Mesh router + mesh points vs multiple mesh routers

  • 0_1525094928110_Amplifi setup.pdf Hi all,

    Just purchased the AmpliFi Mesh WiFi system and I am really happy with ease of use and performance. I do have the following question however.

    I have a relatively new house, with CAT6 ethernet on every floor. The internet connection comes in at the ground level. Here is my ISP's modem and router. It is also where all CAT6 cables from the entire house connect.

    We live on the second floor, which is where Wifi should be best. The way I have set it up now, is the Amlifi router serves as an AP on the second floor. Mesh point are place on the corridors on the second and third floor. This gives great internet speeds throughout most of the house. The only downside is, I cannot use the Amplifi as router. Only one Cat6 cable runs to the second level. I need 2 to run the Amplifi as a router from that spot. One from the modem, and one back to the first level to connect to the switch.

    For a slightly higher price, I could replace the Amplifi and 2 Mesh points, with 3 Amplifi HD routers. On the first floor, one would act as the router. The other 2 would be AP's with ethernet backbone.

    I'm wondering what this would do to performance. Would it be as good, worse, or better? I haven't got into the fine print of the mesh points, but always understood their big advantage was the 'handover' of devices. Would this also work with 3 Amplifi HD routers?

    I've added a schematic drawing of my house to make things a bit easier.

  • I'm interested in this too. My house currently has 3 Airport Extremes, one on each floor. One is a router, the other 2 just access points. They are ethernet-connected. There are also a couple of Ethernet-connected Airport Expresses - one just for music, the other to fill in a black spot.

    I'm wondering whether 3 Ethernet-connected Amplifi HD routers would adequately replicate this. I'm assuming their reach is greater than the Extremes, but I could always use a Mesh if I still have any black spots. Handover is very important, of course.

    I'm also wondering whether people think the lack of MU-MIMO in the Amplifi is much of a drawback compared to something like the Linksys Velop.


  • Steve, from what I heard, in your current situation the handover will be initiated by your phone (or other wifi device). When the wifi level from one Airport Extreme drops below a certain level (say, 50%), your phone will check if there's a stronger signal available and switch if that is the case. So the handover is initiated by your phone. This can mean that your phone is still on a weak signal, while there's a much better signal available.

    Then I also heard the great thing about mesh systems is that the mesh points communicate with each other and monitor which point gives the best signal to your phone. It will initiate a handover as soon as one signal is stronger than the other.

    I'm not sure if the above is correct. But if it is, then the main question is if multiple Amplifi HD's will have the same functionality as 1 Amplifi HD + mesh points.

  • Don't mean to be impatient, but I think this should be a pretty easy answer to give for the AmpliFi crew, and something that a lot of people will run into?

  • I have 2 HD routers and 2 mesh antennas.

    When I sit close to a router, I get ~250-300Mb/s. When I sit close to a mesh antenna I get ~100-120Mb/s.

    I have the routers to cover the areas where we have lots of devices and spend a lot of time; one covers downstairs and the master bedroom, the other covers upstairs and the family room/kitchen. The two mesh antennas are in the office (everything is hardwired but I have a wireless printer) and the other is in a screen porch outside.

    Here's the thing about multiple airport extremes: they are not a mesh. Each of them operates independently and will not seek out a stronger signal at 50% as someone said above. They will literally hold on to a 5% signal when you are standing next to an 80% signal. A mesh system like Amplifi will make the handoff, even at ~60% if the other connection is 80%, it is always seeking out the strongest signal. I have found that different systems do the handoff in different amounts of time. Some are quick (~30 seconds) and others are slower (~2 minutes). This is because you do not want your system constantly flipping between these bases unless it is sure that you are going to be near that point for a while and not just walking around the house.

    As to MIMO, yes, much better performance. I tried Google WiFi (~350-400Mb/s but missing features; not truly MIMO) and Orbi (~450-500Mb/s but too clunky, unstable) and the MIMO antenna power is much stronger.

    While I really like the higher performance of these other systems I keep ending up back with the Amplifi because the better functionality/features of Amplifi outweigh the higher performance. There is still one nagging problem with Amplifi but I think the next version of the firmware (in beta now) might address that by being able to set up a separate single (non-mesh) SSID for certain IoT devices that don't play well with the mesh.

  • @john-fruehe thanks very much for your viewpoint.

    Are your routers hard wired or wireless? I’m looking at at least 3 routers, all hard wired, and would like to make sure that the handoff situation is the same in this configuration. I might have a couple of wireless mesh points for harder to reach areas too.

    That performance difference is a bit of a worry too!

  • Routers are hard wired, that makes a difference.

    Now you are about to get more data than you thought you ever could. The two routers are hardwired, Cat5e/Cat6 between them, multiple segments (long story).

    Standing in front of the upstairs router I get ~300-350Mb/s and I can see I am connected to that access point (it is in bridge mode). I walk downstairs to the main router.

    When I enter the room the handoff takes about 8-10 seconds at the most. Standing in front of this unit, I get 360-375Mb/s.

    Then I walk into the office, a mesh antenna attached via 2.4GHz. I get 60-75Mb/s and again the handoff is ~8-10 seconds.

    Finally I go stand in the screen porch in front of the 5GHz connected antenna. Handoff in 8-10 seconds and the throughput is ~125Mb/s.

    The best news of all of this is the handoff times. In the past, I had handoffs that could be literally up to a minute or two, typically about 30 seconds. But Amplifi has done a lot on enabling fast roaming and that must account for the quick handoff.

    All measurements were in IPERF3 to a gigabit wired server.

  • @Otto-Jacob

    I'm not entirely sure if you've gotten your answer yet. However, if I were you, I would not hesitate to return the kit with the Meshpoints to just buy 3 AmpliFi HD routers. And honestly, you might even be fine with just two: One of the bottom floor (as a router) and one on the top floor (as a mesh node, wired backbone). You'll definitely see better performance with 3 wired routers setup than you will with 1 router + MeshPoints. However, I think you'll still even see better performance with just two of them (top and bottom floors). I'd definitely try starting out with two and then add a third one if you decide you need to. Two should still be cheaper than the full kit, so that's a no-brainer way to start in my opinion.

  • @shane-milton I think I did and John also thanks for your viewpoints. I'm afraid I will definitely need the router on the second floor though. The setup of the house is a bit more complicated than the pictures. The second floor is pretty big and we have a roofed garden there which extends about 30 feet, where we want WiFi as well. So the signal from either the bottom or the top floor will very likely be too weak.

    Mainly, I needed to know if the meshing works the same for a router + mesh points and a router + AP with wired backbone. I have my answer on that now.

  • My recommendation is to always put a router in the areas that you are primarily using. Mesh antennas are fine for out of the way areas where you just need some connectivity but aren't too concerned about throughput or latency. If you spend a lot of time in a particular area (like our family room) then you are best off with a router. Especially if it is hard wired.

  • My experience with handover and Airport devices is really good. I can roam around my house and my iPhone seamlessly switches between my Extremes and Expresses (all set up with the same SSID). Wifi bars barely get below 2 before a switch occurs within seconds. I'm not sure that a mesh system of routers could get any better, in which case I might be better off just getting some normal access points and a router when I want to ditch the Airport stuff. Just not sure!

  • If you are getting handoffs like that then stay with them. I always had devices that never did the handoff. Most consumer routers are designed to hold on to the device as long as humanly possible.

  • @john-fruehe I’ve always assumed this was more down to the clients than the routers. Not sure though.

  • Yes, it is down to the clients. Traditional (home) wifi routers operate in a world where they believe that they are the only connection to the network. They will push as hard as possible to keep the connection. Typically, if you were on channel 1 with one router and moved over to another router on say channel 6 (with the same SSID) the first router will still try to maintain a connection even though you are standing over the other one. Even if the client wants to switch the router keeps pushing to maintain persistence to the first connection.

    If your routers are all on the same channel with the same SSID the situation is even worse if they are all traditional routers because the routers are all trying to "timeshare" that same channel and overall performance will be impacted.

    On a mesh, the system is AWARE of the other connections and it is looking for the connections, seeing which is the strongest, and then automatically disconnecting from one connection when it sees a stronger one on the same network.

    This is a simplistic explanation but is should reflect what happens. How long the handoff takes depends on how sensitive the system is and how it manages the connections.

  • @otto-jacob Did you decide what to do? Multiple AmpliFi HD routers vs one router and multiple mesh points? I'm in the same boat, sort of. I've just replaced an AirPort Extreme with an AmpliFi HD router and it's doing fine but it would be good to beef up coverage on another floor in my house and I was thinking of putting another router down there instead of a mesh point. I have an ethernet cable in the wall so it's easy to do but if there are reasons to use a mesh point vs a router I'd love to hear them. Handoff, for instance?

  • @rwanderman If you have ethernet going there, definitely get a second router and run it as a mesh node with an ethernet backhaul.

    The main advantages to Meshpoints:

    1. Cheaper
    2. More streamlined for tight locations (no cords, no table needed, etc.)

    However, from a performance standpoint, another router would perform either the same or better in all regards.

    I have 4 routers and a single Meshpoint in my home. Only one of my routers has an ethernet backhaul (I needed to create ethernet ports from WiFi at a couple locations, hence why the other two are there as wireless-backhaul mesh nodes). And my Meshpoint is just to provide an added boost to cover the back yard area (don't care so much about throughput out there, just good enough coverage).

  • @shane-milton Thanks Shane. I'll order one. Appreciate the quick feedback.

  • @john-fruehe I'm using the word clients to mean the likes of iPhones. If the routers are "dumb" as far as handover is concerned, is it right that the iPhone would decide to switch routers/access points when the signal strength drops below some value and there is a better connection available? That seems to be happening really well for me with all Airport gear at present, but with Airport's demise I'm not sure how things would go if I replaced them with traditional routers/access points vs a mesh system like the Amplifi.

  • Perhaps I was simplifying a bit. BOTH sides are required in the equation.

    The router wants to hold on to the client.

    Clients (phones, computers, etc) wants to hold on the the router.

    Both have their thresholds.

    Think of a "tug of war" game where two people are holding onto a rope. If they are both the same strength you'll have a tight rope forever. Eventually one gives up and releases the rope. It does not matter than one person is a body builder and the other is me. The rope (your wifi connection) holds only as long as the weakest one maintains their grip. Either could hold on. The more balanced the two are, the longer they will maintain their grip.

    Yes, the client can "let go" but what really matters is that in a mesh situation the router can see the other signals from other units and make the decision to let go of the connection. Without a mesh, just having 2 routers (or a router and an AP) will mean that you have 2 strong people holding onto that rope.

    While it might look like there is a handoff happening with Apple, to the best of my knowledge these routers are not actually doing a handoff, they are just dropping the client. And then the client sees a stronger signal and grabs it.

    That is LIKE handoff but it is not actually handoff. Handoff is much more seamless - the best way to test this is to try it while streaming video. With true handoff the stream is never lost, the interruption is brief and the stream is smooth, running between the two points.

    I had 3 access points in the house with the same SSID of 5GHz and the same SSID for 2.4GHz. With Amplifi I have a single SSID for all locations and all bands. The system decides how to choose the best band and the best station and that all happens behind the scenes. With 3 separate unmeshed routers the drop and reconnect would happen, but I had to get down to ~5% connection before I dropped. And the problem was that because the connection was so bad, there was no buffering and you'd physically see the dropped connection, and then, in the next 30 seconds you'd see a reconnect to a stronger base.

    Apple may have done a better job with their products, but they were not a mesh. What you may see is a better reconnect time, but ultimately it will be a connect/reconnect and not a handoff. I had 2 D-Link routers and a Synology router all running together and the disconnect reconnect was the same (long) between any of the APs. Going from D-Link to D-Link was no different than going from D-Link to Synology. I had to physically lose a connection. If one was 20% and one was 100% it held on to the 20% forever and never gave it up. It literally had to lose the connection. With a mesh I can have 50% and 100% and it will make the handoff after ~10 seconds.

    That is the difference.

  • @john-fruehe Thank you so much for taking the time to write that clear and concise explanation. I can certainly roam my house playing a YouTube video with no interruptions. I guess this could be down to some good implementation by Apple or the fact that YouTube buffers sufficiently to mask any handover.

    However, I really like the look of the Amplifi products, and like the idea of mesh and the app etc. I think I might grab one HD to start, to see how it compares with the likes of an Extreme, then if that works out get a 3 pack. The premises will make use of 4 in total, all Ethernet-connected.

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