qstockmedia - Fotolia


When is it best to deploy a mesh Wi-Fi network?

Recent advances in mesh Wi-Fi network technologies mean mesh Wi-Fi can better compete with wired WLAN implementations for some use cases, including outdoor environments.

It used to be that wireless mesh deployments in the enterprise were avoided due to significant performance reductions and reliability concerns. But thanks to advancements in Wi-Fi standards, radio and antenna hardware, and artificial intelligence, mesh Wi-Fi network deployments have come a long way over the years.

While they're still considered inferior when compared with fully wired WLAN implementations, there are a growing number of use cases where a mesh makes sense. In this article, we're going to explore three common scenarios where mesh deployments can prove to be a viable option -- if deployed properly.

Before we get into some of these scenarios, it's important to point out a few nuances of mesh Wi-Fi -- and ideal deployment settings where the technology will work best. For one, wireless mesh intelligence has improved significantly compared to years ago. Algorithms have been developed, so wireless repeaters can talk to multiple wireless gateway devices to calculate the optimal path to the wired network based on data such as noise, interference and wireless link quality.

However, these advancements are gained only when your deployment is configured in a multipoint setting, where repeaters establish connectivity to two or more gateways. Doing so not only allows the artificial intelligence built into the mesh algorithms to choose the optimal path for traffic in real time, it also provides network redundancy. For situations where Wi-Fi connectivity is even moderately important, a multipoint design is highly recommended.

A wireless mesh network
How a mesh network is built

The second important factor to note is each hop along a wireless mesh reduces overall data throughput by 50%. That's a significant reduction that limits the number of users that can connect and use Wi-Fi in a meaningful way. Most wireless vendor documentation puts a strict limit of placing a repeater no more than two or three wireless hops away from the gateway. That said, here are three deployments to consider:

Scenario No. 1: Temporary access to areas of a building not already covered in Wi-Fi

There are many situations where a business might choose not to provide wall-to-wall Wi-Fi coverage in all parts of a building. This could be in areas such as basements, warehouses or sections of office space that remain vacant. However, there may come a time when Wi-Fi connectivity is required in these areas on a temporary basis -- and on short notice.

Instead of messing with patching in or pulling new Ethernet cabling for a temporary job, a mesh deployment could fill this role. Deployment would simply be a matter of powering up one or more wireless access points (APs), then configuring them as repeaters so they peer with neighboring gateway APs that are wired into the LAN. Temporary Wi-Fi access to previously uncovered segments of a building could potentially be up and running in a matter of minutes, with little physical work required.

Scenario No. 2: Outdoor coverage

There are literally dozens of situations where a mesh Wi-Fi can solve network coverage issues.

There may be situations where Ethernet cabling simply can't be pulled. This could be due to the fact that a building may be designated as historic and, therefore, cabling is nearly impossible to run without harming the preservation of the structure. But, more commonly, Wi-Fi access is required outdoors, and pulling cabling is either impossible or highly cost-prohibitive.

In either situation, a mesh deployment is ideal for outdoor settings. As long as you can reach electrical power -- often through outdoor lighting sources -- then you can have Wi-Fi without the need for physical cabling back to the LAN.

Scenario No. 3: Bridging remote, Ethernet-only devices

For relatively short distances, standard AP hardware configured in a mesh Wi-Fi network deployment can act as a wireless-to-wired bridge to Ethernet-only devices that are remote to the corporate LAN. Most enterprise-class APs configured as a mesh device can provide wireless backhaul connectivity to the corporate LAN, then use the wired Ethernet port on the repeater AP to connect one or more wired devices.

An example of a wired end device that might require this type of connectivity includes an internet-of-things sensor located in a basement where Wi-Fi isn't available. A second common situation for using a mesh as a wireless bridge for wired devices would be to place a wired-only security camera on the roof of a building.

There are literally dozens of situations where a mesh Wi-Fi network can solve network coverage issues. The key to remember is despite all the advancements in mesh technology, a wired connection is undoubtedly preferred. But if you're in a pinch, it's nice to know that wireless mesh technologies have advanced to the point where they now provide reliable options in many situations.

Next Steps

Using mesh networks to connect IoT devices

Wi-Fi mesh fills the role for indoor location tracking

Wi-Fi mesh finds outdoor role

This was last published in November 2017

Dig Deeper on Wireless LAN (WLAN)