• April 17, 2024, 12:21 pm

The best mesh Wi-Fi for 2023 SoftAIT

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Update : Monday, November 6, 2023

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Wi-Fi routers are legendarily annoying, so we’re thankful that mesh Wi-Fi systems are becoming increasingly popular. Traditional routers are opaque, with hundreds of obscure settings and features that—unless you love inelegant, browser-based interfaces—are often difficult even to access, let alone tweak. They go down for no reason, and if they’re not completely offline, the signal is flummoxed by such ordinary problems as a wall between your device and the hotspot. Mesh Wi-Fi, however, is one of the greatest innovations to come to home internet in years. Using multiple nodes, wireless mesh networks let you space access points/repeaters throughout your house (and yard, if you like), with devices switching from station to station seamlessly without the need to save and manually select multiple network names and passwords. And devices can be configured through cleanly designed smartphone apps. Many of the networking companies you’re familiar with have shifted their focus to mesh Wi-Fi systems—though there’s still a place for single-point routers, as we’ll explain in more detail in the FAQs section of this story. If your network needs have grown lately, the best mesh Wi-Fi routers will help you keep up with those changes.

How we chose the best mesh Wi-Fi routers

Just another plastic puck with some blinking lights, a mesh Wi-Fi station may not look that different from the traditionally cumbersome models. It’s so unassuming you may wonder if it’s worth the extra investment. You’ll quickly find, however, that mesh Wi-Fi can solve many of the most common problems. They extend your network’s range and decrease the time and effort it takes to add another router to your system after it’s set up. This adaptability allows you to use the same mesh Wi-Fi system if you move to a larger house, realize that your home still has degraded speeds or dead zones, or you’d like your network to cover the outside of your place. For this story, we surveyed the market’s top brands and models of mesh Wi-Fi routers. While you can’t truly test a mesh Wi-Fi system until you’ve lived with it for an extended period, we consulted tons of online research, editorial reviews, and hands-on experience to choose models that best fit people’s homes and lifestyles.

The best mesh Wi-Fi: Reviews & Recommendations

The best mesh Wi-Fi routers can cover your home with fast wireless internet regardless of size, the composition of its walls, or the number of devices you have connected. Routers are a gadget that shouldn’t be replaced very often—think seven to 10 years, so we’ve stuck with companies with a proven track record of providing continuous software and security updates over time. You shouldn’t have to think about troubleshooting very often either because finding ways to fix your home internet without the internet is tedious, so ease of use is another factor we strongly considered. The mesh Wi-Fi landscape changes regularly, and new technology constantly drops. We’re just getting into the world of Wi-Fi 6/6E, and Wi-Fi 7 is coming quickly on its heels. For now, though, you can feel comfortable trusting these models for their proven performance over time (just don’t forget to immediately address your security settings).

Best overall: eero Pro 6e

Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

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Why it made the cut: The company that helped popularize mesh Wi-Fi routers continues to make a set that delivers fast speeds in a simple package.

Specs

  • Coverage: 6000 square feet
  • Speed: 2.3Gbps
  • Tri-band

Pros

  • Ultra-fast speeds
  • Supports the latest Wi-Fi version
  • Excellent coverage
  • Easy to set up and manage

Cons

It’s been over six years since eero’s first-generation routers debuted and brought mesh Wi-Fi routers into the mainstream, and the company continues to make the best Wi-Fi routers for most people.

In our tests, which included uploading and downloading large files while streaming video on a TV and downloading digital games on the Nintendo Switch, we never felt a reduction in performance. Granted, our tests were conducted using a Gigabit fiber optic internet connection, so your results will vary based on your provider’s package. We were sent a two-pack of eero Pro 6E routers and initially stuck to using one, which covered all but the deepest reaches of a three-floor condo.

We only had trouble in one far-off room on a different floor from the router, which necessitated installing the second router. The second router eliminated that one dead zone and improved the consistency of our network overall. If you have thin walls, there’s no reason why one of eero’s routers would be insufficient for your entire space. However, you always have the option to add additional eero routers to your home network since this is a mesh Wi-Fi system.

Setting up and configuring an eero remains as straightforward as it ever has. The company’s app is world-class and makes the process seamless. We were guided through all the necessary steps to get up and running: plugging eero’s router into an outlet, connecting it to our cable modem using an Ethernet cable, and waiting for its LED to flash blue, which let us know it was ready for setup. The only information you’ll need to enter is your desired network name and password. Once the router is configured, it’ll ask whether you want to set up any additional hardware and automatically check for a software update.

In our opinion, this is the way home networking hardware should always work. Eero’s routers do all the heavy lifting, with minimal—if any—maintenance needed to keep your network going. Another positive feature eero has going for it is the overall design of its hardware. These routers have no antennas, nor are they tall, monolith-like beasts that’ll draw unwanted attention from guests. The squat, bulbous Wi-Fi routers can sit on a desk or next to a cable modem without looking out of place.

Security-conscious users will appreciate the Pro 6E’s support of WPA3 and the option to fortify their network further with eero Plus. The paid service costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year and includes the ability to block ads, set up content filters, or block apps at the Wi-Fi router level. This means you won’t have to set specific parental controls on children’s devices or worry about them using a potentially malicious app on a smartphone or tablet. Eero Plus also includes subscriptions to 1Password (a password manager), Encrypt.me (a VPN), and Malwarebyte (antivirus software) to further protect internet-connected hardware on your network.

Eero’s Pro 6E routers have a pretty steep price tag—especially if you opt for the three-router package—but this is the type of big, up-front, one-time purchase that’s well worth the money. Once these Wi-Fi routers are set up, you won’t have to worry about having a good internet connection again. We’re also encouraged by the fact that eero supports its hardware for a very long time. Its first-generation routers received software updates and security patches until early this year. Eero also offers a 25% discount on its newer routers when you trade in old ones, which is a more useful (environmentally friendly) option than throwing them out or keeping them in a drawer.

Best for homes: Google Nest Wi-Fi

Google Nest Wi-Fi sitting on a wooden table

Why it made the cut: A reliable connection with tight ties to Google Home makes this an attractive and easily expandable solution.

Specs

  • Coverage: 4,400 square feet
  • Speed: Up to 1 Gbps
  • Dual-band

Pros

  • Easy setup
  • Ties nicely into Google Home
  • Small and unobtrusive

Cons

Google’s Wi-Fi system, now under the “Nest” umbrella, is one of the fastest home mesh Wi-Fi systems on the market and one of the most handsome. It’s also incredibly easy to use: Pop open the app, and you’ll be able to do simple tasks without any trouble, whether creating a guest network, sharing your password with a friend, or instituting parental controls. It’s on the pricey side—but lets you pick an initial, appropriately priced pack of one, two, or three units—and it’s backward compatible with previous versions of Google Wi-Fi, which can help you save a little money on satellite beacons you already have or come across on closeout sale.

three white mesh wifi towers

Why we picked it: Wi-Fi 6 routers are starting to emerge, and this advanced system is ahead of the curve regarding features and compatibility.

Specs

  • Coverage: 5,800 square feet
  • Speed: 1.8 Gbps
  • Tri-band

Pros

  • Wi-Fi 6 support
  • Affordable
  • Supports up to 150 connected devices

Cons

Do you need a Wi-Fi 6 mesh router right now? Maybe. But routers aren’t something we replace that often, so you might want to consider picking one that’ll be compatible with Wi-Fi 6 when it comes. The TP-Link Deco 6 provides super-fast speeds to up to 150 devices, which is one of the hallmarks of the next-generation Wi-Fi 6 standard. It comes with three stations and, at this price, is actually cheaper than some mesh systems without Wi-FI 6. Reviewers note that the included ethernet cable is a bit short and that the app isn’t quite as easy to use as others, but speed and ease of setup are both said to be excellent. In addition, it’s compatible with Alexa if you’re invested in Amazon’s smart home ecosystem.

Best range: Linksys Velop Pro WiFi 6E Mesh System

Peripherals photo

Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

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Why it made the cut: If you have a large home, Linksys’ latest Velop Pro routers have you covered (in Wi-Fi).

Specs

  • Coverage: 9,000 square feet
  • Speed: 5.4Gbps Mbps
  • Tri-Band

Pros

  • Ultra long range
  • Consistent speeds
  • Support for over 600 simultanious connections

Cons

Linksys is probably the best-known Wi-Fi router around thanks to the ubiquity of its networking gear in the mid- to late-2000s, but the company has remained competitive in the new Mesh Wi-Fi era. Its latest models do a good job at offering consistent speeds in our tests, which were conducted in a three-floor, 2,000-square-foot condo. With a router on each floor we could achieve nearly 100% of the bandwidth we were paying for in a 300Mbps Fios Internet package. Zoom calls, Switch game downloads, and 4K video streaming couldn’t slow these routers down—even if they were happening at the same time. If you have a faster Internet package, these routers can take full advantage of it by supporting multi-Gigabit speeds.

Linksys says the new Velop Pro routers can cover spaces up to 9,000 square feet, and while we don’t have a space that big, they did very well in our range tests. Our Wi-Fi network stretched to our small backyard and well into the driveway, so if you have a lot of space that needs Internet coverage, these routers can deliver the goods. You may notice some slowdown based on the composition of your walls and how far apart you’ve spaced the routers, but playing around with their placement should alleviate these issues.

We didn’t have any issues with these routers once they were set up, but we did run into a couple of hitches during installation. Linksys’ app, which is easy to navigate, hitched during the initial setup of each router. It’d end up in an endless configuration loop, searching for routers, claiming it found them, then failing and searching again. Closing and re-opening the app once sorted this issue out, but budget an extra few minutes for setup. The routers we received immediately downloaded a firmware update, so it’s possible new shipments will squash this bug.

Having a strong Wi-Fi network is non-negotiable in our hybrid or remote working world, and if you’d like the freedom to move around your house during different parts of the day, Linksys’ Velop Pro routers are a good pick.

Why it made the cut: This is an easy, relatively cheap way to get more internet in remote areas of your home.

Specs

  • Coverage: 1,500 square feet
  • Speed: 500 Mbps
  • Dual-band

Pros

  • Small
  • Fast
  • Lots of range for a small box

Cons

  • Requires compatible system

One of the best things about mesh network systems is that if you ever move or find that your current setup doesn’t cover the entire area you need, you can always just buy an extra station. That said, you need to buy an additional router made by the same company as your mesh Wi-Fi system; there’s no option to mix and match. Suppose you only need your network to reach just a little further. In that case, you may get away with using a basic Wi-Fi range extender or booster, which is interoperable with any mesh Wi-Fi system but isn’t as powerful as a router and will require you to use two apps to manage your network.

Because we’ve chosen eero’s Pro 6e as the top mesh Wi-Fi system, we’ve elected to show you how to extend an eero network using the company’s Wi-Fi 6 Extender. This standalone station works with any existing eero system, adds 1,500 square feet of coverage, and gets continual firmware updates to ensure it’s always securely patched and up to date. The simple accessory is the easiest way to stretch your eero network. If you have mesh Wi-Fi routers from a different company, search for a compatible extender from the same brand.

Best for speed: Netgear Orbi RBKE963

Netgear Orbi RBKE963

Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

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Why it made the cut: Netgear’s high-end Wi-Fi routers were built for speed and offer unparalleled performance even in the toughest circumstances.

Specs

  • Coverage: 9,000 square feet
  • Speed: 10Gbps
  • Quad-band

Pros

  • Expansive range
  • Top-notch performance
  • Clean look

Cons

If not for its high price tag, Netgear’s Orbi RBKE963 would be the top pick in our guide based on its performance in our tests. As it stands, Netgear definitely produces the best premium mesh Wi-Fi system we’ve tested, just one of its many stellar routers. The $1,500 three-router Orbi package can stretch up to 9,000 square feet and was even able to offer consistent speeds when tested in a 96-year-old New York City apartment building whose solid walls were not designed with Wi-Fi in mind. We could get consistent Internet speeds within an 800-square-foot one-bedroom apartment, between floors, and across the entire building—even with several walls in the way. Router placement was key to achieving these speeds, but Netgear’s app makes them easy to set up and manage.

If you have a Netgear account—as we did—it took roughly five minutes to set up the primary router, a process that included plugging it into our cable modem and selecting a network name and password. Your speeds will be limited by the Internet package you’re paying for (in our case, a 300Mbps fiber connection from Fios), but you should expect to get the maximum amount of bandwidth if your devices support Wi-Fi 6E. Even Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 devices will fare well since the wireless standard is fully backward compatible. You’ll also want to ensure the Ethernet cable you use to connect the primary router to your cable modem supports the fastest-possible speeds, though this shouldn’t be an issue since Netgear includes one in the box.

A big part of the Orbi RBKE963’s performance comes down to its quad-band design, which limits the amount of signal interference when dozens of devices are connected to the same network. The router will create a single network operating on the 6Ghz, 5Ghz, and 2.4Ghz frequency bands, and your devices will connect to the fastest one it supports. This is useful because most bigger electronics—think smartphones, tablets, and computers—will operate on the 5Ghz band (newer ones may take advantage of the 6Ghz band), while most smart-home accessories only support 2.4Ghz connections.

Every Internet-connected device could take full advantage of what the Orbi RBKE963 offered, and speeds were blazing fast. Downloading large files, playing games online, video calling, 4K video streaming, and everything in between went off without a hitch. If we experienced any slowdown, it was from the server serving us the content. Similarly, we never experience a moment of downtime; these routers have run for months without interruption—save for a time or two when the Internet itself was down in our area. Reliability is a huge issue where mesh Wi-Fi routers are concerned because any time spent troubleshooting will eat into your productivity.

While we’re recommending these premium routers for their Wi-Fi performance, they’re also equipped with 10Gbps Ethernet ports. You can’t take advantage of these top speeds for your wireless network, but accessing or transferring files on your local network—from a server to a computer or computer to computer, for instance—will be lightning fast. It’s hard to overstate just how good these Wi-Fi routers are except to say they’re worth every penny if you have serious Internet needs.

Best budget: Vilo Mesh Wi-Fi System

Vilo Mesh Wi-Fi System

Why it made the cut: It’s not the bleeding edge technology, but not everyone needs that. You get fast, reliable connectivity in an attractive package without much hassle.

Specs

  • Coverage: 4,500 square feet
  • Speed: 867Mbps
  • Dual-band

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Supports up to 120 devices
  • Built-in parental controls

Cons

If you want a whole-home Wi-Fi solution but don’t want to spend a lot of money, Vilo’s Mesh Wi-Fi System is the obvious choice. It may cost $100, but Vilo managed to cut down the price of its networking gear without compromising many features. This mesh Wi-Fi system’s marquee feature is its impressive 4,500-square-foot range, which is on par with what you’d expect from more expensive hardware. Granted, some higher-end systems can achieve that coverage area with two routers instead of three, but that’s not a huge deal.

Setting up and using Vilo’s Wi-Fi System is managed using an app, giving you granular control over which sites certain devices can visit. This per-device version of parental controls can be very helpful in homes with adults and children. Vilo says its routers can be connected to 120 devices simultaneously, which is impressive and makes them a solid choice if you’ve built up a sizable smart home or plan to in the near future.

While Vilo didn’t have to cut any big corners to achieve its price point, something did have to give. The routers don’t support Wi-Fi 6, which would have been nice but isn’t a deal breaker. Additionally, the mesh Wi-Fi routers only have two bands instead of three. The reduction in speed from these two technical decisions isn’t gigantic but may be noticeable when your home network is taxed. Under normal circumstances—one person streaming a show on one TV while another person plays video games on a console and a third person streams music, for example, there shouldn’t be an issue. If you’ve held off on adopting a mesh Wi-Fi system because of cost, Vilo’s routers give you no excuse.

Things to consider when buying the best mesh Wi-Fi routers

Wi-Fi version: Wi-Fi routers used to be categorized by a series of letters (N, AC, AX), but that’s been simplified to a number, which makes it easier to determine what the latest standard is. The most up-to-date Wi-Fi version on the market is 6E. Wi-Fi is a universal wireless standard, which means devices don’t need to have a Wi-Fi 6E-compatible chip inside to connect to a cutting-edge router.

Range: One of the big advantages of using a set of mesh Wi-Fi routers instead of a single-point router is increased range. You’ll want to get a rough measurement of your home (including the porch and backyard, if applicable) to determine which mesh Wi-Fi router system will work best for you. Our general rule is to have one Wi-Fi router on every floor of your home to have the best chance of even coverage.

Speed: A mesh Wi-Fi router’s speed is typically calculated in Mbps (Megabits per second), though Wi-Fi 6E systems operate in Gbps (Gigabits per second). This factor matters less than you may think because the Internet speed you actually get will be determined by the plan you’ve signed up for through your ISP (Internet Service Provider).

Bands: Most mesh Wi-Fi routers have two bands, which allow them to send a signal at two frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 5GHz frequency band offers higher speeds and will be less susceptible to interference from legacy wireless electronics like landline telephones. That said, some smart home accessories can only connect to the internet using a 2.4GHz frequency.

FAQs

Q: How much should a mesh Wi-Fi system cost?

This depends on your needs, but you shouldn’t have to spend more than $150 to get a solid mesh Wi-Fi system. If you want the latest and greatest gear—this may make more sense if you live with many people—setting one up may cost you closer to $350.

Q: Does mesh Wi-Fi replace my router?

Yep, mesh Wi-Fi systems replace a standard, standalone router. Sometimes, your internet service provider will give you a modem with a router built-in, and you’ll have to ask them how to disable it so you can plug in a mesh Wi-Fi router, but that’s true of any router.

Q: Is mesh Wi-Fi better for gaming?

Mesh Wi-Fi is better for gaming than a standard wireless router, that’s for sure. Often, your gaming console or PC isn’t right beside a standalone router, and mesh Wi-Fi ensures you won’t have a weak signal or drops in your gaming room. If you’re really serious about multiplayer gaming, however, you’ll probably want to hardwire—plug your gaming device directly into your router with an Ethernet cable. You can do that just as well with a mesh Wi-Fi system.

Q: Will a mesh Wi-Fi network improve speed?

A mesh Wi-Fi network can improve speed, but the answer is a little more complex. If you opt for one of the higher-end mesh Wi-Fi systems—such as the Nest, Eero, or Orbi Wi-Fi 6—those will give you top-of-the-line speeds. More budget-friendly mesh systems will give you speeds comparable to a modestly priced regular router. But the difference is that regular routers only give you their best speeds when you’re next to them. Move further away, and you’ll get reduced speeds, maybe even dropped signals. Mesh Wi-Fi systems won’t do that; you’ll get the top speeds your unit can reach no matter where you are.

Q: How is a mesh Wi-Fi router different from a Wi-Fi range extender?

A mesh Wi-Fi router is much more powerful than a range extender, which means it’ll extend your network further and offer faster speeds. Additionally, you can control a mesh Wi-Fi router system using a single app, which makes it easier to set up and troubleshoot if something goes wrong.

Q: How do mesh Wi-Fi systems work?

A mesh Wi-Fi system consists of multiple routers that connect to create a larger, more consistent network in your home. One of the routers must be connected to your cable modem using an Ethernet cable, but the others can be plugged in anywhere there’s an outlet. Once all the routers are installed, they’ll automatically find one another, and your device will connect to whichever one is closest to you.

Q: Is a mesh Wi-Fi system better than a single-point router?

If you have a large space, you should only consider setting up a mesh Wi-Fi system because it gives you the best chance of having a fast Internet connection throughout your entire place without stringing wires through your walls. A single router isn’t capable of reaching that far, which leaves you with dead zones or requires you to get a booster.

Q: Do Wi-Fi mesh systems support Wi-Fi 6?

Some, but not all, Wi-Fi mesh systems support Wi-Fi 6. That feature is coming to more systems every year and has nearly become an industry standard.

Q: What are the disadvantages of a mesh network?

Mesh Wi-Fi systems are typically more expensive than a single point router and require you to keep multiple routers in different rooms of your home, which can be difficult or annoying if they’re large or oddly shaped.

Q: Do you lose speed with mesh Wi-Fi?

No, the main benefit of using a mesh Wi-Fi system is having consistent speeds over a large area.

Final thoughts on the best mesh Wi-Fi

Look, we get it: It’s hard to get excited about a router. But the best mesh Wi-Fi systems are a way to get the absolute most out of your home network—a way to think about your internet connection as little as possible and have it just work. And that’s what we want out of our internet, right?

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.



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