Is Your Wi-Fi Making You Wired? A Mesh Network Can Banish Those Wireless Dead Spots

Mark Sparrow

Mark Sparrow Contributor Consumer Tech Technology journalist specializing in audio and photography

Mesh router
The ESR580 mesh router from EnGenius looks great and should blend in with almost any room.EnGenius

While Ethernet is a popular way to connect to the Internet and corporate network in many large businesses, most homes and small businesses are more likely to use Wi-Fi to get online.

Everything from our smartphones to our printers and TVs rely on Wi-Fi to connect to a router and the outside world. So, what happens if you have a slightly larger home or office than average? Or maybe you live in a house that has thick walls and getting a signal in some parts of the building is proving difficult?

The traditional solution to this problem is to try to locate your Wi-Fi router somewhere close to the middle of your home or office for the best coverage. That can work but what if the broadband or cable connection isn’t somewhere convenient and you can’t place the router in an optimum position. In these situations, you can use Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters, or you can set up a PowerLine system where the network signals are distributed around the site using the electrical circuit. However, both these solutions come with problems.

Wi-Fi repeaters are potentially useful, but you do need to position them correctly and they often require that you log on to a new Wi-Fi network to get the signal. You can’t move seamlessly around and automatically switch to the stronger signal. Likewise, PowerLine also has its problems and while the system can work well in some buildings, it depends on the state of the circuitry. I also found that when I set up a PowerLine network in my own home, I could see all my neighbors’ computers and other devices because they also had a PowerLine network installed. I then had to turn on security and that made the whole network more complicated and slower. 

What’s the answer? How can you get blanket Wi-Fi or network coverage throughout a building from the basement to the attic, and from the kitchen to the garden shed? There must be a way to crack this problem. Well, thankfully there is and you don’t need to be a network wizard to install such a system. Mesh networks are user-friendly, incredibly convenient and you can extend them to suit your needs. In this review, I’m taking a look at the new EnMesh ESR580 tri-band wireless mesh router from EnGenius to find out how easy it is to set up a mesh network, and what possible downsides there might be. 

The EnMesh smart mesh router system is affordable and the individual stations look rather attractive with their compact white and circular form measuring just 5 inches in diameter and only 2.5 inches tall. There’s no need to hide these devices away as they are rather nice to look at. I just wonder how long it will be before we start to see mesh network nodes doubling as another object such as a flower vase or fruit bowl.

The new EnMesh ESR580 uses MU-MIMO beamforming technology to disperse the wireless signal and its ultrafast Tri-Band technology automatically detects the best connections to create a robust mesh network that gives the best possible coverage over the whole area. The wireless network is formed using the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and the base units use a separate 5GHz channel as a backhaul to communicate back to the master router as a backhaul. The ESR580 uses smart sensors to automatically detect and reroute wireless traffic to the fastest and most intelligent path bringing a strong Wi-Fi signal to every corner of a home. If all that sounds a bit complicated, don’t worry because there’s a free app to download that makes setting up a mesh network easier than setting up a smartphone.

The ESR580 is sold in twin-pack kits consisting of two mesh routers which should be sufficient for most small to average-sized homes. However, if your home or office is a little larger than average, or if you have very thick walls, you can buy a second set of routers or simply buy them singly to extend the network as the need arises.  

Underneath view mesh router
Underneath the ESR580 there are WAN and LAN ports plus USB socket for attaching storage.EnGenius

Setting up the EnMesh network is so easy. Simply plug the router into the mains power using the 12v power adaptor supplied and then connect your broadband router or cable modem to the ESR580 using the ethernet cable in the box. Give the router a chance to boot up and in the meantime download the EnMesh app from either the Apple Store or Google Play. Launch the app and wait for it to recognize your router and then follow the prompts. It takes seconds to set up by scanning a QR code on the base of the router. You then give your mesh network a name, choose a security password and that’s your base station established. Check that it’s working, and the app will even show you the connection speed you’re reaching.

The next job is to take the second router out of the box and plug it into the power and be sure to be no more than three meters from the base station just for the set-up and process. Name your satellite router once you’ve established contact and give the satellite router the name of the room where you’re eventually going to put it. With that done you should be good to go. Unplug the router and take it to the place where it’s going to be sited and act as a repeater station. The app will tell you if the place you’ve chosen for the satellite is too close, too far or just the right distance away. Ideally, a line of sight to the master router would be good, especially in a building with thick walls. This gives the best chance of the satellite router being able to retransmit a strong signal. 

I managed to hit the sweet spot with my first attempt and I soon had a strong signal both upstairs and downstairs and there was no need to switch over the Wi-Fi signal manually. I was logged into one Wi-Fi SSID (Service Set Identifier) or network name. Now, no matter where I wandered around the building my smartphone or laptop could pick up the best signal. Sometimes it used one base station, but at other times it could be harnessing both to get the best possible throughput. 

Screenshot of app
The free app for the EnMesh ESR580 lets you control the entire network and includes parental … [+]Mark Sparrow

And that’s all you have to do. The mesh network monitors itself and manages all the technicalities for you. It’s ideal for setting up in larger homes, offices on more than one floor, and even hotels or guest houses where people will want just one seamless network so they can check their emails in their bedrooms as well as when eating their breakfast. You can even set up a dedicated guest network that’s isolated from your home or office network to stop people snooping around or getting access to sensitive data.

The app also has some other nice features. This latest version offers QoS (Quality of Service) settings whereby you can choose which devices get priority on the network if there’s congestion. Additionally, there’s a range of parental controls that can restrict certain devices from accessing the internet at certain times and can also filter what they can access. Things like social media can be blocked and even keywords that you don’t want to appear in web searches can be restricted. The app is clean and clear of clutter and incredibly user-friendly. I haven’t tried the TP Link version of a mesh network, but I imagine it has an equally clean and easy app for setting up a network. The EnGenius app holds the user’s hand right the way throughout the process and it’s not necessary to have specialist knowledge of wireless networking to do it. Anyone who can use a smartphone can set up a mesh network.

Rear view ESR580
The EnGenius ESR580 can be mounted on a wall or a ceiling for optimum coverage.EnGenius

In my tests, the throughput speeds of the EnMesh ESR580 were excellent. For advanced users, there’s a slight downside in that you can’t split the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands to create a dual-band network, but I didn’t find that a problem. The point about the EnMesh system is that once it’s set up you can virtually forget about it. Each router has a LAN and a WAN port plus there’s a USB socket for connecting a storage drive so you can set up an in-house cloud storage system. This would be a good place to store movies or music so everyone can have access to the home entertainment library. EnGenius even has EnFile, a free cloud-storage app that you can download to set up your home cloud.

I didn’t encounter any issues during my time testing the EnMesh system. On one occasion, I did find that my music streamer had decided to log on to the router downstairs when the main router was in the same room. I solved that problem by temporary disabling the satellite router and then forcing the music streamer to reconnect with the main base station. Apart from that minor hiccup, there simply were no problems at all and I was able to go anywhere in the house, and even out into the garden, and the signal still appeared strong and constant. It was as if a wireless blanket had been draped over my entire home. I no longer had to switch between networks when the thick stone walls were hindering the main Wi-Fi signal. How easier life is when the Wi-Fi is working nicely and you don’t need to think about it.

Head-on view mesh router
Two EnGenius EnMesh ESR580 routers can cover most homes but if you need more you can just add extra … [+]EnGenius

Verdict: The EnGenius EnMesh ESR580 mesh network is a peach of a mesh system that’s so easy to set up. The system distributes a strong signal all around the home with just one network name enabling you to roam around the home or office knowing your smartphone will always able to pick up a strong and stable signal. I ended up turning off the old wireless signal from my home router modem as I guessed its unused signals were just clogging up wireless spectrum. My home went from having two upstairs and two downstairs Wi-Fi access points (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands) to just a single network with one SSID and uniform coverage. If you haven’t investigated home mesh networking yet, then you simply must. It will transform your home or office and make life so much easier. The EnGenius ESR580 system is affordable, the base units look great, and you can even disable their LEDs so they don’t keep you awake at night. Why not give mesh networking a try? You have nothing to lose but your wires and frustration.

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