Is a mesh WiFi router better than a traditional one?
White WiFi router on brown desk with blue wall behind

Mesh routers have been around since 2015 and are now starting to become a serious contender to traditional ones. Routers are used to broadcast WiFi signals so that your devices can connect to the internet. Most internet service providers (ISPs) offer a traditional router as part of their fibre packages, but some users are upgrading to mesh routers. With a price tag of around R1500 upwards, mesh routers are more expensive than traditional routers, but are they really worth the extra cost?

What’s a mesh WiFi router?

Mesh routers are composed of small devices that transmit WiFi signals. As with traditional routers, they connect to your modem to give you access to fibre connectivity. Put simply, a fibre optic cable runs to the home or apartment block and is plugged into a modem. Next, a router is plugged into the modem. Routers provide the wireless internet signal that your devices can connect to. 

Traditional routers are made up of one device, while mesh routers are composed of multiple devices called nodes. These nodes can be placed strategically around your house to give you better coverage, especially in areas that normally do not have good signal. One node acts as the primary router and is plugged into the modem. 

Rooms that are far away from the primary node will experience slow speeds or choppy connectivity. By adding more nodes in these so-called dead zones, the WiFi signal is boosted. Users can change the arrangement of the nodes to find the best signal in all parts of their homes. 

Mesh Wifi routers enable users to build their own home networking system based on the layout of their homes and where they would like the WiFi signal to be the strongest. Mesh routers are generally sold in packs of two or three nodes. For small residences, two nodes may be enough, but for bigger houses, more nodes will need to be added for better coverage and to prevent dead zones. 

What are the benefits of a mesh WiFi router?

Mesh routers operate on a self-organising structure, choosing the best path for data traffic to flow. This means that if one node stops working, the other nodes will stay up and running. If one node experiences a fault, the rest of the system is unaffected and the fault will not shut down the rest of the network. Mesh routers operate on a decentralised system and the failure in one node does not affect the performance of other nodes. This makes fault identification easy. 

Traditional routers can be used with WiFi boosters or WiFi extenders. Since they operate on a centralised system, if the main router fails, the rest of the system will shut down. What’s more, the signal strength of WiFi extenders is not as strong as that provided by a mesh router node. While the signal strength of WiFi extenders is around half that of the main router, the nodes of a mesh router all provide a good signal. This means that mesh routers are definitely superior in terms of performance. 

Mesh router systems can be easily customised to suit changing needs. If you need a better signal in one part of your home, you can easily add another node to give you more points of access. Your devices will automatically connect to the closest WiFi node, ensuring a seamless internet experience in all parts of your home. 

To the eye, mesh routers are more visually pleasing than traditional routers. Minimalist in design, these routers do not have wires or antennas and can be placed conveniently around the home. Users do need to keep in mind, however, that it is not advisable to put the mesh nodes in a cupboard as this will result in a muffled signal. 

How do mesh routers compare to traditional routers?

Choosing a mesh router over a traditional router will depend on the layout of your home and how you connect your devices to the router. Let’s look at a few different scenarios to see which option works best. 

“I have a small studio apartment.”

If this is you, then it probably isn’t necessary to get a mesh router. A traditional router will be enough to provide high-speed connectivity in all four corners of your home. If you have a double story home, you probably should think about getting a mesh router. It is difficult for WiFi signals to get through thick walls or up flights of stairs. The further the signal has to go, the weaker it gets. 

“I need to plug my laptop directly into the router.”

If you do a lot of video calls as part of your work or studies, then you’ll probably want to connect your computer directly to your router using a LAN cable. WiFi isn’t as stable as wired ethernet connections, so if you do a lot of HD video conferencing, then a traditional router might be the answer for you. It is possible to add more ethernet ports to a mesh router, but this just increases the price and is probably an unnecessary expense when a traditional router will do just as well. 

“I live in a multi-occupant home. There are five of us working from home.”

In this scenario, a mesh router is probably the way to go. Each user can have their own node in their workspace, giving them a high-speed, stable connection no matter how many other people are using the internet at the same time.

Can I use a mesh router with a traditional router?

Mesh routers are meant to replace traditional routers. It is generally recommended to uninstall the existing router when setting up a mesh network. They can be used in conjunction with a traditional router, but this will require some configuration. You’ll need to check that your mesh system supports multiple nodes when connected to the traditional router. 

Is a mesh router or a traditional router better for your home?

While mesh routers have similar features to traditional routers, they do offer better performance and scalability. Mesh routers generally have more advanced features, such as parental controls, improved traffic priority, and cybersecurity scanning compared to traditional routers. 

Given the choice, a mesh router is probably the best option, but for those living in small spaces with only one or two devices connecting to the internet, then it may not be worth the extra cost. Whether you get a mesh router or a traditional router, make sure you sign up with an ISP that offers a high quality fibre connection. For more information about our fibre offerings or to get a quote for an internet upgrade, please contact us today or check if we’re connected to your address.

WonderNet brings affordable broadband internet to South African homes. We work alongside leading fibre network providers to maximise our reach and to offer fast, reliable and secure internet connectivity to your home. We are owned by SEACOM; one of Africa’s top information and communications technology (ICT) companies with an expansive network of subsea cables, landlines and fibre connections. WonderNet strives to offer the best customer service in the country. We will go above and beyond to ensure that our customers are satisfied with their internet access.

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