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How to set up a mesh network

A mesh router spreads your Wi-Fi network out through multiple access points in the building. It’s a great way to fix dead zones and expand Wi-Fi coverage over a much greater area. However, setting up a mesh network takes a little more work than setting up a regular router. Here’s what you need to do.

Step 1: Pick out the right mesh network for you

John Velasco / Digital Trends

To create a true mesh network — as opposed to setting up an independent Wi-Fi repeater — you can make two main choices. The first is buying compatible routers or repeaters for an existing router that is mesh-compatible. If you look at router specs, you will see that a growing number of today’s routers have mesh compatibility, which means you can link them together without purchasing a whole new system. This option can save some time and money, so it’s worth looking into.

The second option is to buy a new mesh router that includes everything you need right out of the box, like Google Nest Wi-Fi. This is a good option if you also want a router upgrade or a mesh system that’s particularly easy to use.

Step 2: Scout out the best router locations

Your mesh system will have a primary router and one or two additional access points (also called nodes, satellites, etc., depending on the brand). Your primary router can usually go where your old router used to be, but where do you put the access points? Pick out the right spots now before you start the setup so they’ll be ready. Important points to keep in mind include:

  • Space your access points apart throughout the building for better coverage.
  • While your primary router will need an Ethernet connection, your other access points should only require a power outlet.
  • Your mesh router probably has recommendations for how many feet apart your routers should be: Take a look and follow the guidelines.
  • Generally, access points should be no more than two rooms away from each other.
  • As usual, setting your access points at an elevated position is better for the signal, so look for shelves that you can use.

Step 3: Plug in your router and download the app

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Start by placing and plugging in your primary router — and only your primary router — to an outlet and your internet gateway. Most of today’s mesh routers use apps to make router setup and management easier, so find and download any necessary apps and sign in or create an account as necessary.

Now look for an option to detect your new router. This will vary based on the mesh system you have. Google Wi-Fi makes this very easy by including a QR code on the primary router that you simply scan with your phone. Other apps may have you type in the router’s SSID number or other steps to identify the device you are using. Confirm to start setting up your new network.

Step 4: Name and link your main access point

Now you should be able to name your router, assign it a location in your home (“living room,” for example), or a combination of the two. Pick the router’s name and location carefully to always know that it’s your primary router.

Some routers may also have you set up and name your wireless network at this point, but many will wait until you are ready and your other access points are set up.

Step 5: Plug in and name your other access points

Now it’s time to set up your other access points. Plug in one access point in your desired location, wait for it to boot up, and follow your mesh router’s guideline for connecting it to your primary router.

This process can vary a bit between networks. Google’s app will auto-detect an access point when you hold your phone close by and lets you quickly add it to your network, naming it with the location the access point is at so you don’t get them confused. Other mesh access points, like Netgear’s Orbi, may use LED lights to show that they are booting up, looking for the primary router, connecting, and successfully joining. This can take a few minutes, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away. Follow your instructions as necessary.

Once one satellite access point has been successfully connected, you can add more if necessary. Just go one at a time and make sure they are connected before moving on.

Step 6: Finalize your network

Your router app should now show your router and access points as all connected properly. Your app may require you to download some final software at this time. When prompted, set up the name and password for your Wi-Fi network at this point, too. Remember that the latest standard in Wi-Fi encryption is WP3!

Google Wi-Fi also has an extra option to Test Now to see if your access points are in the right spots or if your network can be optimized by moving them. We highly suggest running this test to make sure the network is working as expected.

Important things to be aware of

You may have to enable “mesh mode” for your routers: Some software requires going into router settings and choosing a mesh mode to begin, especially if you are upgrading an existing router with mesh access points.

All access points should have the same SSID: Keep this in mind if you have to enter an SSID for each access point during setup.

All access points should be on the same channel and band: Your router may be able to automatically switch devices between bands, which is great, but if asked, make sure you are setting up on the same channel and band (2.4GHz, 5GHz, etc.). The 2.4GHz band is usually the standard.

VLAN tagging may change this process: VLAN tagging is a process where each data packet is tagged with a VLAN identifier if those packets are going to different VLANS on the other side of the connection. This doesn’t play well with mesh routers, so you may need a network switch in addition to your routers. VLAN tagging may be required by an ISP internet service provider (ISP), so you may want to check.

You can go open source if you want: If you prefer a far more hands-on approach, you can order a kit from FreeMesh and set up your own mesh router system with a lot more control over software and settings.

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