- Mesh Wi-Fi networks, also known as mesh routers or mesh systems, are a hot trend in home Wi-Fi.
- The best mesh networks deliver range and reliability beyond what a Wi-Fi router can match.
- Mesh Wi-Fi networks are expensive, but they offer simple set up compared to routers and extenders.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems, which are also called mesh routers or mesh networks, promise superior range and reliability compared to Wi-Fi routers. They’re perfect for covering large homes and fixing persistent Wi-Fi dead spots.
They also appeal to owners who want a simple, app-based setup process. This makes a mesh system easier to configure than a network of Wi-Fi routers, access points, and extenders. Router brands know many people find networking confusing and are building mesh networks with simplicity in mind.
Unfortunately, mesh Wi-Fi systems are expensive. Most are sold at prices that are equal to, or above, the most extravagant Wi-Fi routers on store shelves. Prices are coming down, however, and basic mesh Wi-Fi systems are now available for prices that equal mid-range Wi-Fi routers. If this continues, mesh systems will likely replace Wi-Fi routers as the default choice for most homes.
Here are the best mesh Wi-Fi network systems you can buy:
- Best mesh Wi-Fi network system overall: Netgear Orbi AX6000
- Best mesh Wi-Fi network system for performance: Arris Surfboard Max AX6600
- Best budget mesh Wi-Fi network system: TP-Link Deco X60 AX3000
- Best mesh Wi-Fi network system for smart homes: Nest Wifi
- Best Wi-Fi 6 mesh network system for smart homes: Amazon Eero Pro 6
- Best mesh Wi-Fi network system for large homes: Linksys Velop AX4200
Netgear’s Orbi AX6000 is fast, reliable, and boasts massive range; it’s perfect for large homes and demanding users.
The Netgear Orbi AX6000 supports Wi-Fi 6 and has two 5GHz Wi-Fi bands to reduce network interference and improve reliability. This has led to great results in reviews, most of which place the Orbi AX6000 in the top tier of wireless performance. The Arris Surfboard Max AX6600 is the only competitor we recommend that can match its speed.
CNET’s review of the Orbi AX6000 found it delivered speeds of more than 500 megabytes per second, even at a range of 75 feet from the primary router. It spreads the speed reliably enough to cover large homes, and you can extend the range by 2,500 square feet if you purchase additional nodes.
The Orbi AX6000 uses an app-based interface that most owners will find approachable. It’s Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa compatible, so some features can be controlled by voice command through a smart speaker or smartphone.
However, the Netgear Orbi AX6000 is the most expensive mesh network we recommend. Fortunately, you get what you pay for.
The best mesh Wi-Fi network system for performance
The Arris Surfboard Max AX6600 has great performance and a better price than many of its competitors.
Arris is among the less well-known brands in home networking, but its mesh network systems are strong contenders giving Netgear, Linksys, and Asus stiff competition.
The Arris Surfboard Max AX6600 is its mainstream tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh system, and its performance can match even Netgear’s Orbi AX6000. Reviews indicate the gap between the two seems small enough that they’re basically equals. However, the Arris is often sold for much less. This makes it an excellent value.
While its performance is impressive, the system lacks configuration options. Arris uses an app-based setup, which works well but lacks the advanced options that some owners might expect. This includes advanced parental controls.
The system lacks a wired backhaul, which allows an optional wired connection between nodes for maximum performance. Most homes don’t need this feature, but most competitors have it, and it can be useful in homes already wired for Ethernet.
The Arris Surfboard Max AX6600 will work best in homes that don’t need advanced features but do want fast Wi-Fi speeds at a reasonable price.
The best budget mesh Wi-Fi network system
The TP-Link Deco X60 AX3000 is as inexpensive as a dual-band, Wi-Fi 6 mesh Wi-Fi system gets.
The TP-Link Deco X60 AX3000 is affordable compared to most other mesh systems, costing less than some of TP’s pricey wireless routers.
This system’s Wi-Fi 6 performance is generally the lowest of any on this list and offers no significant advantage over the Nest Wifi, which doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6. TP-Link’s Deco X60 is the most affordable system on this list, though, so mediocre performance isn’t a surprise. It doesn’t offer a lot of ports, and there’s no USB.
One notable perk is the Deco X60’s configuration options. TP-Link’s app supports features like dynamic DNS and port forwarding, features that aren’t found on some more expensive systems. This is good news for owners who need an affordable mesh router that still plays nice with a home media or file server. You’ll have more control over how devices communicate on your network, which, in the case of home servers, is sometimes needed for them to function properly.
The TP-Link Deco X60 AX3000 is not an impressive mesh system, but it’s affordable and good enough for homes that aren’t demanding. Those looking for a basic but functional mesh network can pick this system up for less than many wireless routers.
The best mesh Wi-Fi network system for smart homes
One of the easiest mesh systems to set up and use, the Nest Wifi is a great choice, despite limited capabilities.
Google’s Nest Wifi is among the least capable mesh Wi-Fi systems on this list. It doesn’t even support Wi-Fi 6. Why is it on this list? Ease of use is a key reason.
Most mesh Wi-Fi systems are easy to set up and use, but Nest Wifi is on a different level. Setting up Nest Wifi is fast and easy. Once finished, you can easily control the network settings through a smartphone app that looks similar to other Google apps.
Nest Wifi also has a unique feature. Each router or node doubles as a Google Assistant-compatible smart speaker. This is a bonus for buyers who don’t have smart speakers throughout their homes. You can play music, listen to podcasts, and interact with Google Assistant, just as you would on an Android smartphone.
Wired connectivity is extremely limited, even on the router. There are no Gigabit Ethernet ports on the nodes, and USB is also absent.
Though it doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 (the newest and fastest Wi-Fi standard), Nest Wifi delivers solid performance for its price. Most reviews find the Nest Wifi outperforms similarly inexpensive Wi-Fi 5 mesh systems and can come close to Wi-Fi 6 systems. This is not the performance pick, but it’s good enough for many homes.
Google Nest Wifi is great for smaller homes and for shoppers who care more about ease of use and smart-home connectivity than maximum wireless speeds.
The best Wi-Fi 6 mesh network system for smart homes
The Amazon Eero Pro 6 has a built-in Zigbee radio, making it attractive for smart-home enthusiasts with lots of connected devices.
Amazon’s Eero Pro 6 is the most expensive and feature-packed option from the brand, and it’s aimed at smart home enthusiasts.
The Eero Pro 6 has a built-in Zigbee radio. Zigbee is a wireless standard designed specifically for smart-home devices. While not a mainstream name, Zigbee is popular in the world of smart home devices and is used by brands like Philips Hue, Yale, Honeywell, and Bosch, among many others. The Eero Pro 6 is also Alexa compatible, so you can control router functions through Alexa voice commands.
All this sits on top of a solid, app-driven interface that makes setup and configuration easy. Although it shares the advanced configuration limitations of many mesh systems, the Eero Pro 6 rivals Google’s Nest Wifi for ease of use.
The system’s Wi-Fi 6 performance is fine but can’t compete with the fastest mesh networks available. The main reason you’d want to choose the Eero over the Nest Wifi is if you have a more spacious home, as it covers a larger range.
Though the Eero Pro 6 works well and has good smart home support, it comes at a high price. A single Eero Pro 6 router is nearly as expensive as Google’s Nest Wifi two-pack, and pricing swiftly increases from there. Despite this, the overall feature set and performance offered by the Eero Pro 6 is not impressive compared to systems like the Asus ZenWifi XT8 AX6600 or Linksys Velop AX4200.
Still, the Eero Pro 6 can make sense for those who are as interested in smart-home support as Wi-Fi performance. The included Zigbee radio provides broad compatibility that will fit well with many smart-home devices.
The best mesh Wi-Fi network system for large homes
Thanks to a three-device bundle, the Linksys Velop AX4200 offers good coverage for spacious homes.
The Linksys Velop AX4200 is another great tri-band, Wi-Fi 6 mesh Wi-Fi system. It provides strong coverage and good Wi-Fi performance that’s suitable for the largest homes.
Linksys cheats the competition by including three nodes in a bundle that matches the price of competitors that have just two units. Any of these can be the primary or child nodes. Because it has more nodes, the Linksys Velop AX4200 can more easily cover large spaces and handle pesky Wi-Fi dead spots.
Each Velop node is massive and has an excellent array of wired connectivity, with a variety of ports. The size is a downside it shares with the Netgear Orbi system, and the Velop’s extra node means you’ll have even more hardware taking up shelf space.
The Linksys Velop is easy to set up and configure, but it shares the configuration limitations of the Nest Wifi and Arris Surfboard Max AX6600. A mobile app is the only way to control your mesh network, and it doesn’t offer the advanced network options found on a typical wireless router.
Still, the Linksys Velop AX4200 is a great pick if you have a large home or persistent Wi-Fi issues in more than one area of your home. The Velop AX4200’s inclusion of an extra node at a reasonable price is a huge perk over the competition.
Do you need a mesh Wi-Fi system?
Mesh Wi-Fi systems promise improved reliability, performance, and range, all of which sound attractive.
The core difference between a mesh network and a traditional Wi-Fi network is the use of multiple nodes or satellites, which are the extra devices you place around your home, away from the main router. A proprietary solution controls communication between these extra devices. This lets all the nodes appear as one network and lets owners easily extend the network by purchasing more access points.
This is useful, though only if you need to have your network extended or have a troublesome Wi-Fi dead spot. A mesh network isn’t required to cover most homes under 2,000 square feet or larger homes that don’t have persistent dead spots.
Owners enjoyed the first mesh networks because they were easier to set up and use than routers, which have a bad reputation for confusing and disorganized interfaces. Router manufactures have caught on, however. Most wireless routers now offer fast setup and useful smartphone apps that are similar to those used with mesh networks.
Mesh networking products often make extravagant claims about their range or reliability. You can find products on Amazon that claim to cover homes of 5,000 square feet with three devices for just $150. Take these claims with a grain of salt.
The fastest, most effective mesh networks have multiple bands and use large units with large antennas, adding to the cost. Shoppers who just want a reliable Wi-Fi network at a low price will be better served by a standard wireless router. Mesh Wi-Fi systems remain a premium option that’s more of a luxury than a necessity, though pricing on the most basic systems can now match a mid-range Wi-Fi router.
When is a Wi-Fi router better?
Modern Wi-Fi routers still have a definitive edge in network control and customization. Most mesh routers use an app-based setup process. A few, like Netgear’s Orbi, include a web-based interface for advanced customization. Most don’t.
That can be a problem if you need or want in-depth control for settings like the router firewall, port forwarding, and static IP addresses. Most homes don’t need these features, but they are useful for gamers and those who manage a home server.
Can you mix mesh network devices?
Unlike Wi-Fi itself, which is a standard developed by an organization called the Wi-Fi Alliance, mesh Wi-Fi systems are not standardized. The specifics on how they work vary significantly between brands or even between products from the same brand.
You can’t mix mesh network devices between brands. Many mesh Wi-Fi products are designed as a complete package and don’t work with different systems from the same company. In most cases, you can extend your mesh network only by purchasing more devices of the same model that you own.
Router companies are working to fix this by expanding compatibility between products, with some success. Still, it’s best to assume you won’t be able to mix and match until brands prove that compatibility between their own devices won’t be phased out after a few years.
Tri-band vs. dual-band
A Wi-Fi band is a specific frequency range of radio waves used by wireless networks. Today, Wi-Fi typically will use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Most routers are advertised as dual-band, which means they broadcast in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
You’ve likely noticed this already. Most Wi-Fi routers that exist today will create two different networks by default: one for the 2.4GHz band and one for the 5GHz band. In most cases, the 5GHz band has a “5G” added to the network name. This, by the way, has nothing to do with 5G networks used by mobile data networks, but the similarity in the names remains a source of confusion.
A tri-band mesh network adds a third band that, in most cases, is another 5GHz band operating at a slightly different frequency from the first. This reduces interference between bands, providing both better performance and improved range.
Dual-band is fine for a basic mesh network. The engineers designing routers are clever and can use various tricks to help routers and wireless access points communicate in a dual-band arrangement. Still, a tri-band mesh network is always technically superior to a dual-band mesh network.
What else we considered
Asus ZenWiFi XT8 AX6600: There’s a lot to like about the Asus ZenWiFi, especially its price compared to the Netgear Orbi. However, we had difficulty finding it in stock.
Netgear Nighthawk MK63: Netgear’s Nighthawk MK63 is an affordable, dual-band, Wi-Fi 6 system. It’s a good deal if you can find a bundle with three units. Otherwise, the two-unit system has a less impressive range that doesn’t measure up to some of the others on this list.
What we’re looking forward to
The release of Wi-Fi 6 means router manufacturers are in the middle of updating their product lines, but most mesh Wi-Fi systems have updated to the new standard.
The Wi-Fi Alliance introduced an evolution of the Wi-Fi 6 standard, Wi-Fi 6E, in 2020. Wi-Fi 6E adds a 6GHz wireless channel alongside the 5GHz and 2.4GHz channels already supported.
At CES 2021, Netgear, Linksys, TP-Link, and Asus, and Arris showed mesh Wi-Fi systems that support Wi-Fi 6E. Upcoming options include the following:
You’ll have to wait until the second half of 2021 to buy any of these systems, and other brands will likely announce additional Wi-Fi 6E systems between now and the holiday shopping season.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems that support Wi-Fi 6E will likely have a performance edge over current models, but you don’t have to wait if you’re ready to buy. Today’s Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems are extremely quick and have excellent range. Wi-Fi 6E will be an evolution, not a revolution.