Here’s whether mesh Wi-Fi reduces your internet speed:
Generally speaking, mesh Wi-Fi does not reduce your effective connection speeds.
Because mesh is so good at improving the physical range of your Wi-Fi, it can actually make your connection faster by getting rid of dead spots.
That said, mesh networks can split the connection enough to create slowdowns.
So if you want to learn all about how mesh Wi-Fi affects your internet speed, then you’re in the right place.
Let’s get started!
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What Is Mesh Wi-Fi?
Mesh Wi-Fi is a networking system that combines multiple Wi-Fi access points into a seamless connection.
What does that really mean?
Let’s start with access points.
This term describes a number of different wireless devices that can include routers, extenders, nodes, and more.
Really, it’s what your phone or computer connects to in order to get Wi-Fi.
I’ll try to keep the terminology light today, but you’ll probably see routers, access points, and nodes come up repeatedly.
While they have different technical definitions, they’re going to be fairly interchangeable terms today.
So, now that we’ve covered access points, let’s look at mesh Wi-Fi one more time.
It’s a different way of connecting different access points so that they’re all in the same network.
Traditionally, you can connect wireless nodes together, but each one is self-managed, and it’s all kind of complicated.
Imagine you’re connected to Wi-Fi at an airport.
As you walk down the terminal, you’ll leave the range of one node and enter the range of another.
With traditional connection designs, in order for your phone to switch nodes and still be on Wi-Fi, it has to change networks entirely.
The process is slow and cumbersome.
Mesh is special because it gets rid of that.
All of the access points are connected to each other, and your phone can switch from one to another like it’s nothing.
In many instances, mesh is the best way to expand Wi-Fi coverage beyond the range of a single router.
How Does Mesh Wi-Fi Work?
At this point, mesh is probably sounding pretty cool, but you’re here because of concerns with connection speeds.
The short answer is that mesh is faster in some cases and slower in others.
I’ll explain those different scenarios before we’re done, but it’s going to make more sense if I cover how mesh works a little more thoroughly.
The simplest explanation is that a lot of programming makes mesh work.
Really, it’s a modern take on Wi-Fi, and there’s a lot of automation involved.
You can buy a mesh networking kit, and it will typically come with two or three access points.
You plug them in, and they can find each other and manage the connection.
You can even manage them from a modern app. It’s all rather easy.
But, we need to get into some of the technical concepts so my explanations about speed will make more sense in a minute.
In a mesh network, one device is the master controller of the whole thing.
It usually handles routing, which is the technical term for assigning all of the connections in a network.
There’s a lot that goes on with routing, so things are usually best if one device is the quarterback while everything else just follows orders.
So, your master device is the one that actually connects to the internet.
It will have a direct cable to your modem.
Or, if you have a combined modem and router, then the master device will connect to your internet service.
As an example, if you have cable internet, the master device is connected directly to that cable, or it’s connected directly to the modem that is connected to your cable line.
There should never be additional devices or connections between the master and your internet source.
All of the other nodes then connect to the master device.
The master device holds the true internet connection, and it then manages everything else in the network.
Additional nodes are really just there to expand the overall range of your Wi-Fi (and sometimes to expand how many people can be on the network at one time).
That’s the gist of mesh design.
If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.
You have a lead router, and then you can connect more nodes to it for better coverage.
Everything is managed automatically, and that’s what makes it so appealing.
How Does Mesh Impact Network Performance? (4 Ways)
We’re making progress.
Now that you have some background information, we can get into performance issues.
As I said before, there are some ways in which mesh is going to improve your network, including connection speeds.
There are also ways that mesh can slow you down and create issues.
The cases are pretty specific, so the best way to answer the original question is to break these ideas down a bit and point out how mesh is interacting with your internet experience.
#1 Better Connection Coverage
This gets back to the gist of mesh.
It lets you cover more physical area with your Wi-Fi network.
That’s obviously convenient, but it can also impact network performance.
Have you ever been in a building where Wi-Fi is great in some rooms and terrible in others?
If not, it’s definitely a thing, and there are a lot of reasons that it can happen.
But, the two most common reasons are signal interference and range.
It’s obvious how mesh can help with signal range, but what about interference?
Well, that usually boils down to the building itself absorbing the Wi-Fi signal.
So, the solution to this (when using mesh) is to add an access point wherever you get a poor signal.
If you have thick walls between the router and the room that gets slow internet, putting another mesh node in the right spot can fix that problem.
And now, we’re getting the performance aspect of all of this.
Wi-Fi can be inconsistent as you move around.
With mesh, you improve the overall Wi-Fi coverage.
So, you don’t have as many spots with a poor signal.
On average, your connection strength is improved, and that often means your average connection speed goes up too.
#2 Improved Speed, Sometimes
In the previous example, mesh isn’t really making things faster; it’s just solving issues where the Wi-Fi is slow.
In this example, you’ll see that mesh can actually improve your raw connection speeds, even when you were already getting a good signal.
The cool thing about mesh is that your device can bounce signals off of multiple nodes without having to change how everything is set up or arranged.
So, the mesh system is automatically routing your device in the best way possible.
Ultimately, this allows you to skip bottlenecks and other issues that might be temporarily impacting one node.
What this means is that mesh is reducing the chance that any information sent to or from your device will be lost in transit.
This concept is often described as a packet loss.
Internet connections really involve the processing of tons and tons of signals every second.
Sometimes, interference or other problems can disrupt that signaling process, and a small part of the information you are downloading or uploading is lost.
The system accounts for this and automatically resends the information, but noticing a packet loss, correcting for it, and resending the data takes time.
If you are losing packets too often, then your effective download and upload speeds drop.
Mesh decreases packet loss by minimizing interference and spots with poor signals, but we’ve already kind of covered that idea.
Even in areas with a strong signal, mesh can reduce packet loss by allowing your device to choose the best node in range.
So, any time a node has a problem (even if it’s only for a fraction of a second), your device can avoid packet loss by using the other nodes (this works even better with Wi-Fi 6 connections).
On average, mesh networks will see less packet loss.
This really depends on the specific design of the mesh network, but more often than not, mesh is creating this benefit.
#3 Bandwidth Limits
Now you know the primary ways that mesh can speed up your Wi-Fi.
I also pointed out that mesh can slow things down, so let’s get into that.
The thing about mesh is that it’s able to use up a lot more bandwidth than traditional Wi-Fi designs.
For clarity, bandwidth is the theoretical maximum amount of data that your network can handle.
In a Wi-Fi network, the bandwidth is split amongst all of the connected devices.
Since mesh designs add access points to your Wi-Fi network, it’s possible to split the bandwidth across more total devices than with a lot of other Wi-Fi designs.
If you have a lot of traffic on your mesh network, the split bandwidth can slow things down for each individual user.
#4 Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6
There’s a final thing you’ll want to consider when it comes to mesh.
These days, Wi-Fi 6 is available.
You can get your hands on the hardware, and you can upgrade your Wi-Fi.
The new version, 6, is better in a lot of ways.
Wi-Fi 6 can handle way more traffic than its predecessor (Wi-Fi 5).
The new Wi-Fi is also considerably faster in terms of maximum connection speeds.
On top of that, Wi-Fi 6 gets access to additional bands (in countries that allow it, such as the United States).
These are clear advantages.
More users and faster connections are obviously great.
As for additional bands, it means that Wi-Fi 6 can use communication frequencies that used to be inaccessible.
This allows them to reduce interference which further improves traffic capacity and effective connection speeds.
Why am I bringing all of this up?
Well, mesh isn’t fully caught up to Wi-Fi 6 right now.
You definitely can get some mesh hardware that uses Wi-Fi 6, but it’s more expensive.
And since mesh needs multiple nodes to work, those expenses compound on themselves very quickly.
Affordable mesh networks are still in the Wi-Fi 5 realm right now.
So, if you’re looking for the fastest possible networks, it’s either going to be a very expensive mesh setup, or it’s not going to involve mesh, at least for now.