How is a mesh system different than/better than extenders?

I tried a range extender to get better WiFi coverage at one end of my house. I got a great signal to the extender but the bandwidth wasn’t very good, in fact, indistinguishable from connecting directly to the router with a very low signal.

I am checking out these mesh systems, but how do they work? How do they differ from simple extenders, and are they really that good?

I’ve never used a mesh system so I can’t comment on that, but, if it’s all possible to run an ethernet wire from your router to the problem area (or at least part of that distance), you can get a wired wireless access point. I use one at work since the only place we use wifi has next to no wifi signal. I ran a wire from the router to that area, stuck a WAP on it and now the wifi signal is perfect in that area.

I’ll second @Joey_P on this. Hardwire a second AP if at all possible.

Mesh systems talk to each other, whereas extenders only talk to one AP. If you have the base station and one mesh AP, there is no effective difference. If you have 3 mesh devices plus the base, you will have better results than the base plus 3 extenders.

The differences are going to vary depending on what specific extender vs mesh system you are considering.

In general, extenders are repeating and forwarding signals, so performance is going to suffer. Mesh devices typically have multiple transceivers built-in, one for backhauling network traffic to-from the primary AP and one or more additional transceivers for connections to client devices. This provides better performance, but increases the price of the device. The dedicated backhaul wifi network in a mesh system is configured as a separate wifi network and is used only to transmit traffic among the mesh APs; it has a different SSID than your end-user network.

I’m currently using a NETGEAR Orbi mesh system and it works great. Assuming an extender works as advertised (and it sounds like you’re having poor results with that) the big difference that will be noticeable is that it’s going to look like two distinct WiFi access points. So you’ll be on the “MyAccessPoint” WiFi network close to the main router and the “MyAccessPoint_extension” (or something like that) WiFi network close to the extender.

That can actually be quite irritating. In my experience from a few years back with mobile devices the switch to a WiFi network with the stronger signal is not a seamless or quick action. It may hang onto the weaker original network even when you’re next to the extender. Which defeats the purpose or requires you to manually switch. Either way, annoying.

Mesh systems basically look like one big, strong WiFi network. As said they have a separate dedicated wireless backhaul between the mesh access points that is unlikely to interfere with your client device connections. I find I can go anywhere in our house now (we have three access points including the main one) and the connection and speed is extremely robust.

I think mesh is the clear superior solution if price isn’t a consideration. But they are significantly more expensive (I think I paid $300 or something close to it for my three access point system).

Well, I can run a cable but it would be ugly. If I wanted to run it through walls and floors I would need a pro to do it and it’s not worth that. Right now I am using a PowerLine setup that actually works pretty well, but I am always wondering if there is something better.

I’d say if the power line setup serves your needs and is reliable stick with it over an extender. I don’t think you’re going to see much of an advantage that way. Power line or extended is potentially fine depending on your use cases: if you have a few devices at the far side of the house that don’t move around and can just connect only to the close by network (either a WiFi router at the end of the power line or an extender) it’ll be good enough I suspect.

But if you like to wander around your house and have a reliable WiFi connection while you do that a mesh system will be much more satisfying.

You can get WAPs for powerline setups. Here’s the first one I saw when looked for it. I can’t vouch for it other than to say netgear is generally a reliable brand.