A great wireless router is an essential element of tech life, whether you’re building out a smart home or you just want the best experience streaming music and video at home. If you’re suffering with low wireless throughput or dead spots in any area of your home, we heartily recommend deploying a mesh network consisting of a Wi-Fi router with one or more satellite nodes that you sprinkle around your home, because it will blanket your home with coverage. 

You can deploy a mesh Wi-Fi router without any satellites, but you’d be losing out on all the coverage benefits that mesh technology provides. We pick the best mesh systems here, because even those of us fortunate enough to have ethernet drops everywhere have devices—smartphones and tablets, for instance—that depend on Wi-Fi to connect to the home network and the internet.

Twin and sometimes conflicting demands for high performance and ease of use are powering a thriving and rapidly evolving market. Innovation is one of the biggest upsides of this dynamic, and confusion its biggest downside. Today’s hero could be tomorrow’s has-been, as established brands like Linksys and Netgear try to one-up each other while simultaneously fending off new challengers such as Eero (now owned by Amazon) and Google. But it’s those challengers who have innovated the most.

Scroll down a bit (or click here) and we’ll discuss the features you should look for in a mesh Wi-Fi system. We’ll also explain some of the jargon you’ll encounter when you shop for one. You can skip to our latest mesh Wi-Fi router reviews by clicking here.

Best mesh Wi-Fi system

The secret to the Orbi RBK50’s success is Netgear’s dedicated 4×4, 1,733Mbps radio used for data backhaul between the router and its satellites (the RBK50 comes with one satellite, which Netgear says is sufficient to blanket 5,000 square feet). We also like the fact that the Orbi router has a built-in three-port ethernet switch (the satellite has a four-port switch), because those ports provide so much flexibility in terms of connecting other devices to your network, be it a NAS box for media streaming and data backup, a network printer that doesn’t support Wi-Fi, or an older ethernet-only A/V receiver in your entertainment center.

An Orbi network can also be expanded with a smart speaker (the Orbi Voice, which supports the Amazon Alexa digital assistant) and a purpose-built outdoor satellite (the Orbi Outdoor). Orbi devices, on the other hand, are among the most expensive mesh Wi-Fi components, and the RBK50 kit in particular is overkill for for smaller spaces.

Runner-up

Like Netgear’s Orbi RBK50 kit, the Linksys Velop is a tri-band router that dedicates one of its three Wi-Fi networks to data backhaul. Unlike Netgear’s offering, however, the Velop dynamically chooses the least-congested channels for that task. On the downside, the Velop’s maximum data backhaul speed is 867Mbps, compared to the Orbi RBK50 kit’s 1,766Mbps. Two Velop nodes proved to be the sweet spot to blanket our 2,800-square-foot test home with Wi-Fi, which would cost $75 less than the three-node kit that we reviewed.

Best budget mesh Wi-Fi system

TP-Link’s Deco M5 is a dual-band Wi-Fi system operating one network using radio spectrum in the 2.4GHz band and a second network using spectrum in the 5GHz band.  As such, the Deco M5 must rely on the same bandwidth for data backhaul. And that is the biggest factor that differentiates the Deco M5 from the more-powerful tri-band mesh-network offerings from Linksys and Netgear that use dedicated networks for backhaul. That said, the Deco M5 delivers a ton of value for the money.



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