What Are Mesh Networks and Why You Should Look into Them

Last updated on March 17, 2019 Views: 547 Comments: 5
If the world wasn’t connected enough as it was, wireless mesh networks, an emerging technology, might just make the world a little cozier. The advanced mesh networks are able to connect cities wirelessly via a relatively inexpensive solution. Where traditional networks are reliant on a few dedicated hotspots, a mesh network is spread across many mesh ‘nodes’. These nodes can share a network connection over a much larger area.


What Exactly Are Mesh Networks?

Mesh networks have been used by the military and large-scale commercial areas, such as hospitals, for years. Despite this, they are a relatively new concept in the consumer market.

Wi-Fi pods serve as ‘nodes’ or connection points that spread a Wi-Fi signal from one ‘pod’ to another. It is this mesh of nodes that allows a Wi-Fi service to spread over large areas.

Let’s scale it down for explanation-sake, and take the example of a house. A house using a traditional router as a source for its Wi-Fi may experience dark zones in certain rooms. Here, the connection will be very slow or even non-existent. This problem is eliminated when using mesh networks, as each Wi-Fi pod, or node in the network, serves as a connection point spreading the signal from one to another.

The mesh nodes are small radio transmitters that function in the same way that a wireless router works. Think of them as little satellites for a Wi-Fi network. The difference being, that the nodes work together as they transmit information wirelessly between each other, as it ‘hops’ between them. The nodes will always choose the shortest and safest pathway in a process known as dynamic routing.

Combatting Net Neutrality

In the short time span since the FCC’s net neutrality ruling, mesh internet systems have been popping up left, right and center – but why?

Instead of depending on ISP’s and big corporations, users can gain more control of the net through constructing their very own community-supported internet networks; a mesh network. Rather than connecting via broadband, devices connect to each other. This builds a network that is distinct from the internet, existing as its very own local network (though it can also connect to ISP’s should you wish). It seems that building your own network is a great solution to resisting pressure from big corporations, and combating the new net neutrality repeal.

Even More Advantages of Mesh Networks

You’d think that wired or fixed “wireless” networks would be, well, wireless – but you’d be fooled into thinking so. The majority of traditional wireless networks still need to be wired to the internet. Larger wireless networks usually contain Ethernet cables that are stuffed behind the walls and ceilings of public areas. A mesh network, on the other hand, contains only one node that needs a physical wired connection. The rest of the nodes can then share the source node’s internet connection totally and truly wirelessly. This could serve well in a large house, an office, or even a large city containing millions of people.

Without the need for millions of wires, the cost of setting up a network is far less than of a traditional Wi-Fi set up. You could continuously expand the reach of the Wi-Fi by simply installing more nodes; perfect for growing cities, expanding offices or even house extensions. The same is true for down-scaling, where nodes can easily be uninstalled, making the network extremely adaptable. Wireless mesh configurations will allow networks to run faster as they skip the need of traveling back to a central server.

Mesh networks can also increase the network access for a variety of industries and completely skip the issue of NLoS (Non-Line-of-Sight). If an object is blocking the signal from a wireless access point, be it a solid concrete wall in a house, perhaps a rollercoaster in a theme park, or even a column in a shopping Mall, the signal can’t get through. In a mesh network, it’s a different story. If there are many nodes around the object or problem area, the mesh network will be able to adjust itself and find a clear signal.

Why You Should Get a Mesh Network for Your Home

If you have a small sized house and have no issues with dark spots, then we wouldn’t go as far as recommending a mesh network configuration. A mesh network is better suited to those with medium to large homes. The mesh network will solve most of your Wi-Fi-related problems – providing a strong signal to every nook and cranny of your home.

Mesh networks such as those provided by Google Wi-Fi and Eero include apps that allow users to manage and better understand their networks. On top of gaining more control over your network, as well as a faster network for all areas of your home, the system in itself is far more aesthetically pleasing than the common router.

With houses now decked out with technology in every room, be it smart TVs, smart speakers in the shower etc., a mesh network will make sure that the Wi-Fi coverage is not interrupted and remains stable throughout the house. As you move through your home, the device you are using will automatically connect to the strongest node (the one closest to you). This differs from a traditional Wi-Fi router, where the signal would decrease as you move further away from the router.

Users should be warned that the main downside that comes with using a mesh network, is that there may be some loss in speed with every ‘hop’ between nodes. This is still a better option than a slow signal or no signal at all (for some parts of your house) than if you just had the one router.

Why a VPN Is Needed in Mesh Networks

As with any method of connection, a VPN is necessary for those who want to establish a secure and private online presence. A Virtual Private Network allows users to secure their online presence by tunneling and encrypting the data that they transmit, and allowing the user to totally hide their IP address. This way, no third party or governmental institution can trace one’s online activities. A VPN is essential for those that want to make sure that their data is out of reach from potential hackers. On top of that, a VPN can be used to geo-spoof your location, allowing users access to content from across the globe with no limitations, like access US Netflix. Overall, a VPN can greatly enhance the security of a wireless mesh network.

We would highly recommend ExpressVPN to get the job done. More details on this service provider can be found on our ExpressVPN review.

The Bottom Line

Mesh Networks are expected to play an integral role when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT). With network nodes directly communicating and sharing information through ‘hops’, the advanced network is taking the industry by storm. Mesh networks can also be used to get internet access without having to rely on major internet service providers (IPSs) such as Comcast and Verizon. The possibilities are endless, looking further than just ridding large houses of dark areas, the applications are vast. They could potentially be used to connect large cities and continuously expand by simply adding more and more nodes. A mesh network is the way forward when it comes to better connecting the world.

Article comments

Kayla says:

What does all of this cost?

ST Editor says:

Thanks for the great question! Mesh networks have some initial cost requirements, as you have to buy the hardware necessary to set them up. You can find some models for under $200, but devices can reach up to $500 depending on which you select. If you’re a bit more of a techie, there are some great guides that can help you keep the costs down while still creating a network that covers your whole house. However, you choose to set it up, though, remember that a VPN is still the best way to protect your new network!

Conny says:

Sounds like this works on the same concept as a signal booster for cell phones. My question is whether these individual pods or nodes can be hacked and people gain access through them instead of through your router.

ST Editor says:

Thanks for a great question! Mesh networks offer excellent benefits, but they do pose a different kind of security requirement for users. Unlike routers, which are centralized and can better control access, some mesh networks (especially those that completely do away with central nodes) do open themselves up to having individual points targeted for attack. However, in most home use cases, mesh networks simply refer to the devices that help extend the network from a central point of access for your internet connection. In theory, if you follow similar security practices with a mesh network (keep all your access points encrypted with strong passwords, don’t let strangers connect to your network, etc.) your home mesh network should be just as secure as a normal network. We do encourage you to take a more in-depth look into the matter if you’re considering making the change, as it is an important consideration!

Michael says:

I have never heard of this before, but it intrigues me. As someone who is worried about what will become of the internet once the repeal happens and ISPs start charging more and throttling connections, it is good to know what there are options available.