In order to maximize the chance of great Apple Home performance, Operation Gadget recommends installing a high performance, Mesh WiFi Network.
It’s amazing how many people start installing Video Doorbells, Smart Plugs, Smart Switches, Smart Thermostats, and Smart Speakers, but then experience problems with those devices intermittently failing to work when you try to use them.
Many people blame Apple, Google, or Amazon for failure at the Operating System level. But the first place I look is at the WiFi system installed in the house.
If you are using a single WiFi Router that was provided by your Broadband Provider / Cable Company, you should consider whether that device can handle all of the network traffic you are throwing at it.
Investing a couple of hundred dollars in a state-of-the-art Mesh WiFi Network is often money well spent, and makes your other Smart Home devices work much more reliably.
Why Do You Need High Performance Home WiFi to Have a Successful Smart Home Experience?
The vast majority of Smart Home Devices on sale in the first quarter of 2023 rely upon a robust, continuously available 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz WiFi signal throughout the home where those devices will be installed.
Yes, there are quite a few Smart Home devices that can use Thread as a network transport standard. If you own a second-generation HomePod or a HomePod mini today, you already have a device that can act as a Thread border router.
But when you want to buy a Smart Home accessory to quickly add a bit of functionality to your home, in 2023 your priority is still to look for Apple Home / HomeKit compatibility first, and for Matter and/or Thread support later.
This is why rock-solid WiFi is the most important building block of a smart home, second only to a reliable source of AC electricity.
Aren’t the WiFi Routers that Broadband Internet Providers Install Good Enough?
Unless you live in a very simple network environment, such as an apartment or a small ranch house where all of the Internet needs are on a single floor, it’s impossible to say whether the WiFi Routers that are provided at installation by Broadband Internet Providers will meet your needs. However, as you continue to add devices to your Smart Home, great throughput and device management become critical.
The router provided by your Broadband Internet Provider may have good enough transceiving capabilities to provide basic connectivity to a relatively small number of wireless devices. But WiFi radio coverage is not the only consideration.
Too Many Online Meetings Overwhelmed Our Old FiOS WiFi Router
My family and I abandoned the Verizon FiOS-provided router, in March 2020 during the first COVID-19 lockdown. Our local School District sent home Chromebooks with our two sons for on-line education. The WiFi network provided by our FiOS router couldn’t serve those Chromebooks and my Apple MacBook Pro with enough bandwidth to keep three or four continuous Zoom sessions going at once. (At the time, we were living in a 1,200 to 1,500 square foot ranch house in a quiet residential neighborhood.)
Since we already had Gigabit Broadband Service installed at the house, the WiFi network was clearly the bottleneck.
Too Many WiFi Smart Home Devices May Overwhelm the WiFi Router Your Provider Installed
Your milage may vary, in the sense that you may not experience the throughput bottlenecks to individual notebook computers, Smartphones, and streaming devices that we experienced with our Verizon FiOS router in March 2020.
The router installed by your Broadband Internet Provider may be better at providing throughput to a relatively small set of Smart Home Devices. But when you install dozens of Smart Home Devices that all depend upon a solid WiFi connection, you are pretty likely to hit a similar router performance wall to the one we hit.
That’s because WiFi networks on older WiFi standards may not manage dozens or hundreds of concurrent device connections well, even if lots of bandwidth is available from the router.
Again, the answer is upgrading to a Mesh WiFi network.
Why Mesh WiFi for Home Networking and Not Some Other WiFi Architecture?
We began looking for a Mesh WiFi network at the point where Zoom sessions crashed on a frequent basis.
Mesh WiFi Network Nodes are a series of small Internet-connected devices, typically called:
- Routers when they are connected to Ethernet cables coming from your provider’s network gateway
- Extenders or Beacons that are WiFi-only devices that extend the network further from the Router or around physical obstacles in your home environment.
The Mesh WiFi Network Nodes are designed to blanket a home with WiFi coverage. These nodes attempt to maximize network throughput, generally by separating network management and user device data traffic into separate wireless radio channels.
Mesh WiFi Network Nodes also attempt to maintain good connections between each Mesh WiFi Router and any Extenders or Beacons that become necessary. This design eliminates as many dead spots in WiFi reception as possible.
Another important aspect of modern Mesh WiFi Network Nodes is that they often support more advanced WiFi protocols such as WiFi 6, 6+, or 6E. These protocols deliver progressively better throughput to dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of concurrent wireless devices.
Which Mesh WiFi Systems Provide Great Support for Many Wireless Devices?Table could not be displayed.
If you are looking for Mesh WiFi Network Systems that can support a Gigabit Internet connection to your home and a large number of Smart Home devices as well, we can recommend several different products.
eero Pro 6
The eero Pro 6 is the Mesh WiFi Network that we use at the Operation Gadget Home Office. The eero Pro 6 Router is a tri-band base station that can cover up to a 2,000 square foot / 185 square meter home with wireless access to the Internet. As the name implies, it supports the WiFi 6 protocol, which permits connection of 75 or more devices simultaneously. It is also capable of routing traffic of a Gigabit per second without throttling the connection to the public Internet.
We don’t generally talk about Alexa products here, but the eero Pro 6 also includes a Zigbee Smart Home Hub, which makes the eero Pro 6 a good choice to use with Alexa devices.
Expansion of an eero Mesh WiFi network is easy because you can use either eero 6 WiFi Extenders or eero Beacons for expansion of the network beyond obstacles such as masonry walls, exterior walls of your house, and outbuildings. I discuss how I reused two eero Beacons, which are generally used with eero Pro 5-based networks, when I upgraded to an eero 6 Pro router. See the article Sockitbox Makes Indoor Smart Devices Work Outside.
Setup of an eero Pro 6, or any other eero device, is very easy. You just need to follow the directions in the eero iOS app or the eero Android app.
I like to think of the eero Mesh WiFi products as the kind of devices that Apple would design if it were to re-enter the WiFi networks market. They each feature:
- a very appliance-like visual design.
- app-based network and device configuration with simple and streamlined configuration options.
eero Pro 6E
There are newer, more advanced eero Mesh WiFi products available, such as the eero Pro 6E. But the eero Pro 6E is $50 more at this writing, and mainly differs from the eero Pro 6 in that it enables you to use the new WiFi 6E standard. WiFi 6E uses a 6 GHz radio channel in addition to the 2.4 and 5 GHz channels used by the eero Pro 6.
The big thing about implementing a system like the eero Pro 6E is that you have to assess how many of the devices that are connected to your network can communicate using the WiFi 6E protocol on the 6 GHz radio channel. Some of your notebook, desktop, and tablet devices may support WiFi 6E. But majority of the inexpensive Smart Home devices on sale in the USA work on the 2.4 GHz radio channel that is used in WiFi 6 and below.
For this reason alone, it’s more important in early 2023 to pick a network that has the capability of handling a lot of devices on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. If that’s true, then you can save money by using the eero Pro 6 instead.
Asus ZenWiFi AX6600
The ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 is a product that differs from eero Mesh WiFi Network devices mainly in visual design and network and device configuration options.
The ZenWiFi AX660 looks more like a traditional WiFi network routing product than the routers and extenders in the eero line. The eero devices look like oversized AirPod cases.
ZenWiFi AX6600 is also a tri-band, WiFi 6 protocol router, which covers as much as 2,750 square feet / 255 square meters of your home.
The network and device configuration options available with the Asus ZenWiFi AX6600 are more granular than eero’s. For instance, you can use a different name for the WiFi network presented on each separate radio band. This would make it easier to explicitly jump back and forth among the WiFi bands. But giving non-technical users the appearance of having a number of different WiFi networks in your home is bound to result in questions like, “So, which WiFi network you provide here is the best?”
My preference is to do things the eero way: show only one network name (or two if you deploy a so-called Guest Network) and let the Mesh WiFi system manage the connection to each device in the way that best suits the Mesh WiFi Network and the Smart Home device in question.
TP-Link Deco S4
I included the TP-Link Deco S4 in these recommendations to illustrate what a less expensive, but still relatively high quality, home Mesh WiFi Network might use as its routers. The Deco S4 is a dual-band, WiFi 5-based router. The Wirecutter recommends the Deco S4 as their “Budget Pick”, saying:
We believe it would work well with up to 50 devices, and if you have 500 Mbps internet service or slower.The Best Wi-Fi Mesh-Networking Kits, Joel Santo Domingo, The Wirecutter / New York Times, February 8, 2023
This may be a great pick for the WiFi network for your Smart Home if you live by yourself, or with one or two others who don’t aggressively use audio and video streaming at every opportunity. You also probably need to keep your Smart Home device count relatively low.
Robust WiFi with great throughput and seamless Smart Home device management is a critical part of the success of any Apple Home. We hope that this guide provides some useful recommendations about how to move forward.