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How to choose the best Wi-Fi replacement for your Apple AirPort routers

Glenn Fleishman | Jan. 31, 2017
Amid uncertainty about Apple's plans for its Wi-Fi routers, what other options work best for Mac, iPhone, and iPad owners?

With all that in mind, mesh networking Wi-Fi ecosystems really do seem to solve the major gripes of whole-house or small-office coverage. You don’t have to configure each unit to work together, you’re given assistance (sometimes visual) in where to place each base station, and you don’t need to install or run additional cables or use powerline adapters. If you decide you need more coverage (or, in some cases, better throughput), you can just add more units, and the system reconfigures itself to accommodate them. It can make multi-base station Wi-Fi just as easy as plugging into an invisibile ethernet jack, long the technology’s promise.

Most mesh system rely entirely on an iOS (and often Android) smartphone app. You can’t configure via a desktop or Web app. That shouldn’t be a limitation for most people. Some also work poorly if the Internet is erratic or drops, whereas a less-sophisticated set of routers would still leave you with a wireless LAN.

Google WiFi   

Google WiFi is simple to set up with an app for Android (of course) or iOS. 

Several well-reviewed systems are on the market

  • Eero, $199 for one, $455 for three. Eero is product-testing site The Wirecutter’s runner-up pick.
  • Google WiFi (not to be confused with Google OnHub), $129 for one or $299 for three. TechHive’s review found that “it’s super-easy to install and it delivers very good performance across the board.”
  • Linksys Velop, $200 for one or $400 for three. Our reviewer says it’s “one of the best mesh networks we’ve tested so far.”
  • Luma, $149 for one, $325 for three.
  • Netgear Orbi is a $400 two-device system with a dedicated radio system to beam data directly between a broadband-connected and satellite Wi-Fi router. The Orbi gets the nod from The Wirecutter as its best-tested mesh system.

Right now, picking among these systems will come down to budget, familiarity, and word of mouth backed by our and others’ reviews. If I were in the market at this moment, I’d want to find friends with a system already installed to see how configuration and coverage works, and get their first-hand experience with that and reliability.

I also expect with this much competition, we should see some dramatic drops in pricing in the new year from the most expensive, and $250 to $300 will probably become the settled point for a three-unit bundle purchased at once.

Bottom line

With Apple having fallen well behind in Wi-Fi innovation and potentially never updating its line-up before, you’ve got many options to supplement, replace, and overhaul your network. Mesh networking is extremely appealing, but it’s also a leap of faith for systems that rely on the cloud: what works today may have an unknown expiration date on how long it functions in the future.

 

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