Best mesh network 2018: get faster speeds and fewer black spots

Say goodbye to slow Wi-Fi frustration misery with the best mesh Wi-Fi systems to buy

TODO alt text

Mesh networking sounds fantastic in theory, and is often fantastic in practice: rather than having one router serving up Wi-Fi to your home, you have a mesh network of them, blanketing every corner of every room in good, wholesome wireless internet connectivity.

You've now got a growing number of mesh networking kits to pick from, so save yourself some trouble over worrying about Wi-Fi speeds and bands and let us do the choosing for you – these are the best dead-zone-killing mesh routers you can buy at the moment.

What is the best mesh network?

There are a few features a mesh network needs to get right to be truly great, and at the moment the Google Wi-Fi package hits most of the right targets for most Wi-Fi nightmare sufferers we know. 

Some of the features are obvious – like extending your Wi-Fi right through your house, with no dead zones allowed (it can't peter out to 56k modem speeds in the attic, even if it is just filled with cardboard boxes of clothes).

We'd also say decent looks (to fit in with your home decor) and affordable prices are important too – you're extending your Wi-Fi, not streaming video from outer space, and the costs should reflect that.

For the true power users, there are faster options than Google’s out there. However, Google Wi-Fi combines decent speeds, attractive looks and mid-range prices – and it can entirely replace your current router rather than just plugging into it. It's also a breeze to use, which is a relief after years grappling with router settings.

Best mesh networks

Mesh networking

How to buy the best mesh network

You should bear in mind that there are other ways to extend your Wi-Fi and get rid of dead zones around the home, including Wi-Fi extenders and Powerline adapters. Before you start splurging cash, make sure a mesh networking kit is the right option for you.

Mesh networks are quickly becoming the sensible choice though – they're fast, they're reliable, and they're easy to set up. It's almost as if tech companies are waking up to how easy home Wi-Fi should be. Even if you've never had to configure your own wireless network before, mesh networking kits will take you right through it.

On a technical level, these mesh networks are made up of little Wi-Fi "nodes" that talk to each other and get as a strong a signal as possible out to all your devices. As far as your devices are concerned, it's just one consistent wireless network.

Look for the speed, often written as something like AC2200 – that's the type of Wi-Fi (AC) and theoretical maximum speed (2,200 Mbps), though you probably won't get that in reality. You'll also need to decide on a number of nodes: two should do most homes, but bigger places might need more.

The best mesh networks, in order

Best mesh networks

Google Wi-Fi

1. Google WiFi

Best mesh network for most purposes

Specifications
Connection: AC1200, dual-band
Reasons to buy
+Discreet, quite fetching boxes+So easy to set up+Works very well
Reasons to avoid
-Only two Ethernet sockets per box

As soon as you unbox the Google Wi-Fi nodes you can see these look like stylish pieces of smart home tech rather than networking gear that needs to be hidden away. It's not too expensive either – a two-pack will cost you a little over £200.

The real draw with Google Wi-Fi, though, is how easy it is to set up, configure and use. The accompanying app looks and feels great, and is – dare we say it – Apple-esque in its simplicity. You can prioritise devices, block devices (like the kids' iPad), and add limited guest access. You can also roam the house checking speeds in every room, which ends up being very addictive.

A Google Wi-Fi node actually replaces your router rather than just tagging onto it, and for most homes one extra node should be enough. We'd say this is very much a product made for normal people tired of Wi-Fi nightmares – you can just set it up and start enjoying more comprehensive Wi-Fi coverage, that all your devices can connect to, in minutes.

The only real downside compared to some competitors is a noticeable performance drop from the satellite units. With AC1200 speed on the nodes, Google's mesh network isn't quite as speedy as some. You do get two Ethernet ports on each node as an option.

Best mesh networks

Netgear Orbi

2. Netgear Orbi

Best mesh network for power users

Specifications
Connection: tri-band AC2200
Reasons to buy
+High speeds
Reasons to avoid
-High boxes

While you'll see Netgear Orbi kit sold alongside mesh networks, it's actually a little different to most packages: it's more like a turbo-charged wireless extender than a conventional mesh network. All the nodes talk to the main router unit, rather than to each other, so you need to take that into account when positioning them.

In our testing, using a pair of Orbi nodes to cover the areas of the house where a normal router starts trailing off, the Netgear Orbi gear performed admirably, with very little loss of speed when connected to the secondary box. That said, the range of one box on its own didn’t quite match that of the Linksys Velop for our setup. 

Setup is refreshingly painless, if not quite as smooth and slick as you get with Google Wi-Fi. Each of the satellite ports brings with it a generous four Ethernet ports and a USB connection too (though that port is currently used to connect printers, rather than offering a way to add networked storage).

The main stumble here, if we can make a complaint, is the design. The Orbi not only looks more like an aromatherapy dispenser than a router, it's also one of the largest network extender boxes around, and is going to be hard to miss. If you can live with the looks, this is a powerful and intuitive mesh networking system.

Best mesh networks

BT Whole Home

3. BT Whole Home

Best mesh network for BT customers

Specifications
Connection: Dual-band AC2600
Reasons to buy
+Reasonably priced+Wide coverage
Reasons to avoid
-Adds to rather than replacing your router

The BT mesh network takes the approach of sitting alongside your router rather than replacing it, which makes it a bit of a bargain as well – you can currently get three satellites devices for £199, which will only get you a single unit with some of the other solutions.

This setup suits homes where you're locked into using the router that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) has given you. If you've signed up with Virgin Media for internet and television services, for example, you can't get at the router (it's inside the main TV box) – BT Whole Home solves that problem.

BT has nailed the price then, but the design of these satellite notes isn't necessarily something we're going to be basing our interior design plans around though. These white dishes on little metal stands aren’t exactly ugly, but do look like networking aerials, and that clear BT logo in the middle really doesn’t help either. 

Other solutions are a little faster but the sheer square footage you can cover with three receivers is mammoth. BT also sells the Whole Home with two units or just a single one these days, so there are solutions to suit just about any living setup and budget, and the app includes plenty of smarts for monitoring and controlling internet access.

Best mesh networks

Linksys Velop

4. Linksys Velop

The best mesh network for experts and patient users

Specifications
Connection: Tri-band AC2200
Reasons to buy
+Scorching speeds+Huge range+Looks perfectly alright
Reasons to avoid
-Can be a pain to use

With its vaguely Bluetooth speaker-like looks, the Linksys Velop networking gear doesn't score many points in terms of its design, but the satellite nodes do have a small enough footprint that you can effectively hide them away around the home. 

We found performance to be very good indeed during our testing: we barely saw any speed loss even with a fast 100/150Mbps optical fibre home internet connection. It was a shame then that setup was more fiddly than with the Vesop's competitors – we needed a factory reset and a bit of troubleshooting to get everything working properly.

Also in the negatives column, the Linksys Velop gear lacks a few extras that the likes of the Netgear boxes include, and you only get two Ethernet ports on the bottom of each box unlike the four on the Orbi nodes. You can however set priority devices in the app, and customise your Wi-Fi access in a variety of other helpful ways.

As far as buying choices go, you can pick up the Linksys Velop hardware in a bundle of one, two or three units. If you want to start off with just one router node, we're happy to report that it gave us just about the best wireless range we’ve seen from one of these mesh setups – even just one satellite is able to cover a very wide area, so you might not even need a mesh at all.

Best mesh networks

Zyxel Multy X Whole Home Wi-Fi Mesh System

5. Zyxel Multy X Whole Home Wi-Fi Mesh System

Best plug-in mesh network boxes

Specifications
Connection: Dual-band AC1750
Reasons to buy
+Very fast connection speeds+Generous number of ports+Can be used with Alexa
Reasons to avoid
-Not the best-looking option out there

There's a lot to like about the Multy X system from Zyxel, including the 3,000 Mbps maximum speed and the rock-solid strength of the connections. Oh and it works with Alexa too, so if you've got a few Amazon Echo devices dotted around the home then you can control your internet with your voice.

As well as excellent speeds, you get extras like three Ethernet ports on each of the nodes, plus a USB port – it's only USB 2.0, which is a shame, but it should be speedy enough to use a printer or external hard drive and share it around the network.

From the software angle, the supplied Zyxel app is a little rough around the edges but just about does the job. Other apps are friendlier and more intuitive but we got there in the end with the Zyxel app – and at the end of the day you just want fast, comprehensive Wi-Fi first and foremost, don't you? You don't even have to use the app if you prefer telling Alexa to turn off the internet instead.

On the downside, the kit is a little on the expensive side and isn't the most compact or well-designed system we've ever seen. Overall though, the problems are minor and the pluses are major, and we'd recommend putting this on the shortlist to anyone who is shopping for a mesh network kit.