Building a Home Wireless Mesh Network

Tech Sep 28, 2015

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.

Tags

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.