Move your mesh router now for faster internet. Here’s where to put it

This story is part of Home tipsCNET’s collection of practical tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

I’ve spent the last two years at CNET test and review of Wi-Fi routersand if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: in most homes, the most significant way to improve your Wi-Fi connection is by switching to a network router.

The reasoning here is simple. Traditional routers you emit a Wi-Fi signal from a single point in your home, but mesh routers use multiple devices to emit a usable signal from multiple points in your home. This makes them more like a team of routers working together to forward your traffic to your modem. It’s a much better approach to home networking, particularly in large multi-story homes where a traditional single-point router will likely leave you with dead zones in farther rooms. They can also make a significant difference in smaller homes, especially if you have rooms in dead zones where speeds aren’t as fast as you’d like.

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Most mesh routers are pretty straightforward to get started: Just connect a device to the modem with an Ethernet cable, plug it in, and then follow the instructions in the system’s app. From there, you’ll need to choose points for the remaining satellite extenders, which are also sometimes called nodes (or “Points” if you’re a Wi-Fi nest user). However, you’ll want to think about where to place things, as their specific location will have a significant impact on system performance. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you go along. (You can also check out our recommendations on the best location for your Wi-Fi routerAnd how to protect your home wifi network from hackers.)

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Mesh routers and other Wi-Fi devices perform best when they’re outdoors and off the ground.

Netgear

Where should you set up your mesh router?

As with most wireless transmissions, it takes little to interrupt the Wi-Fi signal and slow it down. That’s why it’s important to place your mesh extenders strategically, in places where they’ll be able to perform at their best.

Move your primary router

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First, you’ll want the primary router in your setup, the mesh device connected to your modem, to be located as centrally in your home as possible. That is the same approach you would have with a single routerand the reasoning is the same: routers emit Wi-Fi signals in all directions, so placing your router in a central location within your home will get the most out of your connection.

This goes double for mesh systems, where connection strength near your extenders will largely depend on the strength of the incoming signal from the main router. A stronger connection between the two will help you achieve the fastest possible Wi-Fi speeds throughout your home.

Your options for moving your router may seem limited by its location your modemand the incoming cabling for your home’s Internet connection. An extra-long Ethernet cable can come in handy here, giving you the freedom to move the router away from where the modem is if needed. If that’s impractical, you’ll want to at least move that primary router outdoors, and preferably as high off the ground as possible.

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This guide from Asus highlights one mesh rule of thumb: For the best performance, try to keep each device in your setup no more than two rooms away from another.

ASUS

Try moving those extenders around

Once you have your main router located in the best possible place, you’ll want to pick good spots for the extenders. With most systems, you can connect each device to the main router with an Ethernet cable for the fastest speed possible, but most users prefer to connect everything wirelessly. If so, you’ll want to be extremely strategic about where to place extenders throughout your home.

Again, outdoors and off the ground is your best bet for a clear signal, but you’ll also want to think about the layout of your home, as physical obstructions between your main router and extenders can slow things down.

A good rule of thumb, in general, is to try to keep devices in the mesh setup no more than two rooms away from each other. This will vary from home to home, especially if yours is built with dense materials like brick or concrete in the walls that can be difficult for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate. You’ll also need to watch out for electronic interference from TVs and other large appliances, so if you’re sticking a mesh extender in the kitchen, resist the urge to hide it on top of the refrigerator and move it away from your appliances altogether.

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Most mesh systems come with companion apps that include placement guides for your devices, signal strength checks, and other diagnostic tools to help make sure you have everything in the best place possible.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

Furniture can also block Wi-Fi signals, so if you have something large or unwieldy between two of your mesh devices, consider moving them. Aquariums are another classic antagonist for your mesh setup, as Wi-Fi has a hard time transmitting across water.

The best way to ensure your mesh network is as connected as possible is to open its app and check each device’s signal strength, which is something most systems offer. You can also find system-specific guidelines online at the links below:

Avoid dead zones

If you have a back corner of your house where the signal cuts out, you might be tempted to stick a mesh extender in the middle of that dead zone to boost your speed. In many cases, that would be a mistake.

Remember, just like your phone or laptop, your mesh extenders need to connect wirelessly with the main router in your setup. And if that back corner is a dead zone for your phone or laptop, it’s probably going to be a dead zone for your mesh extender as well.

The best approach is to place that extender adjacent in the dead zone in a place where it will be easier to connect with the main router. In some cases, it may be somewhere between the dead zone and your primary router, but you may need to experiment a bit. Hit the weak spot and the Wi-Fi signal it puts out should be healthy and one that will stretch into the dead zone to bring it back to life.

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A good speed test will help you figure out how well your Wi-Fi holds up from room to room.

James Martin/CNET

Run a speed test

Besides the diagnostic tools in your mesh router’s app, the fastest way to check how well your system is performing is to run a few speed tests. There are a lot of free online services that we recommendeach of which will tell you the upload and download speeds on whatever device you’re using in a minute or less.

For the best info, grab your laptop or phone and run multiple speed tests in every room in your home where you need a usable Wi-Fi signal. Eventually, you should have a good idea of ​​where the speeds are most consistent and where they drop. From there, you could try moving your extenders around to try and balance things out, or you could consider buying an additional extender to fill in any gaps. Either way, your home should be equipped with a strong signal wherever you need it.

Our top picks for mesh Wi-Fi routers this year in a row, with Google Nest taking center stage.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Other things to consider for your mesh router

Just remember that your mesh router can only offer speeds as fast as what you’re paying for from yours ISP. If speeds are grossly inadequate in your home, then it may be time for consideration switch to a faster plan (and it might be worth seeing if your ISP will let you try a faster plan for a few days to see if that’s really the problem). Your ISP may also be able to provide you an updated modem this will bring better and faster speeds to your mesh system to begin with. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

If the speeds still seem slower than you’d like and your ISP isn’t the answer, then there are a few other things you can try. For starters, if your provider’s modem is a gateway device that doubles as a router, you’ll want to disable its Wi-Fi network so it doesn’t cause interference to your mesh system’s Wi-Fi network.

Speaking of interference, it’s possible that a neighbor’s Wi-Fi network is interfering with yours. To remedy this, log into your mesh router’s app and look for channel settings that allow you to tune your network to a different part of the Wi-Fi airwaves, potentially straying away from any channels used by nearby networks. You’ll also want to make sure your mesh system’s firmware is up to date, which should be easy to check within its app.

For more, check out our picks for best wifi 6 routersAnd how to find free Wi-Fi anywhere in the world.