Don’t get caught in the Mesh Network!
If you believe the marketing, then the latest networking craze, mesh, might look like the answer to all your networking problems. The hype goes, “Say goodbye to dead spots and buffering with a connection that doesn’t slow you down, even as you add more devices.” But beware, nothing is as simple as it seems, and mesh networking may only be the correct answer for a small number of users.
What is Mesh?
A mesh network is a system that uses multiple wireless “nodes” placed around your home to increase Wi-Fi coverage. Instead of wiring these nodes back to your router, as we do in traditional commercial and large residential networks, the nodes communicate wirelessly to each other.
This sounds like a great thing, and in some cases in it can be. However, as the size of your home or the number of devices on your system grow, the case for mesh starts to break down. Mesh has two primary weaknesses.
Weakness #1: Cables are faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi. This is compounded as you add more wireless nodes to a mesh network. Because the nodes “daisy-chain” their way back to your router, you are using a lot of resources when a single network cable would suffice. This adds complexity, diminishes speed, and increases the risk of wireless interference.
Weakness #2 is that each node now has to do too much. Instead of dedicating all of the nodes’ wireless antennas to communicating with your devices, it dedicates some to speaking to the rest of the network. Each node is also required to function as both access point and router. This is akin to leaving your refrigerator door open to cool your home. It works in theory, but there are much better ways to accomplish the task.
Why it might not work for you?
In practice, while it does work the way they advertise, they do not always tell you the cost. In a mesh network, each hop must talk to the next network access point down the line. That can reduce the bandwidth you are using by a large amount - maybe up to half. Worse still, if you install too many hops, then they can get so busy talking to each other, you lose meaningful performance on your device. That puts back the buffering and loss of network you were trying to avoid.
A modern luxury smart home has lots of devices on the network. Depending on what technology you may have installed, it not just the TV or audio; it can be your shades, lights, and a thousand other devices. Next time you have a BRAVAS technician onsite, ask them to show you how many devices you have on your network - it might surprise you. It's not unusual to have hundreds.
The most obvious example of this will be on video. You will start to see buffering and interruption to your picture. Less noticeable, but maybe more annoying, is the impact this can have on your home automation platform. You may be asking for a particular scene, like Movie Night or Away. Depending on what's having problems connecting to the network, some of your home systems may have difficulties responding.
What should you do?
Your network is the heart of your smart home. While many consumer solutions look cheap and powerful, they are more sizzle than steak. Sizing and installing the correct network is something that a professional should help you achieve.
Companies like BRAVAS have access to tools and technologies to ensure your home's coverage and that everything in your Smart Home has a good connection. Additionally, if you run video or audio through your home, we can guide you to solutions that always make the picture buffer-free and the sound jitter less.