3 data streams. Let’s take a look at what the Tenda Nova Wave can do:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see above, the speed is not bad per se, but nothing phenomenal either. It is clear that the Tenda mesh wireless has no dedicated backhaul data channel and it effectively cuts data transmission in half with each node extension. Of course, mesh networking doesn't really work by extending each signal in a daisy chain, it works by blanketing your whole home in WiFi singal. All mesh nodes communicate with each other and they work together to ensure the best wireless connection possible at all times. In most cases, you will not see extension of more than one node away.
The Nova Wave setup is pretty simple - work like all the rest of the mesh WiFi systems on this list. Once you connect it to your internet modem and it indicated that it is connected to the internet, you can use the Tenda WiFi app to connect and setup all the important features.
Speaking of MW6 features, there aren't really many to talk about. Besides naming your wireless network and setting the password, the Tenda is pretty basic overall. There is no traffic prioritization or QoS. Port forwarding is very basic as well, although it is very basic. There are no DMZ zones or anything like that. Bridge networking is not present either.
Overall, Tenda's MW6 Nova Wave mesh WiFi system is a very good kit for a very good price. It rivals Google WiFi in terms of simplicity and easy of use. It offers very close wireless performance as well for a very lucrative price. We really think that the Tenda MW6 Nova Wave is the best budget mesh wireless system.
8. Asus Lyra Home Wi-Fi System – Should Be Better
Asus is one of the most interesting players in the gaming and accessories market. Arguably, it makes the best gaming wireless router – the ASUS ROG GT-AC5300, which edged all the competition in our gaming wireless routers test. Naturally, our expectation for the Asus Lyra home WiFi system are quite high. So let’s take a look at the kit and see what we are up against.
The Asus Lyra comes in two variations – Lyra and Lyra Mini. They both come in a pack of three devices and it seems that the only difference between the two is the top wireless speed. The “original” Lyra tops up at 2200Mbps while the Mini is only 1300Mbps. We’ll take a look at the big brother in this review, but I’m sure the results with the Mini will be similar.
The Asus mesh WiFi is a tri-band system. It has two 5GHz wireless radios and a single 2.4GHz one. The speeds are 2x867Mbps on the 5G band and up to 400Mbps on the 2.4Gone. Of course, these are theoretical speeds and the real-life performance can rarely touch these as we can see in the tests below:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see, the results are average at best. Definitely not what we are used to expect from any wireless routing device made by ASUS. Obviously, there is no dedicated channel for backhaul communication between the units. That's the main reason for the speed drops with each extension.
There are a few positives, of course. Unlike the Ubiquity AmpliFi HD kit below, the Asus Lyra is a proper indipendant mesh system where each unit can connect to every other unit and there is no main node and extensions. Of course, one of the nodes has to connect to a modem so it can get access to Internet, but in reality it doesn't matter which unit is which - they all work the same.
On the back of the Asus Lyra nodes there are two Gigabit ethernet connections. They can be used for connection to internet modems or other routers. What's really cool about the Lyra nodes is that you can use them to connect to other wired devices. For example, if you have a remove desktop computer you can plug it to a nearby Lyra router without the necessity of having a wired connection. Unfortunatelly, ASUS decided that we can't connect the separate Lyra nodes via a ethernet cable, so wired connection between them is not going to work despite the available LAN ports.
Just like the Google WiFi, there are no USB ports or access to any advanced features. If you want a proper Quality Of Service or any other advanced networking features, it might be better to stick with a regular wireless router that has those features. There is no web-based admin interface and the setting up is done via a mobile app - just like the rest of the mesh systems on this list. It is a pretty straight forward process and not nearly as complicated or troublesome as is the case with the Linksys Velop, for example.
Overall, the Asus Lyra mesh wireless feels like a decent product, but the price and performance are a bit off-putting. It is a pretty expensive kit and we feel that if the Lyre is within your budget, there is really no reason not to pay a bit more and get a much better performing kit - the Netgear Orbi, of course.
9. Luma Whole Home WiFi – The Eero Competitor
The Luma mesh wireless system comes in a variety of packages – you can get it as a single router, a pack of two or three units. They are a small, hexagonal units that unlike the rest of the units on the list, are lined up vertically. The power cable on the back keeps them standing and prevents them from tipping over. Unlike the rest of the nodes above, the Luma has a single light situated right in the middle of the device, not a bunch of fancy LED blinkers in all colors of the rainbow.
The Luma features a dual-band wireless capability with 2×2 antennas and MU-MIMO. Traffic management and beam forming are present too, but you can’t execute too much control over how they are working. The wireless speed tops up at AC1300 for both the 2.4GHz and the 5Ghz bands, which can not be separated manually.
The Luma is not a particularly powerful router – actually is the lowest coverage single router on this list. The signal drops faster than any other mesh Wifi system on the list, but that is meant to show us how the Luma is designed to be used – in a pack of two or more. A single system can handle up to 10 connected devices. Let’s take a look at the Luma wireless performance figures we managed to achieve:
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see from the table above, the Luma wireless performance is nothing to write home about. In the far corners of the house, where the signal is translated over more than a signal node, the speed drops significantly. Some mesh systems, like the Netgear Orbi, have a dedicated channel for communication between the nodes. Clearly, the Luma is not amongst those mesh systems and the wifi repeating function, in my opinion, is not very well executed.
Setting up, on the other hand, is quite easy and we didn't encounter any issues like the ones we had with the TP-Link Deco M5. It takes a bit of time so be prepare to wait mindlessy while it takes its time, but no problems connecting are to be expected - everything is automatic and well executed. Luma, unfortunatelly, requires to be connected to Luma servers at all times, just like Google WiFi requires constant connection to Google servers in order to work correctly. There is not Web interface, like with the Netgear Orbi, and all settings are done via the app, which is available for both Anbdroid and iOS.
Adding another Luma to the set is very easy. You just have to plug it in a power socket and connect it with a few clicks on the app. You can choose its name and location from there too.
There are not many advanced features in the Luma WiFi - you can't use IPv6, you can't separate the two bands from each other, up until recently there were no options for DNS changing either. The mesh system supports WPA2 encryption only and older devices are excluded on firmware level. That means you won't be able to connect older computers wirelessly to the Luma mesh if they don't support WPA2.
Overall, Luma is fine for small households that don't require too much power or many advanced feaures. Currently it is one of the cheapest mesh systems on Amazon so it is a good buy for most people. If you have a strong wireless router that covers your whole house already I'd steer away from the Luma mesh.
10. Ubiquity’s AmpliFi HD – Decent, But Not A Mesh
We all know Ubiquity’s products – high-end networking devices aimed at corporate and business customers. While they do provide stable and fast office wireless networking, setting those products up at home was a total nightmare for anyone without a good education in computer networking. AmpliFi HD Mesh Wireless aims to change that – it offers an easy set up via both web interface and iOS/Android app.
The Ubiquity kit is actually one of the first to pioneer the idea of mesh networking at home and suggest the concept of whole home WiFi. The kit comes in the familiar style of the Eero mesh wireless – a main router and two satellites. Of course, you can add more satellites as you wish, but the base kit comes with two.
The main router is a beautifully designed piece of technology with some frustrating limitations, as we will see below. The front LED display is quite big at 1.6″ and it can be used to show time and some wireless connectivity. A tap on the screen will show how much bandwidth has been used and a second tap will reveal the connection status, the number of devices connected and the respective IP addresses. You can even place it on the living room or in the kitchen and use it as a table clock.
The main AmpliFi HD router also sports glowing LED strips at the bottom. On the back of the router’s body, you can find four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB port, a dedicated WAN Gigabit port and a USB-C power connection. Currently, the USB port has no use whatsoever – it simply doesn’t work. We tried plugging a hard drive and a flash drive to it, but there were no sharing capabilities or signs of life from the USB port. For all intended purposes, it might as well not be there. It is marked “for future use” on the Ubiquity website.
The AmpliFi HD is a dual band mesh wireless system with a top speed of AC1750. This means that it can deliver theoretical speeds of up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1300Mbps on the 5G. When I say theoretically, I do have something in mind as our tests couldn’t reach anywhere near these limits and, on that note, it’s time to take a look at the results of our tests.
Speed At 3ft
Speed At 15ft
As you can see from the results above, the Ubiquity mesh system is nothing to write home about in terms of raw wireless performance. It is basically a main router with two WiFi extenders setup and no node is indipendant from another - hence the three nodes result. We can't daisy-chain them to increase distance like the Orbi or the Velop, where every router can be an indipendant on its own.
Another thing that we see from the tests is that the AmpliFi HD doesn't have a dedicated channel for communication between the nodes like the Orbi. Every extender drops the speed in half since it uses the same channel for communication between the client and the main router. We don't really know if the two satellite extenders communicate with each other, but given the tests it's highly unlikely.
The things the AmpliFi have going for it is the 3x3 beam system, putting it ahead of the competition compared to the 2x2 sytems used by most other wireless mesh kits on this list - the GoogleWiFi, Eero and the Velop are all using that. The only mesh wireless kit that beats it is the Orbi, which offer 2x2 client connection, but it backs it up by a 4x4 setup for communication between the units, hence greatly improving performance and wireless speed when moving around the house.
Let's start with the things we don't really like about the AmpliFi HD. the first thing to pop in mind are the extenders. Instead of nice and small nodes resembling that beauty of a main router, Ubiquity decided to go with tall, bulky extenders that you have to plug in electric sockets directly. They are hideous to look at and a total nightmare for people with small children. They are a kid magnet and they will get destroyed eventuall in the process. The magnetic connection between the two parts of the extenders is a nice touch, but once separated they stop working so for people with kids I would not recommend the AmpiFi HD.
While the main router has plenty of wired connection ports, none are available on the extenders. There is no option to wire the extenders to the main router in order to provide more stable connection and free some of the wireless traffic. You can't plug any networked attached storage or a remote computer to it either.
The setup is fairly easy and the AmpliFi has a web-based interface, unlike most kits on this list. While it can be accessible from a computer, you can't really do much with it besides setting up the initial password and connect Internet. Everything else will need the mobile app - setting up WiFi passwords, advanced settings and all that.
Overall, the Ubiquity's AmpliFi HD system is as average as it gets. Performance is average, there is no dedicated channels for communication between the units, the USB is there, but absent at the same time. We can't really recommend it to anyone, especially with the fact that you can extend your existing router's signal with two wireless extenders and get pretty similar, if not better results.
Final Words And What To Buy
That’s a tough question and the answer is not as simple as it sounds. Clearly, from our tests and all the mesh systems that we tested, the Netgear Orbi is the clear winner of the “Best Mesh WiFi Of 2018” award. It ticks all the boxes for us – wireless speed, proper mesh, dedicated communication channel, USB port that actually works…There is more, but it comes with a price. It is not terribly expensive, but for almost half the price you can get the best selling Google WiFi. While it doesn’t offer the fastest wireless speed or all the features of the Orbi, the Google mesh is a capable performer with an excellent range and consistent signal throughout even in challenging house configurations. Given you’re willing to void some privacy rights and provide data to Google, of course.
If you don’t have the budget for any of the $200 and up systems, Tenda has the perfect solution for you – the Nova Wave MW6. Excellent speed and set of features, but not very advanced and user-friendly. Excellent for the price, though!
The Zyxel is as close as you can get to an ordinary wireless router without sacrificing speed and range. It comes in an unusual two units setup that works great. Decent signal and set of features, it even has web GUI! The price is right too if you can live with the Zyxel brand.
We really wanted to see more from Asus and Linksys. They are both quite disappointing, especially the ASUS unit. We really had high hopes for the Lyra but it is definitely not our cup of tea, especially knowing our fondness for ASUS routing devices.
Ubiquity disappoints as well. On our best router review we wholeheartedly recommended the Edge Router X combo with some of the access points the company offers. However, we really feel that the AmpliFi HD is not the great product one to expect from the company. It is bulky, clunky and a really strong kids magnet. It will get destroyed sooner or later. It is not even a proper mesh networking kit – it is a simple design with a main router and a set of extenders. One can get a much cheaper solution than that can even achieve higher speeds too.