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What is a Mesh Router?

By Damir Wallener
Updated May 16, 2024
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In a traditional network, routers are used to direct data traffic from one place, or node, to another. Each router has a specific set of locations from which it can accept data, and a specific set of locations to which it can send data. A mesh, or multi-hop network, is a highly decentralized way of organizing nodes that does not require predetermined paths between them. Such networks are made possible by mesh routers, which adjust, in real time, the locations with which they can communicate.

Mesh routers work by continuously monitoring network activity and maintaining lists of other devices in their vicinity. When a potential node appears, it broadcasts its address and networking capabilities. Nearby mesh routers will receive the broadcast, and adjust their own lists to reflect the new node. When the device turns off or otherwise disappears, the mesh routers will again update their lists.

If a known device broadcasts a request to send data to a specific location, and a router has the receiving node on its list of active devices, it will complete the path and transmit the data. If no individual mesh router can provide a direct path between transmitting and receiving nodes, the data will be sent to another router in the network, and the process repeated until a path can be found.

Because mesh routers are continuously adjusting to their environment, the network they create is very robust and highly fault tolerant. With a large enough mesh, it is possible to route around any failed or disappeared router; no mesh router can be a point of failure for the entire network. The drawback of such networks is that without predetermined routing paths, data may take a longer time to reach its destination. There are also security issues: because mesh routers automatically talk to every device that appears, it can be easier for malevolent devices to gain access to the network.

Mesh networks are often wireless, and a mesh router can be as simple as a wireless laptop set to operate in ad hoc mode. In this mode, the laptop acts as the router. There are also dedicated devices that provide greater bandwidth and range. Typically, a dedicated mesh router will not be mobile. Many wireless access points are in fact mesh routers, and can be used to create geographically large wireless networks.

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Discussion Comments
By anon179493 — On May 24, 2011

How can you build your own without buying it?

By anon152369 — On Feb 14, 2011

The concept of a mesh network works very well with wireless technology. If you have a lot of cat6 cables as you put it, and are looking to connect everything in a wired manner, then just about any off the shelf router will likely do what you are asking.

When you are dealing with mesh verses non-mesh, it only really has a solid meaning if you are dealing with either a combination of wi-fi and cabled, or all wi-fi.

If you are dealing with all hardlined network, then whatever router you get will probably already do what you are wanting by default.

By anon50626 — On Oct 30, 2009

i don't think that mesh and non-wireless are synonymous. physical path for wires, lots of room for movement if wireless.

By anon1972 — On Jun 22, 2007

I have been looking everywhere, but my thought are maybe that I am using the incorrect search terms. I am attempting to set up a network for a call center that I would to open soon, but unfortunately I cannot find a manufacturer of a "non wireless" mesh router. If I wanted a Wi-Fi set-up then I can waste space utilizing a Motorola Canopy, I have a lot of CAT-6 and plenty of talented staff ready to install the network, but so far I have had not luck in finding a wired mesh router. Any insight that you can offer on this? I would like to set-up 16 nodes on a torus network, with each node will have 4 full mesh nodes or a total of 64 computers (3.4 GHZ Duo Core Pentiums, 2GB Ram each, (2) 500 GB hard drives each) that, hopefully when done, will function both as separate workstations on the network as well as a cluster, for my own personal after hours experimentation. Thank you - Nick

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