Demand for fast and reliable Wi-Fi is probably at an all-time high, as millions of people work from home, relying on Zoom and other video conferencing apps to keep in touch with colleagues and clients. Many organisations are also finding that video calls reduce the need for business travel and client visits.
That increased reliance on Wi-Fi can reveal problems, though -- especially in larger offices or homes, where the Wi-Fi signal may struggle to reach more distant rooms on other floors.
Instead of relying on a conventional Wi-Fi router and access points or range extenders, an alternative solution is to opt for a 'mesh' networking system. Depending on the size of the building, mesh systems typically use a main router with a wired connection to a broadband modem, plus two or more wireless nodes that can be placed in different rooms or locations. The main router and the satellite nodes form their own 'mesh' Wi-Fi network, covering a wider area and delivering greater speed and reliability than a conventional Wi-Fi router, even with extra access points or range extenders.
Most mesh systems are aimed at home users and marketed as easily-configured solutions for 'whole home Wi-Fi', but some are particularly suitable for business users. These can include features such as multiple Ethernet ports, or the ability to create several networks with different passwords. The latest mesh systems are now adopting the new Wi-Fi 6 standard (a.k.a. IEEE 802.11ax), which is not an essential feature at the moment but is certainly worth considering by businesses wanting to future-proof their Wi-Fi setups.
Asus makes a number of ZenWiFi mesh systems for home users, but promotes the RT-AC68U as the main option for businesses. You can buy a single RT-AC68U router on its own for £104.17 (ex. VAT; £125 inc. VAT) or $137, but it's possible to use this as part of a mesh network with any other Asus router that supports the company's AiMesh technology. This provides an affordable mix-and-match option for those who already own Asus Wi-Fi equipment.
If you're starting from scratch, there's a two-piece kit, priced at £183.33 (ex. VAT; £220 inc. VAT) or $279.99. Each router provides dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with a combined top speed of 1900Mbps (600Mbps on 2.4GHz, 1300Mbps on 5GHz), along with four Ethernet ports for wired connections, and a dedicated WAN port for connecting to your existing broadband modem. Unlike many mesh systems aimed at home users, the RT-AC68U allows you to create separate networks using the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and there's also a version called the 4G-AC68U which includes a 4G LTE Category 6 modem (300Mbps down/50Mbps up) as well.
£183.33 (ex. VAT; £220 inc. VAT) / $279.99
BT is still the dominant force in the UK telecoms market, providing broadband services to millions of businesses and home users. That makes its range of Whole Home Wi-Fi mesh systems an obvious upgrade for many BT customers (BT also points out that the system is compatible with broadband services from other providers too).
The standard Whole Home Wi-Fi is an affordable option, starting at £104.16 (ex. VAT; £124.99 inc. VAT) for a two-piece system using 802.11ac Wi-Fi. But BT has recently released a high-performance Premium model that steps up to the latest WiFi 6 (802.11ax) standard. It's still competitively priced, though, starting at £191.67 (ex. VAT; £229.99 inc. VAT) for a mesh system with two of BT's distinctive 'disc' routers.
The Premium model is a tri-band system (2.4GHz 802.11n, 5GHz 802.11ac, 5GHz 802.11ax/WiFi 6), with a combined top speed of 3700Mbps. Each router also has two Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections.
There are three- and four-piece systems also available for larger buildings, and BT's website has a useful 'selector' tool that can help you to choose the best option for your home or office.
From £191.67 (ex. VAT; £229.99 inc. VAT)$199 at Amazon (UK)
Mesh networking systems can be pretty expensive, and if you're just having trouble with the Wi-Fi signal in one room then a range extender is an affordable option that can boost the Wi-Fi signal in just that specific location. Alternatively, you could use a PowerLine adapter to send a wired network connection over your home or office electrical wiring -- an ingenious and somewhat magical solution.
Several companies make range extenders and PowerLine adapters, but Devolo specialises in this area with its extensive Magic range of devices. Devolo's latest Magic 2 adapters combine a Wi-Fi range extender with PowerLine wired connectivity, and are compatible with existing routers from other manufacturers. Unlike conventional range extenders, Devolo's Magic adapters also include a 'mesh' option that allows you to link two or more devices in different rooms in order to create a more extensive Wi-Fi network.
Devolo has recently launched the Magic 2 WiFi Next starter kit with two adapters (a Magic 2 LAN adapter that plugs into your broadband modem, and a Magic 2 WiFi Next adapter) priced at £141.67 (ex. VAT; £169.99 inc. VAT) or $216. This supports dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi at up to 2400Mbps, and will boost Wi-Fi coverage in a room or floor, covering an area up to 120 square metres. Additional WiFi Next adapters cost £91.67 (ex. VAT; £109.99 inc. VAT) or $135; there's also a three-piece WiFi Next Whole Home Kit, which costs £224.99 (ex. VAT; £269.99 inc. VAT).
from £141.67 (ex. VAT; £169.99 inc. VAT) / $216View Now at Devolo (International)
The original Google Wifi mesh system got very good reviews when it was first launched in 2016, and it helped to introduce mesh technology to a mainstream audience. The original Google Wifi product has since been discontinued, but its successor emerged at the end of 2019 as part of the Google-owned Nest range of smart home devices. Clearly spotting a marketing opportunity, Google's US website is currently promoting Nest Wifi as a 'Workspace Expander' for working from home.
The two-piece Nest Wifi system shown here consists of a primary Nest Wifi router (110mm diameter, 380g) which plugs into your broadband modem and a secondary Nest Wifi point (102.2mm diameter, 350g). This system, which costs £199.17 (ex. VAT; £239 inc. VAT) or $269, provides dual-band 802.11s Wi-Fi (a mesh-oriented variation of standard 802.11ac) with the main router running at 2200Mbps. The Wifi point runs at a more modest 1200Mbps, but that should still be more than adequate for streaming video, music, or Zoom calls with colleagues.
The Wifi point also includes a speaker and microphone that support the voice-controlled Google Assistant. The two-piece system should be able to cover homes of up to 3800 square feet (353 square metres), Google says, and you can purchase additional Wifi points for £107.50 (ex. VAT; £129 inc. VAT) or $149 if required, each of which can cover an additional 1600 square feet (149 square metres).
from £199.17 (ex. VAT; £239 inc. VAT) / $269$349 at Best Buy $349 at Walmart $349 at Crutchfield
Linksys has an extensive range of Velop mesh systems, and recently added this new WiFi 6 model that could be suitable both for home and office use. You can buy a single MX5300 on its own for £308.33 (ex. VAT; £369.99 inc. VAT), and there's a two-piece kit called the MX10600 priced at £583.33 (ex. VAT; £699.99 inc. VAT). In the US these models are referred to as the Velop MX5 and MX10, and cost $399.99 and $699.99 respectively.
Those prices make Velop one of the more expensive mesh systems on the market right now -- even when compared with other new WiFi 6 systems -- but it works hard to justify that price. A single MX5300 should cover homes of up to 3,000 square feet, while the two-piece MX10600 goes up to 6,000sq.ft, with both models providing tri-band WiFi 6 networking with an imposing combined top speed of 5.3Gbps.
The Velop could be a good choice for offices too, as each router includes four Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections (plus a WAN port for your internet connection). Linksys also claims that the Velop can act as a security system, as it has the ability to detect movement within the area covered by your Wi-Fi network. This feature -- called Linksys Aware -- requires an additional subscription fee, but there's a 90-day free trial available through the Linksys app for iOS and Android.
from £308.33 (ex. VAT; £369.99 inc. VAT) / $399.99$400 at Best Buy $400 at Walmart
Netgear's Orbi mesh systems have traditionally been fairly expensive, but in recent months the company has introduced some less expensive models as well. If you just need to give your wifi a bit of a boost for Zoom calls while you're working from home then the entry-level Orbi Wifi System will do the trick, starting at just £108.33 (ex. VAT; £129.99 inc. VAT) or $179.99.
That price includes a two-piece mesh system, suitable for homes of up to 2,000 square feet, but there's also a three-piece kit available that can cover up to 3,250sq.ft. Performance is relatively modest, with the Orbi just offering dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with a combined top speed of 1200Mbps, but that's still more than adequate for most home broadband services. Parents concerned about their kids' safety online will need to take out an additional monthly subscription to Disney's Circle app.
from £108.33 (ex. VAT; £129.99 inc. VAT) / $179.99$350 at Amazon $450 at Best Buy $350 at Walmart
Netgear's Orbi range of mesh systems includes a variety of different designs and price points -- including the Orbi Voice with a built-in smart-speaker that supports Amazon Alexa. The most recent addition is the Orbi WiFi 6, which, as the name suggests, employs the latest WiFi 6 technology (a.k.a. 802.11ax).
The Orbi WiFi 6 System AX6000 is very much a top-of-the-range mesh system, starting at £591.66 (ex. VAT; £709.99 inc. VAT) or $699.99 for a two-piece system comprising a primary router and a secondary satellite. It offers impressive performance, though, with tri-band wifi capable of a combined top speed of 6Gbps -- twice that of even the fastest Orbi systems based on WiFi 5/802.11ac.
It's fast when it comes to wired connections too, with the primary router including a 2.5Gbps WAN port for a high-speed internet connection for office networks, along with four Gigabit Ethernet ports on both router and satellite for wired connections.
The two-piece system is designed to cover buildings of up to 5,000 square feet; there's also a three-piece system that covers up to 7,500 sq.ft, but won't leave you much change from £1000/$1000.
from £591.66 (ex. VAT; £709.99 inc. VAT) / $699.99$632 at Amazon $700 at Best Buy $632 at Walmart
Netgear has an extensive -- some might say confusing -- selection of mesh Wi-Fi systems in its Orbi range, but the Orbi Pro is one that's specifically aimed at business users.
The hardware side of things is relatively straightforward, with the Orbi Pro offering tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with a combined top speed of 3000Mbps, along with four Ethernet ports on each router for wired connections. The two-piece SRK60 kit shown here is designed to cover premises of up to 5,000 square feet, and costs £258.33 (ex. VAT; £310 inc. VAT) or $435; three-piece and four-piece systems are also available, as well as ruggedised add-on routers for outdoor locations, and ceiling-mounted routers for warehouses and larger premises.
However, it's Netgear's Insight app that really sets the Orbi Pro apart from conventional mesh Wi-Fi systems. With offices and retail locations in mind, the app allows you to set-up three separate Wi-Fi networks -- each with its own password -- that provide different levels of access for IT staff, employees and 'guests', such as retail customers or temporary visitors.
from (£258.33 ex. VAT; £310 inc. VAT) / $435$389 at Amazon (US)
The sheer variety of models, speeds, and differing designs offered by TP-Link's Deco range of mesh systems is a little confusing, but the Deco M4 is hard to beat in terms of value for money. Prices start at just £91.67 (ex. VAT; £110 inc. VAT) or $110 for a two-piece M4 system that can cover medium size homes of up to 2800 square feet, and there's a three-piece kit that can cover up to 4000 sq.ft as well.
You won't get blazing fast Wi-Fi for that price, with the M4 providing dual-band 802.11ac at the relatively modest combined speed of 1200Mbps. Even so, that will still be perfectly adequate for most home broadband services, and the Deco M4 will provide a very affordable upgrade if you need to boost your Wi-Fi while working from home.
Each of the identical routers also includes two Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections, although one port will be required to connect one of the Deco units to your existing broadband router or modem.
from £91.67 (ex. VAT; £110 inc. VAT) / $110$149 at Best Buy
Ubiquiti's AmpliFi HD is a neatly designed mesh Wi-Fi system whose ease of use will appeal to a wide range of users.
Most mesh systems use two or more identical-looking routers, but the AmpliFi HD takes a more imaginative approach -- perhaps inspired by founder Robert Pera's previous job at Apple. The three-piece AmpliFi HD system includes a primary router that consists of a compact 4-inch cube with a touch-sensitive LED display giving quick access to the main network settings. This is backed up by two larger 'mesh points' that plug directly into a mains power socket in rooms where your Wi-Fi needs a boost.
Other aspects of the design are more conventional, utilising dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with a top combined speed of 1750Mbps. The AmpliFi HD costs a rather hefty £306.67 (ex.VAT; £368.05 inc. VAT) or $340, but its attractive design and simple controls help it to stand out from its many mesh rivals. There's also a more affordable model, called AmpliFi Instant, although that doesn't seem to be widely available in the UK at the moment.
£306.67 (ex.VAT; £368.05 inc. VAT) / $340$179 at Amazon $231 at Walmart