When voice tools like Alexa and Google Assistant entered homes, riding on the back of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, they created an unexpected side effect: they strained our existing router-based Wi-Fi networks and revealed 'black holes' we never knew existed.... odd spots in the home where one could not connect to the Internet. We have become more demanding: We want to roam in and out of rooms and bathrooms, while continuing to browse on our phones.
The good old router is not up to this challenge — yes, you can add some range extenders, but they are a hassle, each of them requiring a new Wi-Fi name otherwise called SSID or Service Set Identifier — with its own password.
Which is why a new Wi-Fi technology called Mesh networking is becoming a rage in homes where wireless Internet usage is intense. Mesh Wi-Fi works with multiple node units, typically 3. Each one 'talks' to everyone. They dynamically form a large wireless mesh, if one node conks out, the others step in to fill the gap, while the defective one self-heals. If the signal strength on one band falls the network switches to the alternate band to maintain a good connection. And most usefully, once the base unit of your mesh has been coupled to your incoming broadband, you can add additional nodes with a few clicks of a mobile app ... the same network name and password is handed on smoothly.
Mesh wireless when combined with another new technology — MU-MIMO — becomes even more powerful. MIMO is Multiple In Multiple Out, a wireless technology largely the brainwork of India-born Stanford University Emeritus Professor, Arogyaswami Paulraj. It is a technology for wireless communications in which multiple antennas are used at both the source (transmitter) and the destination (receiver) to improve what is called throughput. MU-MIMO is Multi User MIMO, which allows a Wi-Fi router to communicate with multiple nodes at the same time. Mesh networks exploit this to establish connections between all the nodes, all the time.
The result of this combo: Mesh + MU-MIMO is that you can 'illuminate' an entire apartment even on two floors, so that you are connected everywhere — to a central smart speaker if required. In recent weeks two leading Wi-Fi providers launched their Mesh home networking solutions in India. We tried out both and describe them alongside.
The older router systems will still be around and cost a bit less. But today if your home has 2 or more bedrooms, a Mesh Wi-Fi system will be the sensible way to go.