Complaints on home Wi-Fi coverage issues have reached critical mass. More so when more people are reliant on home broadband to access to information. In the past, wireless speeds of 100Mbps are acceptable. Today, with 1Gbps broadband speed, consumers want the same speed from the wireless router too, which is not possible because of technological hardware constraints from the wireless devices.
This article is not to discuss on the wireless broadband speed. Rather, it is to address the coverage issues faced by many at their home. I have spent years finding a solution to my wireless woes. My previous experience varies from powerline with wireless AP, to wireless extender. This year is actually a boom year for network companies to launch wireless mesh products. Prominent names include Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi, Google WiFi, ASUS Lyra. In this review, I am sharing another Wi-Fi Mesh router from Aztech, a Singapore brand.
The Aztech AIR-706P looks like a normal router, unlike other brands where the mesh “nodes” are small and without external antennas. The AIR-706P supports AON Mesh technology, which basically allows the units to perform like wireless mesh. It runs on dualband, 2.GHz (N band) up to 300Mbps and 5GHz (AC band) up to 1600Mbps.
Mesh vs. Extender
The main difference between mesh and wireless extender (or repeaters) is that all the mesh units work as a single wireless network with a single network name (SSID). The mesh technology will make every mesh node communicate to one another to provide a seamless experience for the user.
On the other hand, a wireless extender acts like a separate access point with a separate network name that merely re-broadcast the signal from the original router. Important: creating same SSID on multiple routers or extenders does not make them work as a single network. Conversely, it may mar the experience because the wireless device might be connecting to the weaker router which you have no control over. That is why I always give a different network name and manually select the optimal router to use, which might be an inconvenience to many users.
Setting Up AIR-706P
To start building the wireless mesh network, I first installed one AIR-706P where my current router sat. I used the Aztech Smart Network app on the smartphone, connected to the AIR-706P router, and made changes to the network settings. Under the single router mode, the smartphone app Wi-Fi Radar view shows the connectivity level of all your connected devices (this view is not available when the router is in mesh mode).
Another unique feature on the smartphone app is Wi-Fi Connect, which notifies user if there are new devices connected to the network. The app also supports configuration of guest SSID and parental control, which is handy in managing the network against devices.
The AIR-706P AON Mesh network can support up to 3 nodes (and 1 controller). To join another AIR-706P router, just press the WPS button on the main router and the new router and wait for a few minutes for both devices to talk it out. Once you see the “AON” green LED light on both routers, you know it’s done.
To ensure the AON Mesh network can do its magic, I need to leave the router setting to “Smart AP Steering” mode and not to give different network names for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz, which was what I did in my current router setup. Initially when I placed the second AIR-706P router in my study room where my current wireless extender was located, I got poor results from the mesh node (the LED lights shows red, which means poor performance). I shifted to my master bedroom with direct line of sight, and that appeared to resolve the network performance issue.
A pity that I had to shift the second node-router, because if I had placed it in my study room, I could connect the Ethernet cable to the router and my desktop PC to enjoy wired data bandwidth.
For more advanced configuration, I can login to the routers on the web broswer via the IP address. It is possible to access each router individually to make changes, example, enabling guest network access, enabling auto reboot, DLNA media streaming, Torrent direct downloads. Yes, each router can have two USB 3.0 storage devices connected, so potentially you can run multiple DLNA servers, peer-to-peer clients, or print servers, via the IP addresses assigned to each router.
Certain features are disabled on the node router, understandably. Similarly, when the main router is configured as a mesh controller, some features may be disabled, like configuring the wireless frequency properties. For a complete list of what the routers can do, I recommend you scrutinize the online user manual.
Test and Experience
Using SpeedTest.net and WiFi Analyzer apps on the smartphone, I did random tests around my house to determine the effectiveness of the mesh network. The two AIR-706P units did a great job in extending coverage in my house. When I was in the living room where the main router is, I could get almost 400Mbps. In my study room, where I am closer to the node router, I got 200Mbps. I can access data confidently even from my bedroom toilet which is the furthest point from the main router, getting almost 200Mbps, the highest ever in all my years. These amazing speeds don’t happen all the time, but on average I am getting about 70% capacity.
Throughout my review period, I did have bouts of network performance issues, especially during peak periods. I reckon the Aztech mesh network performs less stellar when multiple devices are connected and vying for bandwidth. I can have up to 7 smartphones and 3 IoT devices running. And that is one of the issues with a single network name versus multiple bands and access points. I cannot control whether the device connects to slower 2.4GHz or the faster 5GHz. Unlike multiple-SSID setup, if the mesh node is not communicating to the main router effectively, you could experience poor performance and you cannot switch to a different SSID.
I love the ability to turn off all the front LED lights with a button on the router itself. Other routers do not have so many LED lights to circumvent this common complaint, while others require user to login to the configuration page to disable the lights. Aztech’s physical button solution offers me instant access to the LED indicator.
And like what I did for previous routers, I had no USB devices to connect to the routers, so I made use of them to power up some of my home devices, like an electronic clock, and even Blink home security camera base module.
I had the intention to remove the top plastic sheet, but the adhesiveness proves to be too strong, so I left it there, which might be a good thing to protect the glossy surface, I guess.
Should your next Wi-Fi home solution be wireless mesh network or traditional router-repeater setup? Here are my thoughts:
Convenience vs. Control, Coverage vs. Performance
A wireless mesh network is transparent to users. You only require a single SSID network for the entire house and the coverage is seamless between nodes and across the bands. The mesh network automatically switches to the optimal access point to deliver data. You can grow this single-SSID network by installing additional nodes without adding more network names.
A router-repeater setup provides better control in achieving the optimal performance across devices. If I find problems with an SSID, I switch to another one. By assigning different devices to different SSID, I ensure I get dedicated bandwidth when needed. The challenge may be getting the optimal combination, as some repeaters might not work well with routers.
In conclusion, a mesh network can offer convenience and coverage, while router-repeater setup provides better control and predictability in performance.
Aztech AON Mesh vs. Other Mesh Products
The AIR-706P is unique from other wireless mesh products whereby it behaves like a mesh network but offers features similar to normal routers. In future, when Aztech releases other networking models that support AON Mesh technology, it can be used to expand the home mesh network without constraint from other mesh brands to use the same models. The disadvantage is the size: other mesh products appear sleek and blend with the home. Having said that, Aztech intends to launch compact-size mesh-nodes that works with routers like AIR-706P.
I am thoroughly impressed with the capability of wireless mesh network, provided it works properly. But the same goes for router-repeater or powerline setup, of which I have had my fair share of poor performance. Given my positive experience with AIR-706P, I may opt for wireless mesh network in future plus a secondary powerline connection with wireless access point, like the TP-LINK TL-WPA8730 KIT. In case the mesh network has a problem, I could switch to the powerline SSID and troubleshoot.
As this is the first wireless mesh product I have reviewed, I cannot comment on whether I will get better experience with other mesh products, and hopefully I would have opportunity to review them.
The Aztech AIR-706P has an advantage over other mesh products in terms of familiarity (works like normal router) and expandability (works with any future Aztech model that supports AON Mesh). It is unique whereby it behaves like a mesh network but offers features similar to normal routers, like 4 gigabit ports, 2x USB 3.0 ports that support DLNA and peer-to-peer file transfer. Simply put, it is a standalone router with wireless mesh capability.
Retails at S$269 with 3 years warranty, AIR-706P is available now at all good consumer electronic stores in Singapore and online stores like Lazada.
- Features similar to standard routers, with many gigabit ports and USB ports
- Supports any networking products in future with AON Mesh ready
- Single network name to cover the entire apartment with at least 100Mbps
- Sells as standalone, no need to buy in multiple packs
- Larger than other wireless mesh products
- Seems to have problems managing multiple connected devices