Setup & Testing Methodology
As mentioned earlier, the current crop of consumer-targeted mesh Wi-Fi systems are designed to prioritize ease of use over raw functionality. As a result, all three systems we're looking at today have a simplified setup process.
Each relies on a proprietary mobile app to start the process, although initial setup on the AmpliFi HD can also be performed via the touchscreen on the main base station. The process for all three is similar: you're instructed to download the corresponding app from the iOS or Android app stores and, upon launching the app, you'll be walked through the setup process, complete with visual guides and troubleshooting tips.
eero uses Bluetooth to automatically detect each new access point as you plug them in, while Google uses a combination of Bluetooth and unique QR codes on the bottom of each unit. With AmpliFi, you'll still set up the primary cube router, but the MeshPoints come already paired with the AmpliFi base station out of the box, so all you need to do is plug them in and wait for them to initialize and connect.
Once the setup process is complete, all three apps provide a central interface for their corresponding mesh system, allowing the user to view the status of their Wi-Fi network, troubleshoot performance or connectivity issues, and access more advanced features such as IP reservations, DHCP ranges, port forwarding, and UPnP settings. All three apps can also be configured for remote access, so you can keep tabs on your home network or make configuration changes from anywhere in the world.
While these advanced networking features are available, each mesh system should self-configure for optimal performance, allowing less savvy users to "set it and forget it" after the initial setup. This automatic network configuration and management is courtesy of each platform's proprietary software, which continuously monitors the status and performance of your network, regularly tests the download and upload bandwidth provided by your ISP, and frequently receives software updates to improve mesh connectivity and fix bugs.
But this also leads to a major downside of these systems. Not only must you create an account and register with each during the setup, providing things such as email addresses, phone numbers, or Google account access, but these systems require their parent company in order to function as advertised. If eero goes bankrupt or Google decides to pull the plug on its home Wi-Fi ambitions, it's likely that your expensive mesh Wi-Fi system will instantly become a useless trio of paperweights. It's possible that companies facing such a demise could push an update to enable perpetual offline functionality, but such a move isn't guaranteed. Further, the constant online updates and performance tweaks are a big part of what make mesh systems so compelling, so your experience with a mesh network absent those features will be less than ideal.
Our testing was performed in a typical 2-story residential house with a finished basement. The entire house measures just under 3,000 square feet which doesn't make it the most challenging environment for a Wi-Fi network but, as you'll see in the results, still has some spots where receiving a solid signal is difficult.
We measured average bandwidth using iPerf3, with a desktop Windows 10 PC sporting a dedicated gigabit Intel NIC configured as the server and a 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro configured as the client. For each test, the Windows PC was wired directly into the LAN port of each mesh system and the MacBook Pro was connected via the strongest possible signal (either 802.11ac or 802.11n) to the mesh Wi-Fi network (for the wired backhaul tests, an unmanaged Netgear switch was used). Each test was run three times from each location and the results were averaged.
The primary access point and additional mesh routers were all installed in approximately the same location, with the AmpliFi's unique design forcing a few inches of adjustment.
Our testing locations are as follows:
- Location 1: Second-floor office (same room as the primary access point).
- Location 2: Guest bedroom on the same floor as the office, approximately 30 feet away.
- Location 3: Kitchen, one floor below the office and approximately 55 feet away. Location of mesh access point.
- Location 4: Garage, one floor below office through three walls, approximately 65 feet away.
- Location 5: Basement, two floors directly beneath office. Location of mesh access point.
Before we get to the numbers, it's important to note that Wi-Fi testing is subject to extreme variability. Unlike many of the other products and technologies reviewed here at PC Perspective, the measured performance of Wi-Fi routers and related products are only valid in the exact setup tested. Factors such as the design and layout of your home or office, the thickness and build materials of your walls, and the presence and strength of other wireless networks will all affect your own experience. Therefore, while our testing is a good way to compare these mesh systems in our specific testing environment, you may see different results at home.