Why Wi-Fi Meshing May Hurt Your Network

Written by: Beth Hamilton, Product & Marketing Manager

This may sound silly, but I remember being upset and amazed when I first learned about the sneaky marketing tactics that cereal brands (among other industries) use to grab your attention and trick you into buying their product. Words and phrases like “heart healthy”, “lightly sweetened”, “natural” or (my favorite) organic” are all commonly used words to trick you. This is exactly how I feel about the phrase “Meshed Wi-Fi”; it’s a tactic to trick you into buying products that likely won’t give you the outcome that you desire.

Wi-Fi Meshing isn’t really a new concept in networking technologies but I have noticed in the last two years that it has grown in popularity. The challenge with this term is that the average consumer doesn’t realize what meshing does to your network; they just see a fancy graphic with coverage all over a property and assume it’s what they want.  Let’s take a journey into what meshing really means and why it may not be for you.

What is Wi-Fi Meshing?

Mesh Wi-Fi, also known as Wi-Fi Meshing or Whole Home Wi-Fi, is when you have a single main access point (root AP) that physically connects into your Wi-Fi modem, with a series of satellite access points (sometimes referred to as nodes) that are wirelessly placed in other strategic locations with the goal of providing a consistent and well covered Wi-Fi experience. The root access point wirelessly sends connection details to the nodes which allows you, the user, to connect to the Wi-Fi.

Your Network With Wi-Fi Meshing

When you use Wi-Fi meshing, you are essentially agreeing to decrease Wi-Fi speeds. Read that again. Decreased Wi-Fi Speeds.

With every meshed access point (referred to as a “hop”), our experience and research has shown that the speeds will decrease by approximately 50% of the wired connection speed. In low bandwidth deployments, this means that the user at the furthest hop away may have a significant impact on their Wi-Fi speeds.

I had one of our certified network engineers break it down for me and he said this: The root AP treats the meshed APs the same as a Wi-Fi client (a user or smart device); the meshed APs need to wait for a pause in the Wi-Fi communication to insert their request to transmit, confirm they will transmit, then send their transmission. In medium-high density environments with lots of APs and clients in close proximity, this makes communications difficult with so many devices competing for the same air time to transmit/receive.

Here are a few diagrams that better explain what Wi-Fi Meshing looks like. We are using a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) as an example.

All the green access points are wired into the building network (roots) and the purple access points are meshed back to the root access point (nodes). Each connection outward from the root is referred to as a “hop”. Note with very simple math how big of an impact each hop has on the connection speeds. Now picture that the initial bandwidth is lower and that each individual has around 11 Wi-Fi enabled devices in their home all fighting for bandwidth.

Apartment Building-InsideBW-B

Your Network Without Wi-Fi Meshing

It is our professional recommendation that Wi-Fi Meshing should be avoided whenever possible. We believe that all users should have fair access and the impact on the Wi-Fi experience is too significant to compromise.

Here we use the same MDU example as above, but have illustrated what no meshing looks like. Note that all the access points are wired into the building, providing fair distribution of Wi-Fi access to the tenants. This eliminates the need for hops and competition among the network air time.

Apartment Building-InsideBW-C

When Do We Recommend Wi-Fi Meshing?

Our network engineers often say that meshing is a tool in our tool box; it is not the only method to successfully implementing a network. Here are the reasons that we may use meshing:

  1. When cost is a crucial factor. It is less expensive in commercial deployments to use meshing in order to minimize on the cost of running cable to access points. We do note, however, that choosing this avenue could compromise user experience, which results in negative feedback from users, and usually loss of business/reputation.
  2. When running cable is simply not possible or practical. This would typically focus on outdoor deployments, such as parks or municipal areas, where the idea of digging up terrain to run cable isn’t an option. This may also be relevant for historical locations that have strict guidelines on refurbishments. In this instance we would recommend no more than a single hop to maintain ideal functionality.
  3. When diminishing bandwidth is not a concern. Typically this would be a venue that is operating low bandwidth smart technologies or monitors, or where there are very few Wi-Fi devices connecting. Examples could be buildings with a Wi-Fi enabled security or sensor system.

Common misconceptions with Wi-Fi Meshing

  1. Meshing is easier to manage. Our network engineers disagree & suggest that it is actually much more difficult to set-up and maintain. In addition, outdoor areas are more prone to failure due to external conditions such as weather, growing foliage, RF interference from other devices, physical blocking of the signals between APs, etc.
  2. Connections are streamlined. Again, our team disagrees. Meshing actually reduces the APs ability to service users and provide a high quality services due to the degradation of service with each hop.
  3. Tightened security. Our team found this one an interesting pitch, because we really disagree. Meshed connections are more prone to DoS attacks as the attacker(s) just need to block the line of sight between APs or to flood the Wi-Fi spectrum with interference (RF noise) to prevent any communications between the client and the APs.

Conclusion

Don’t fall for fancy marketing words that are meant to trick you into purchasing meshed Wi-Fi gear (or unhealthy cereals). Understanding what meshing means and how it will impact your commercial deployment is important – and you need to talk to an expert. It’s an expensive and embarrassing mistake when you invest in Wi-Fi technology that isn’t able to work with your existing users and even worse if it doesn’t anticipate for your growth. Learn more about meshing from one of our experts with his thoughts on Wi-Fi meshing, as well as what our team has learned at the Certified Network Wireless Administrators (CNWA) course.

Contact us today at info@solutioninc.com to discuss how to implement your network properly in your MDU.

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