Technology – Networks
with more of us working and entertaining ourselves at home, a robust network is more important than ever.
By Douglas Weinstein
OVER THE COURSE OF THE LAST NINE MONTHS, I’ve heard the same basic refrain from friends and neighbors, “with my family stuck at home, our internet is being overloaded and I’m constantly dropping out of Zoom calls.” Or something very similar. With a lot more invective and bitterness and curse words of course!
I sense the frustration. And I understand the frustration. It’s 2020 for goodness sake, shouldn’t reliable whole-home internet/wireless be a birthright by now?
And look at the technology we’re hooking up to our networks – super hi-res TVs and advanced gaming consoles and voice control and more wireless devices than you can shake a stick at. Most homes are sending and receiving far more data than most small businesses. And every family member is involved! Granny has her virtual goggles on ballroom dancing and wee little Jane is mugging in front of the baby monitor.
What’s a family to do?
mesh networks by Luxul
A mesh network (and for this article we imply a mesh network is a wireless network) is an integral part of a decentralized network of devices, which are often referred to as nodes. These nodes communicate with each other using peer-to-peer links, typically bouncing from one device to another, or from one device through another. Similar to how information travels around a wired network, packets of data hop from one device to another until it reaches its final destination.
The nature of these decentralized networks means that no one device is prioritized over any other(s). Think of the coverage area of a group of nodes as a mesh cloud. The efficiency of this architecture means the network is reliable and offers redundancy – if a node goes off-line, the remaining nodes continue to communicate with each other and reform the mesh network.
In the real world, the military uses ruggedized laptops in field operations, with each laptop acting as a node. If one node goes off-line, the rest reform the mesh cloud. Likewise, smart meters in residential communities transfer readings from one to another and back to the home office for billing and usage analysis. Even in space, mesh networking is present – the Iridium group of 66 low-orbit satellites utilizes wireless links between adjacent satellites. So mesh network technology is not new and there are great advantages in utilizing it as the wireless backbone in a connected home.
The new Epic Mesh from Luxul consists of a single node/dual purpose unit. The first unit to be installed is designated as the router node and additional units installed are referred to as satellite nodes. This product features the latest interface technology, aligning to IEEE 801.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi standards. Supporting 2.4 GHz tri-band operation, data range is up to AC3000Mbps, incorporating a 4x2x2 antenna array which allows for both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz communication as well as a dedicated 4×4 antenna connection for fast and reliable backhaul communication between nodes. The unit is quite small and can sit elegantly in any décor and you can install up to 16 nodes on a single network. From a technology perspective, if you deploy these nodes correctly you are guaranteed to have excellent results.
Let’s talk set up and how I configured my network incorporating the test units Luxul sent me for evaluation.
hard-wiring your devices
It is always preferable to route a hard-wired signal to all of those devices that can be hard-wired, especially those devices that eat up bandwidth. 4K and 8K TVs, Rokus and other streaming devices, as well as computers.
So let’s go down to my basement and start at the point where the service provider’s responsibility ends and mine begins – the modem. A modem connects you to, and performs a handshake with the ISP – “hello internet service provider, give me internet please.”
In my case, my service provider NextLight™ has routed the fiber optic cable from the street directly into my basement and directly into an ONT, which stands for Optical Network Terminal. So that’s my modem – a direct fiber connection into my basement that provides me with an incredible 1,000 Mbps pipeline, also known as a 1 Gig service.
I connected the first Luxul Mesh node to the ONT and then connected that router node to a switch. A switch is a multi-port Ethernet routing box. A truly plug-n-play device, I simply connect each Ethernet cable in the basement to a port on the back of the switch and I’m now routing my NextLight pipeline throughout the house. From those ports, a hard-wired Ethernet runs into my TVs, PCs and other bandwidth hungry devices.
I proceed to connect two additional Luxul Mesh satellite nodes on the first and second floors and of course secure the system with strong usernames and passwords for both the main network and the guest network for friends who visit and want to tap into my wireless network.
Back to the basement for just a second. When the internet signal comes into my home, I should be realizing close to my 1,000 Mbps pipeline speed. But keep in mind that each time I connect that signal and route it, and depending on how far away that signal has to travel and how many people are tapping into the pipeline, I will be losing overall speed.
I started to test my system with my PC which is hard-wired and located in my second-floor office. Running the Ookla Speedtest app directly from my desktop I’m seeing 434 Mbps speed on downloads and an amazing 890 Mbps speed on uploads. These speeds are phenomenal. Internet pages switch instantly, graphic images are beyond crisp, video is stunning, Zoom calls are much clearer to see and hear, and I’m happier and more productive at my desk.
Now let’s see how the Luxul Mesh nodes perform. By the way, the reason I was excited to get to test the new Luxul Mesh network was really because of an analogy I heard from a network engineer a few years ago – he said if you wanted to have music in every room, you could put a big speaker in your basement and turn it up all the way so you could hear it in every room in the house. Or, you could install speakers throughout the house. And that’s how to think about wireless networks – broadcasting a signal from one central location means that your signal is going to have to compete with walls and floors and metal and concrete and competing wireless devices and networks. Doesn’t it make more sense to just put wireless nodes around the house?
I started my testing by credentialing into the mesh network on my iPad Pro and on each floor as I roamed around I tried to remain at least 30 feet from the closest mesh node as I ran speed tests. Performance was excellent, with average speeds of 278 Mbps on downloads and 480 Mbps on uploads. Which translates to ‘incredibly fast.’ I sent and received large email packets with video and photo content and the delivery and receiving speeds were ridiculous. Everything about the mesh network was positive and I really couldn’t come up with a scenario where I wasn’t blown away.
But what about those homes that don’t have Ethernet cables throughout the house? How about remodels of old brick homes where running new cabling just isn’t in the cards? What’s the performance like when the mesh network operates as a total wireless entity? And if I don’t have Ethernet connections throughout my house, how does my TV look and my PCs perform on one comprehensive mesh network?
So I tore it all down.
In reality, all I did was disconnect the Luxul hard-wired switches, tap the phone app and transition to an all-wireless network, credential some primary devices onto the network (PCs, Rokus, TVs, streaming devices, etc.) and away I went on a new series of testing.
My speeds came down somewhat, but were nonetheless still impressive. Overall average speeds of 168 Mbps on downloads and 280 Mbps on uploads. Still staggeringly quick, with barely discernible differences in video and audio performance. Could I live with that performance if a total wireless scenario was my only option? Absolutely.
It pays to find the best internet service provider in your marketplace if you have options. The bigger your pipeline, the better overall performance you’ll get for both hard-wired and wireless network configurations.
More and more mesh networks are hitting the market and if you need wireless coverage across the width and breadth of your small business office or residence, regardless of your wired infrastructure, look into these products and seek out a professional for installation. There is no reason to expect shoddy network performance in today’s marketplace.