Why You Want Mesh Wi-Fi, Even If You Just Need One Router
If you’re not looking to blanket a large home with Wi-Fi, you might not have even considered going with a mesh platform. Here’s why we think you should.
Why Use a Single Mesh Router?
You may have never even thought about using a single mesh router all by its lonesome without the rest of the nodes that came in the pack, but we assure you that not only can you do so, but there are benefits to doing so.
Given that most people consider buying a mesh network specifically because they want multiple access points and wall-to-wall coverage for their home, however, it really begs the question: why would you want to use a single mesh node all by itself?
First, let’s start with the premise that you have a relatively small area to cover, and you don’t have an environment with 100+ demanding Wi-Fi devices. You don’t need three mesh nodes for wall-to-wall coverage in a studio apartment, after all. Modern mesh network nodes are more than powerful enough to cover an apartment or small home all by themselves.
With small spaces in mind—because it’s a bit much to ask for robust Wi-Fi coverage in a sprawling 3,000-square-foot ranch with a single mesh node—let’s look at why you’d consider buying a single mesh router instead of a traditional stand-alone router.
Mesh Platforms Have Polished Software
One of the huge selling points for consumer mesh platforms, aside from the coverage mesh networks provide, is the ease of use.
The mesh platforms from eero, Nest, TP-Link, and the like are unbelievably easy to set up and configure. Further, many of the features people want, like easy parental controls, data usage monitoring, and such, are all very accessible in clean and easy-to-navigate menus. Some platforms even support extra features through subscription models like ad-filtering, activity reports, integrated VPNs, and so on, like eero Secure.
Further, the experience is very app-centric. While power users and network nerds might like a computer-based experience where you sit down at your PC and tinker with your router, there is a lot to be said for the ease of managing your network from a polished smartphone app.
All of this isn’t to say that there aren’t stand-alone traditional routers on the market with polished interfaces and even mobile apps, but if you poke around, you’ll notice that a lot of the companies with products like that also sell mesh networks. Clearly, the push for user-friendly mesh platforms has informed design across entire product lines.
Mesh Platforms Have Automatic Updates
On top of polished software, there’s a beneath-the-hood feature that is more common on mesh platforms than on traditional routers. The majority of mesh platforms feature fire-and-forget configurations.
Even if you completely neglect to pay attention to your home network, they will receive automatic updates, security patches, and optimizations in the background without you lifting a finger.
Again, this feature isn’t exclusive to only mesh routers, but they have certainly perfected the auto-updates-for-busy-people model.
You Like the Mesh Platform’s Hardware Features
It’s uncommon, bordering on unheard of, for traditional stand-alone routers to have smart home protocols or hubs built into them.
Mesh platforms, however, have positioned themselves to be an all-in-one solution to the demands of the growing smart home market.
Newer Amazon eero units, for example, aren’t just Wi-Fi access points but also include a Zigbee smart home hub as well as support for the Thread so they can function as Thread border routers. Similarly, although Google Nest WiFi doesn’t support Zigbee, it does support Thread.
That might not be something on your mind at the moment, but when the Matter smart home standard arrives, all compatible eero units and Nest WiFi will be automatically upgraded to serve as Matter hubs.
When you look at it from that perspective, picking up a single eero “puck” for a small apartment or home suddenly looks like a really solid deal. In fact, at the time of this writing, in August 2022, you can pick up a single refurbished eero 6 unit for $60.
That’s a phenomenal deal, really. You’re not going to find a Wi-Fi 6 router with a built-in Zigbee hub and future-proofed with Matter support at that price point. Even buying it new for $90 it’s still a solid value.
A Mesh Router Is Easily Expanded
The beauty of buying a mesh router to serve as your Wi-Fi router, as opposed to buying a traditional stand-alone model, is that the mesh router, by its very nature, is intended to work seamlessly with mesh extenders.
If you buy a traditional router with equal coverage power and you realize you want more coverage or run into dead spots at the edge of your home, you’re now stuck in a less than ideal situation.
Either you have to replace the Wi-Fi router altogether, or you have to bandage the situation with a third-party Wi-Fi extender. Even with proper setup and placement, third-party Wi-Fi extenders can’t compete with a first-party mesh system.
But if your router is a mesh router, then it’s already the foundation of a mesh network. You can simply add perfectly compatible and optimized mesh nodes from the same company. Let’s say you bought that refurbished eero unit we mentioned above, and you later realize it would be pretty nice to add just one more mesh node to round out the coverage in your home.
No problem, you can add another eero unit and enjoy immediate and automatically optimized coverage with all the benefits of a mesh network. Same thing if you have a Google Nest Wi-Fi network, TP-Link Deco network, or any other mesh network. You don’t have to settle for a lackluster third-party extender, you can just add a first-party node to your existing network.
Even better yet, while you can’t mix and match mesh network hardware between manufacturers, you can mix and match mesh hardware from all the major manufacturers within their product lines. The different generations of eero, TP-link, and Google Nest mesh hardware all work with each other. Buy an old pack of extenders, buy a new pack of extenders, it doesn’t matter if you’re shopping within the same product line.
You Can Split a Multi-Pack and Share
On top of the benefits of using a single mesh node as a stand-alone router in a smaller home, you can share the benefits (and save money) by purchasing a multi-pack and splitting it up.
Let’s say you only need a single node, or perhaps two, for your home. Most mesh systems are sold in three packs. So you can split the cost with a friend or install the extra nodes in the homes of relatives you help out with tech support and such. Why stick your grandma with a junky old router when you can put a new eero or Nest Wi-Fi unit in her place?
On top of that, in many cases, you can manage multiple households with the same app. So if you frequently find yourself troubleshooting problems for a relative, why not use the same app you’re using for your home network to easily manage their network too?
Just be sure, if you’re buying a pack to split, that you’re buying a pack where every mesh node in the kit can function interchangeably as the router. Some mesh systems have a base station that has all the Ethernet ports, and then satellites that do not and thus can’t be plugged into a modem directly.
But whether you’re buying a pack to split up or you’re just shopping for a single mesh node to use as a stand-alone router at home, there are clearly a pile of benefits to skipping the traditional router and setting up a single-node mesh network.