Wi-Fi Mesh Extenders: Truth or Hype?

Introduction

ASSIA recently announced support for the Wi-Fi Alliance EasyMesh™ certification program.  Wi-Fi EasyMesh™ delivers a standards-based approach to deploying multiple access points from different vendors, extending uniform Wi-Fi coverage and enhancing performance throughout a larger service area than is possible with a single access point.

Why is ASSIA endorsing Wi-Fi EasyMesh?  First of all, interoperability is good for the service provider market.  A standards-based approach means service providers can achieve more flexibility and reduce costs, while delivering a consistent Wi-Fi management experience.

The mesh and extender product category has been around for some time, which begs the question why another standard is needed for this device category.  I’d like to provide some perspective around this topic by introducing the Top 3 Myths About Mesh and Extenders

 

Myth #1.  Mesh and Extenders are Equivalent

We often interchangeably refer to repeaters and extenders as devices which will boost, repeat, or extend the Wi-Fi signals to improve coverage in the home.   Residential consumers will often place multiple extenders/repeaters in the home to improve coverage.

However, the broad presence of consumer mesh devices in the market has led to some confusion as to what truly is a mesh network versus a multi-access point or extender based network.

A mesh network is often incorrectly defined as merely a configuration consisting of two or more extenders.   Mesh was originally developed as military-based technology to provide wireless coverage across a wide area.  The IEEE defined a mesh technology called 802.11s, which defined packet routing protocols for forwarding and redirecting packets if wireless nodes were to become inactive. While this technology standard has existed, the industry lacked a true interoperability standard for such devices, and hence implementations become proprietary.

In most  residential deployments, mesh nodes typically get configured in a point-to-point or star topology.   So, in reality, “mesh” deployments are typically not even configured as a true mesh network.  Why should a service provider pay for mesh technology if mesh is not even utilized in a deployment?

Instead, service providers can provide a solution that offers maximum speed/capacity of the backhaul to gateway as well as to stations.   Wi-Fi performance is only as good as the weakest link to the end-user device.  Optimizing performance of the fronthaul and backhaul is also essential for maximizing the gains in an extender environment.

 

Myth #2. Mesh Hardware Eliminates the Need for Wi-Fi Management

We have found in our residential deployments that adding extenders often results in no improvement, and in some cases even results in a loss of coverage in the home.   This often occurs for several reasons.  First of all, extenders are often configured improperly and placed in suboptimal locations in the home.  For example, extenders are often placed where the dead coverage spot in a room is actually located, lacking an adequate backhaul connection to the main gateway or AP.  Extenders can also perform poorly because wireless mesh/extenders can lead to greater congestion in the home due to presence of stronger Wi-Fi signals (RSSI) combined with overlapping channels and bands leading to more interference.  Providing proper Wi-Fi management software tools for extender configuration and placement are essential to maximize the benefits of mesh and extenders.

 

Myth #3. Mesh Extenders are the Panacea for Improving  Wi-Fi Performance

Despite the advances in Wi-Fi technology and standards, achieving reliable and adequate performance throughout the home remains a challenge today.  Service providers lack the diagnostics and visibility into the home and often simply resort to deploying mesh/extenders throughout the house to address performance issues.

However, deploying extenders is effective only if the primary issue affecting performance is due to poor signal strength coverage.  Other factors can impact performance such as interference or noise in the environment.   Simply installing  mesh extenders to address non-coverage related performance problems will only exacerbate the subscriber’s Wi-Fi issues.  Accurate diagnostics and determination of the root causes of performance issues is critical for determining if and when a mesh extender should be deployed.

The Wi-Fi industry has come a long way with interoperability standards.  Mesh and extenders can addresses coverage problems in the home when deployed and managed properly.  With Wi-Fi Alliance EasyMesh™, operators can benefit from standards-based hardware solutions combined with the power of ASSIA’s CloudCheck solution  for network wide residential Wi-Fi management.