After several folks asked about a recent tweet I posted about upgrading my home wifi network to a mesh network, I thought I would spend a few words to describe the before and after.
UNDERSTANDING THE BASELINE
Before discussing the details about the wifi networks and implementation, it is important to first set a baseline. As with most decisions, they are not made in a vacuum nor are they made independent of other variables and/or factors. In my case, one of the core factors to understand is that I live in the Apple ecosystem. If I lived in a Windows and/or Android ecosystem, the circumstances would not have been the same. And therefore, past decisions would likely have been different.
MOVING TO MULTIPLE WIFI ACCESS POINTS
Considering that I live in the Apple ecosystem, it made logical sense (at the time) to consider an Apple AirPort Extreme base station as my wifi access point. At the time, one AirPort Extreme base station provided solid coverage to my entire home. In addition, the Apple ecosystem with management software included in the Mac OS made the management really simple.
At some point, however, the size of my home increased and so did the need for a broader wifi network. Apple’s AirPort Extreme base stations allow the ability to create an extended network across multiple access points. The fact that you could create a wireless bridge across two AirPort Extreme base stations was also handy for those devices that didn’t have wireless capabilities. That’s all great. That is, until it isn’t great.
As Apple stopped regularly updating their AirPort devices, the quality of service consistently degraded. First, it was access points that lost connection to other access points. Then performance became an issue. Eventually, it got to the point where performance felt really lagging…especially if another device was streaming on the network. Now keep in mind that my Internet connection is a 150Mbps broadband connection which should provide plenty of bandwidth. Add to that the management required to keep things working and one can see how frustrating it can get.
THE SHIFT TO MESH
For some time, I have been toying with the idea of replacing the three connected Apple AirPort Extreme base stations with a modern mesh network that focused on performance while still keeping things simple. After doing a fair amount of research, it came down to two products: Eero & Google Wifi. Both products had solid reports from users. In the end, I opted for the Google Wifi 3-node system over the Eero for one simple reason: Cost. The three unit Eero system is significantly more expensive than the equivalent 3-node Google Wifi system. And the specs seemed pretty similar.
In my situation, the three wifi units are setup as: 1) Primary, connected directly to cable modem. The second port connects to a switch which connects to other devices that perform better via wired over wireless connections (Smart TVs, DVR, Apple TV, DVD Player, etc). 2) Wireless mesh. And 3) Wired wifi mesh. The last one is closer to my home office which has a wired connection to the core switch in order to provide greater performance while still supporting the wifi mesh. Installation and setup was very quick and easy to do.
EARLY REPORTS ARE IN
Granted the devices have been operational almost 24 hours. However, since installing the new devices, I have seen a marked improvement in wifi stability and performance. I can also see how much bandwidth is being used by different devices and address as needed. Even my wife noted that the Google wifi access points are less obtrusive than then Apple AirPort Extreme base stations. Although only one of the three is visible as the other two sit behind things and out of view. Even when everyone is at home on their devices, I have not noticed a single blip in performance like in the past. In addition, moving around the house between access points also seems quicker and seamless. This is important for those (like us) that live in semi-rural areas where cell coverage is spotty and wifi calling is required.
Only time will tell, but so far I am very pleased with the change.