How mesh Wi-Fi can (and can’t) create a better smart home


If you (like everyone else in the known universe) have a love-hate-fear-confused relationship with your home Wi-Fi, you may have been advised to get yourself a mesh network. Its good! These systems distribute the work of pumping a wireless signal to two or more beacons or nodes placed around your home, instead of relying on a single base station (for a deeper dive, see the best dive kits. Wi-Fi mesh network). Often, adopting mesh is sublime: every corner of your home is bathed in high speed internet.

If you have smart home devices, however, mesh Wi-Fi can create curve balls, as well as the occasional keys.

After hearing about all kinds of bizarre smart device behavior – and experiencing a lot of it ourselves – we spoke to Wirecutter’s resident wireless expert, Joel Santo Domingo. And the news was grim. Turns out, fixing Wi-Fi issues is a lot like finding a unicorn. “Wireless technology is subject to so many outside factors,” explains Joel. The layout of your home, the building materials used to make it, and even competition from your neighbors’ Wi-Fi devices can all cause problems, not to mention the many technological issues once smart devices are added to the mix. The result is that it is quite difficult to diagnose why your Wi-Fi is not performing perfectly, and it is even more difficult to resolve.

But we will try anyway.

Is a mesh network the best option for solving Wi-Fi issues?

The short answer: no. If you want the best possible solution, Joel said you need to install an Ethernet network cable in all (or most) of the rooms in your house and then connect wireless access points to each of them. Unless you are building a new house or have a lot of money and time, this is probably out of the question for most people.

If not, invest in a good router (not the one the cable company gave you) and make sure it’s placed in a central location as close to the middle of the house as possible, on the first or even second floor. (If you have it in your basement or tucked away in a remote corner of the house, you’re almost guaranteed to have some trouble.)

If you’ve done that, and your Wi-Fi is still just as bad (you have empty spaces in your house or other issues) then a mesh network can help balance things out and ensure that your Wi-Fi connection is Fi remains stable. Joel cautioned, however, that you shouldn’t overdo it: there is such a thing as adding too many nodes / beacons, which can start to cause wireless issues. Two knots should be sufficient for anyone living in an average-sized home (approximately 2,300 square feet, according to the US Census Bureau).

Why are some of my smart home devices not connecting to my mesh network?

As we said, it is quite difficult to find a precise solution that takes into account all the possible variables with Wi-Fi. But there are a few things you can check that can solve your problem.

The first option is to experiment with where you have placed the nodes in your mesh network (these are the secondary devices, not the base station that plugs into your cable modem). Stand in the area where your smart device is located and check your smartphone’s Wi-Fi signal. “If you set up an outdoor security camera and your smartphone can’t connect to your Wi-Fi network from the same location, the camera won’t be able to either,” Joel said.

The other option is a bit more complicated. Here is a little technical history. Wi-Fi signals travel on two wireless bands: 2.4 GHz, which is slower but maintains a faster speed over longer distances, and 5 GHz, which is super-fast up close but slows considerably over about the half the distance of the 2.4 GHz band. . Many devices will be able to switch between these bands to get the best possible signal. However, wait, hardly any smart home device works on the 5 GHz band. And so, if your smartphone is connected to the 5 GHz band when you try to set up a smart home device, you will probably have problems (which can also lead to tightness).

You can’t easily tell which band your smartphone is connected to, so your options are to turn your phone’s Wi-Fi on and off and hope it reconnects at 2.4 GHz. Or, better yet, go to your mesh network router’s settings and see if you can temporarily turn off the 5 GHz band. However, not all mesh networks allow you to do this. Joel said that only 13 of the 27 mesh networks tested by Wirecutter allow it (and four allow you to permanently disable it).

And, finally, many smart home devices don’t even directly use Wi-Fi and instead rely on other wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, or Z-Wave. For example, Philips Hue smart bulbs and Lutron smart wall switches come with hubs that plug into your router. If these devices are having issues, they may just be too far away from their hub. Don’t automatically blame your mesh network! You can try restarting or reinstalling the device. But the best way to prepare for issues like this is to buy reliable devices that will respond to issues as they are reported. “Paying more for a brand is worth it,” Joel said. “These companies are constantly looking to see if there are any conflicts with their devices and Wi-Fi and are implementing fixes for them.” Annoyed when you have to update some app or firmware on the real device? It is in fact the sign of good company.

Why do my smart devices sometimes drop out of my network?

There are a few possibilities: those we keep harping on (materials, layout, yada yada yada), interference from other devices or an overly congested network.

Smart home devices themselves decide which Wi-Fi node to connect to and, like humans, they don’t always make the right choice. So when you set up a device, it will tend to connect to the node with the best signal at that precise moment. But it could be that the signals in your house are changing, or a node is overloaded, or you have moved some furniture and it blocked the signal – and so your smart device, stupidly, got married to a node. with a weak signal, instead of a node with a good signal. The solution, thankfully, should be simple: turn off your smart device, then turn it back on, and it should fix itself.

Another common problem is interference from other Wi-Fi networks. Going down the rabbit hole a bit, aside from the Wi-Fi bands we’ve already mentioned, each of them has their own sub-bands, called channels. And there is a possibility that you and your neighbors can stream while using the same channel, resulting in traffic jam, especially if you have 30 smart home devices all chatting at the same time. In this case, restarting your mesh base station and nodes (the entire network) will force your system to rebuild its connections by searching for the best channel currently available. Otherwise, Joel suggests using a Wi-Fi analyzer – like the Wi-Fi Explorer Lite ($ 2 for Mac) or NetSpot (free, Mac, or PC) – to see which channels are in use, then manually change your network to one. other channel (an analyzer is a utility built into your router or mesh network).

It could also be that you just have too many devices on your Wi-Fi network. Joel said that a good router can accommodate 30-40 devices on a network, with the mesh adding room for 15 or 20 more, before that you don’t notice any performance issues. Things get worse if you have devices that consume a lot of bandwidth, like security cameras and smart doorbells with a cloud connection, or streaming video. “Once you get past that point, I would consider trying to figure out where you can put wires in the house,” Joel said.


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