Incase you’re wondering what both of these things are… Wi-Fi bridges and Wi-Fi mesh are both instead of physical cabling.
You might be a bit disappointed to know that the magic of Wi-Fi isn’t all up in the air – Access points (APs) need to finish in a wired connection. While the end users may be free to roam free with Wi-Fi, APs prefer to be a cabled.
However it might not always be possible to run a physical cable to connect to an AP. It might be that there’s no actual access, or it could be that there is an option but it’s too expensive. And that’s where Wi-Fi bridges and Wi-Fi mesh come in – They fill the gap! Well, the air actually.
Sometimes it’s super apparent which one is the best choice, and other times it’s a bit of a smackdown in the bridge vs mesh arena.
So here are some points to consider in the wireless-to-wireless connection contest.
(It’s also worth noting that sometimes there’s a bit of confusion here with Wi-Fi extenders too. These are closely related to a repeater or booster and are designed to amplify Wi-FI signal strength so that it can be extended past it’s reach).
What is a Wi-Fi Bridge?
Here are the basic things to know about a wireless bridge or wireless Ethernet bridge (so-named because the bridge replaces Ethernet cabling):
- A Wi-Fi bridge is an appliance with one purpose. It’s set up in a fixed configuration, for example, point to point. Bridges tend to be used outdoors, but that’s not to say you can’t use bridging from an outdoor location to an indoor one. An example of where this might be useful is a warehouse where spanning the whole thing would make cabling cost-prohibitive).
- In general, a bridge is designed specifically to span greater distances and carry more data through the air compared to mesh technology.
- In physical terms, a Wi-Fi bridge looks a bit like an AP and is a RF device just like an AP too. However, they’re not people oriented, can’t talk to Wi-Fi clients and where they lack people skills they make up for it by making up for it on their mission to transport data wirelessly.
- A bridge can be segmented to support multiple networks. You can use VLANs to separate and secure traffic over a Wi-Fi bridge.
What is Wi-Fi Mesh?
In essence, Wi-Fi mesh technology does the same thing as Wi-Fi bridges. They do the same thing but are very different – A bit like saying you can watch movies at a cinema as well as on a tablet. You use them for the same thing, but they’re really rather different.
Mesh technology will wirelessly connect an AP to a cabled AP. But here’s how it handles the task:
- Mesh is enabled or disabled inside your AP. You can check whether it’s a standard feature or not. On those where it is featured, you can make mesh available by just clicking “Enable Mesh” on the on-premises controller or if it has one, a cloud-based Wi-Fi dashboard.
- Mesh is people-oriented: Because mesh is actually inside an AP, clients and devices can still talk to the AP. So mesh is more of a multipurpose solution than a bridge. So for example, perhaps you’re having an outdoor event like a school fete and you have a vendor that needs a Wi-Fi connection. Mesh would be the best decision here as you can create a connection between the cabled AP and the uncabled AP across the field.
- Using a bridge wouldn’t really be worth it just for something temporary, and it also doesn’t talk to user devices.
- One of the downsides however, is when you use mesh there is a performance penalty for the root AP because it’s backhauling the data from the uncabled AP, supporting other mesh APs and devices, etc. So while visitors to the fete might get the benefits of using the vendors Wi-Fi hotspot, the performance wouldn’t be as great as without mesh being in use.
- Mesh is dynamic but not divisible. Mesh networks can form dynamically in the event that an AP in a network loses its wired connection. But you can’t separate the bandwidth of a mesh connection with VLANs.
So Which One is Right for Your Wi-Fi Deployment?
Perhaps the best bit about mesh is that it’s built into your APs, so you have it at your disposal whenever you need it. And if needed, adding bridges is pretty straightforward too. If you’re still not sure which to use and when, then why not give our Wi-Fi experts a call here at Geekabit and we can run a couple of planning scenarios to determine which would be best for you. And we can install it too!