Cheapest WiFi Mesh

I live in a 1000sqft apartment, and it is designed in a linear manner. This means that my WiFi router placed at one end is unable to reach the bedroom at the other end. I had been using a powerline adapter for years. Short of placing physical cables, HomePlug Powerline is the next best thing. Recently, my adapter malfunctioned, causing connectivity issues. Hence I started my hunt for a replacement. As of last year, WiFi Mesh has become a thing. Unfortunately, Wifi Mesh systems are exorbitantly expensive. Average prices for a WiFi Mesh system on Amazon are USD200 onwards. In Singapore, WiFi Mesh systems cost over USD400.

I love hunting for good technology at low prices, so I started my research. The only cheap option available in Singapore is the EnGenius EnMesh system, costing about USD250. I checked Amazon and found the system going for USD175. Then I found other cheap WiFi Mesh systems as well. Tenda Nova M6 at USD150, and the Luma system at USD140 (after a recent price cut). Seeing a Chinese brand, Tenda, led me to Taobao. There, I found an even cheaper option, the Huawei Honor Mesh Router (华为分布式路由器) going for a mere USD120. At this price, the WiFi Mesh is definitely more attractive than getting a new set of powerline adapters. After (agent and shipping) fees, I paid approximately USD150.

Why WiFi Mesh?

Briefly, there are four options to extend WiFi coverage in a home.

MethodProsConsCost
Physical cablingMaximum possible speedsRequires cabling to be done throughout the house. Usually only done for new homes. Need a separate WiFi AP$$$
Powerline adapterMakes use of existing power cabling. Bandwidth in reality is much lower than marketed.$$
WiFi Repeater/Range ExtenderNo wiring needed. Only need a power source, some just USB power.Bandwidth is halved, or less. $-$$
WiFi MeshNo wiring needed. Only need a power source for each AP. Reduced bandwidth for systems without dedicated backhaul.$$-$$$

However, one of the key features of WiFi Mesh, is Fast Roaming and Hand-off. These are 802.11 specifications that allow APs to move clients to another AP with better signal. This is much like how cellular networks work. With my powerline adapter, it was common that when I went to the bedroom, my phone was still connected to the router in the living room, but at very low signal. The phone would have no network connectivity, and I would have to toggle the WiFi on my phone to make it connect to the AP in my room (with the same SSID). Also, there are some spots in the house where I would be connected to the WiFi with 2 bars, but network connectivity was intermittent. In theory, with WiFi Mesh, I would be blanketing the house with WiFi, and with better bandwidth.

The Huawei Honor Mesh Router

Important Caveat

Usage of the Huawei Honor Mesh Router requires a Huawei account (called Huawei ID) that is registered for China region. In order to register a Chinese Huawei ID, you need a Chinese mobile number for verification. You also need the Huawei SmartHome app for the initial setup. However, at the time of writing, the SmartHome app on Play Store is version 9.0.0.317, which does not support the Huawei Honor Mesh Router. You need the newer version 9.0.0.321. This version is available on the Huawei App Gallery, but you need a Chinese Huawei ID to download it.

Thoughts

Once I got the Huawei ID and correct app installed, setting up was a breeze. The app is in English. I placed the router and APs in a linear fashion, with the first AP in the first bedroom, and the second in the third bedroom. The app shows how devices are connected. Interestingly, the second AP is connected directly to the router in the living room. I would have thought it would connect to the first AP. Sometimes it does, but rarely.

Most of the times, the switch between APs is seamless. I have WiFi connectivity throughout the home, and all the dead spots are gone. My phone shows 3 to 4 bars of WiFi signal wherever I go. Occasionally, my phone gets disconnected from WiFi for a short few seconds, and then reconnects back. But this is much better than having a sticky WiFi connectionat 1 bar that doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, and this may be a big minus point for some, the Huawei system has poor WiFi bandwidth.

Bandwidth tests

As reference, these are Speedtest and FAST tests on my D-Link DIR-868L.

This is connected to the Huawei main router.

This is connected to the first AP.

Finally, at the second AP.

Here is a summary of the tests:

APSpeedtest (Down/Up)FAST
D-Link DIR-868L264/177Mbps240Mbps
Main AP156/90Mbps130Mbps
AP 165/73Mbps79Mbps
AP 240/65Mbps64Mbps

SmallNetBuilder reviewed the EnGenius EnMesh with performance benchmarks (against the TP-Link Deco M5 and Google Wifi) which seems to show the Huawei router is seriously under performing.

Conclusion

The Huawei Honor Mesh Router is the cheapest WiFi Mesh system in the market, certainly for Singapore. While WiFi performance leaves a lot to be desired, in reality, even 40Mbps is enough for Netflix and Youtube video streaming in HD. And the 64Mbps FAST speed in my room is a marked improvement over the powerline adapter, which averaged 40Mbps or less, and with connectivity issues mentioned earlier. I am definitely enjoying the strong WiFi connectivity throughout my home.

The Tenda Nova M6 and Luma are also strong contenders for a cheap WiFi Mesh, and are definitely reasonably priced to get started with this technology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *