A Deeper Dive into the Genesis and Evolution of Mesh Networking

Nigel Dixon-Fyle
Image: Tom’s Guide

eero. Orbi. The concept of mesh networking finds its roots not in the quest for better home internet, but in military communications and early computer networking research, where resilience, reliability, and redundancy were paramount. This foundation laid the groundwork for what would eventually become a cornerstone of modern wireless communication, especially in consumer applications like Wi-Fi.

The Military Origins

Mesh networking was initially developed for military applications in the late-20th century. The goal was to create robust, fail-safe communication networks that could withstand significant damage to individual nodes without disrupting the entire network. This was critical in battlefield conditions, where the reliability of communication lines could mean the difference between success and failure, life and death.

In these early implementations, the mesh network’s ability to dynamically reroute data through multiple paths ensured that even if some nodes were compromised or destroyed, the network could continue to function. This resilience made mesh networking an attractive proposition for any application requiring high levels of reliability.

Transition to Civilian Use

The transition of mesh networking from military to civilian use began with its adoption in large-scale industrial applications and academic institutions, where similar requirements for network reliability and flexibility were present. Universities and research facilities, often spread across vast campuses with numerous buildings, found mesh networks to be an ideal solution for their complex connectivity needs.

The real transformative period for mesh networking, however, came with the advent of wireless technology. As Wi-Fi became the de facto standard for internet access in homes and businesses, the limitations of traditional single-router setups became increasingly apparent, especially in terms of coverage and the handling of obstacles like walls and floors.

Consumer Adoption and the Rise of Wi-Fi Mesh Systems

The introduction of consumer-grade mesh Wi-Fi systems can be traced back to the early 2010s. Companies started to experiment with multiple Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters to improve coverage. However, these early solutions often led to complex setups and inconsistent performance.

Photo: NYT

The breakthrough came with the integration of mesh networking principles into these systems.  The integration lead to the development of user-friendly, highly effective mesh Wi-Fi solutions. These systems used multiple nodes or satellites, which communicated with each other to cover entire homes with a single, seamless Wi-Fi network. Unlike traditional extenders, these mesh nodes worked together under a single network name (SSID), allowing for seamless roaming throughout the space without the need to manually switch between networks.

Innovation and Standardization

The innovation in mesh networking coincided with efforts to standardize the technology for broader adoption. The introduction of the EasyMesh standard by the Wi-Fi Alliance was a pivotal moment.  This ensured different mesh systems could work together, further enhancing the appeal of mesh networks to the average consumer.

image: vvdn tech

As internet speeds increased and the number of connected devices in homes grew, mesh networking became not just a convenience but a necessity for many. The evolution of Wi-Fi standards, from 802.11n to the latest Wi-Fi 7, has kept pace with the demands of mesh networking, offering higher speeds, greater capacity, and lower latency.

Top Contenders in Whole-Home Mesh Systems

1. Eero Pro 6E: Eero’s popular offering supports Wi-Fi 6E, covering up to 6,000 square feet with just three nodes. It’s praised for its simplicity and robust parental controls. “Eero continues to innovate, making Wi-Fi 6E accessible and easy to manage for everyone,” says a spokesperson from Eero.

2. Netgear Orbi WiFi 6E (RBKE963): This powerhouse system promises coverage up to 9,000 square feet and speeds capable of handling multiple 8K streams simultaneously. While its price tag is on the higher end, its performance is unmatched. “The Orbi WiFi 6E system is designed for the ultimate smart home experience,” notes a Netgear executive.

3. TP-Link Deco XE75: Offering an affordable entry into Wi-Fi 6E, the Deco XE75 covers up to 5,800 square feet and supports over 150 devices. It strikes a balance between performance and price, making it a popular choice for budget-conscious consumers.

4. Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12: Geared towards the tech-savvy user, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 offers advanced customization options and AiMesh technology, allowing it to integrate with other Asus routers for expanded coverage. “Our goal is to provide a versatile system that meets the needs of even the most demanding network environments,” says an Asus representative.

5. Google Nest Wifi Pro: Google’s entry into the Wi-Fi 6E market impresses with its sleek design and integrated smart speaker functionality. It’s particularly commended for its intuitive setup process and seamless integration with Google services.

Leading companies are starting to offer WiFi 7 mesh systems (eero Max 7, Orbi 970 Series, Deco BEx). System prices are high, but WiFi 7 boasts incredible performance, throughput, range, and backwards-compatibility.

Image: TP-Link

t/f Summary: Looking Forward

Today, mesh networking stands as a testament to the power of innovation driven by necessity. From its military origins to its role in powering the smart homes of today and tomorrow, mesh networking has come a long way. As we stand on the cusp of new advancements with the release of Wi-Fi 7. The future of mesh networking looks brighter than ever, promising even more seamless, reliable, and expansive wireless coverage for consumers around the globe.

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By Nigel Dixon-Fyle "Automotive Enthusiast"
Nigel Dixon-Fyle is an Editor-at-Large for TechFyle. His background in engineering, telecommunications, consulting and product development inspired him to launch TechFyle (TF). Nigel implemented technologies that support business practices across a variety of industries and verticals. He enjoys the convergence of technology and anything – autos, phones, computers, or day-to-day services. However, Nigel also recognizes not everything is good in absolutes. Technology has its pros and cons. TF supports this exploration and nuance.
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