A long time ago, in a land far far way, I used to live in a one bedroom apartment. A single router provided good wifi coverage throughout the apartment. Life was good.

I then moved to a modern (post 1980s construction) two bedroom apartment. I upgraded to a Linksys WRT54G, installed dd-wrt on it and got good coverage throughout the apartment. Life was good.

I moved again to a classic “San Franciscan” two bedroom apartment (read: built way before I was born). The router had to be placed in one corner of the apartment due to the placement of the cable outlet. We observed > 70% drop in signal strength in both of our bedrooms (see this and
this). Life was bad.

I upgraded to a Linksys E1500 in hopes that it would improve the coverage. It didn’t. I tweaked my older Linksys WRT54G to act as a repeater bridge for the primary router, as a way of extending the network. Unfortunately, this required using a separate SSID, which was both confusing and ultimately, didn’t work either.

This went on for a few years. Finally, frustrated, I started looking for
alternatives. Surely this is a solved problem — after all, any large space
(offices, malls, universities, hotels etc) would need a wifi infrastructure that delivers consistent signal quality at all locations. I have friends at
Meraki but they don’t offer any consumer solutions.

After some Googling around, I found Open Mesh. OpenMesh provides the hardware and software to build lost-cost wireless mesh networks. While it too is geared towards small and medium businesses, there’s no reason one can’t use the same technology at home.

Relatively cheap, white-label, cloud-managed access points by Open-Mesh

Unfortunately there’s not a lot of information about OpenMesh online; they do have some documentation but the lack of any success stories for a home deployment made me reluctant. I finally took the plunge after a few weeks of mulling over and rebuilt my home network using OpenMesh. Here’s what I’ve found based on a few months of usage.

Like

  • Configure your home network from anywhere using Cloudtrax. There are mobile apps for iOS and Android as well.
  • The access points are small and have no branding. Ditto for enclosures.
  • Truly modular — need more coverage, just add more access points.
  • Easily setup a guest network — useful if you have guests or if you an Airbnb host.

Dislike

  • The Cloudtrax UI/UX leaves much to be desired.
  • Cloudtrax functionality is also quite limited (e.g. no knobs for DNS/DHCP).
  • Wall enclosure has no room for Ethernet cable. Ceiling enclosures only work with false ceilings.
  • Network dashboard does not monitor SSID-2 clients and traffic. This is particularly annoying if you are using SSID-2 as your primary network (see Tips below for why this is actually quite common).
  • They don’t distribute via Amazon or other popular outlets, so I had to order everything from their store and had to pay shipping and handling.

Tips

  • If you have a Chromecast, be sure to uncheck Access Point Isolation underAdvanced settings.
  • If you have any wired devices, you need to use SSID-2 as your primary network
  • Plan ahead and try to consolidate your order to minimize shipping & handling overhead.