The Wi-Fi Alliance recently released EasyMesh, a new standard for mesh networking that will enable different brands of routers to work together. This could make covering your home with a strong wireless signal much easier and cheaper, though it is up to the hardware manufacturers to actually implement the standard.
What is mesh networking?
Mesh networks use many different routers to create one continuous Wi-Fi network, allowing you to cover large areas without having to manually switch on your devices. One router with a connection can share that connection wirelessly with other routers in range, and these can, in turn, bounce that signal to other nearby routers. They’re programmed to self-organize by talking to each other and figuring out the best way to configure their signals, and because this is automatic, adding a new node doesn’t require much setup work.
How is EasyMesh different?
The basic concept is pretty much the same. EasyMesh software, when installed on access points, gives the network a set of rules for how to communicate and share the Internet signal. Up until now, though, manufacturers have been using proprietary networking protocols, meaning that a Linksys can’t be in a mesh network with an Eero, for example. If you start out with one brand, you’re locked into it. No other routers or equipment are compatible with your network, regardless of how much they cost or if they don’t exactly fit your needs.
EasyMesh, on the other hand, is an open standard that any manufacturer can use on their hardware, which will enable any router with EasyMesh to connect to any other router with the software. What’s so exciting about that? Essentially, it will make cobbling a mesh network together a cheaper and more flexible proposition, as consumers will be able to mix and match devices as they choose.
A side benefit is that EasyMesh expands the possibilities for upgrading your network without replacing the whole thing — just swap out the main controlling router. If that controlling router has a feature that lets it manage network traffic better, that benefit will be passed along to all the other routers as well. This could lead to some interesting innovations as companies compete to provide better network controllers.
Will companies use it?
The biggest potential roadblock is that router manufacturers have already invested quite a bit in their own mesh technology, and they have an interest in keeping it proprietary. If it costs a lot to switch away from your current setup, you’re probably going to stick with what you’ve got, regardless of whether a competitor is offering something cheaper or better.
However, the EasyMesh standard could be a way for smaller companies to easily implement mesh networking, which could draw some consumers away from larger brands. This would give the larger brands an incentive to start supporting the standard and would probably lead to increased competition on price and technology. Existing routers can be upgraded to the new standard with a simple firmware update, so hardware manufacturers could theoretically release it for devices that consumers already own.
Conclusion: when’s it coming?
So far, no major manufacturers have committed to the standard, and it’s likely that adoption will be gradual. Eventually, EasyMesh may be available on a wide range of routers and other networking hardware, but it’s probably best not to hold your breath. Market forces take some time to work.
Image credit: closeup of a wireless router and a man using smartphone on living room at home by Casezy idea / Shutterstock