WiFi bridge or WiFi mesh? What’s the difference?

Although WiFi bridges and WiFi meshing are common in the need for replacing the need for cabling, they serve different requirements.

Many IT professionals prefer to terminate access points using a wired connection; however, this isn’t always feasible or sensible. You might not want to have the added cost of digging the ground to lay cables, or unsightly view of trunking and drilling holes in walls. This is where WiFi bridges and meshing fills the bill.

What is a WiFi bridge?

A WiFi bridge replaces ethernet cabling. It is set up in a fixed configuration to have one purpose. In a point-to-point configuration, typically in outdoor environments the bridge will be designed to span a distance to carry data from a point to another as if you had a cable joining the two. This is not exclusive to outdoors, you can bridge access points inside a building and don’t have to have a access point in bridge with line of site to another AP. You could bridge an access point from one room to another room for example or from outdoor to indoor as 5GHz or 2.4GHz can penetrate walls, you don’t even need a sectored antenna. Generally speaking, when people refer to a Wi-Fi bridge, they are talking about equipment designed to span distances of several hundred meters to a few miles with a sectored station like LigoWaves DLB series. In bridge mode, a WiFi bridge won’t connect to WiFi clients like you would expect from an access point, as the bridge mode is serving the sole purpose of acting as a bridge to another station.

A use case for bridging is to add VLANs to separate and secure traffic over the bridge or operate in a point-to-multipoint bridging with multiple stations connecting to the bridge.

What is Mesh WiFi?

Meshing does the same thing as WiFi bridging by connecting an AP wirelessly to a cable less AP. The difference to bridging however is that clients and devices can also talk to the access point. This means mesh mode is a more multipurpose solution than a bridge and you can do all this inside one access point. You could easily mesh cabled outdoor APs to un-cabled APs across the grounds of an outdoor caravan park giving access to WiFi clients on a guest network as well as them meshing to eachother. No cabling required for each AP, and no separate radio used for bridging the APs together, as the mesh technology is built into the APS.

As with all technology, meshing has its pros and cons and is not suitable is all environments as sometimes it will be better to bridge the APs together using an entirely different radio and frequency such as combined with an E band bridge at the root with subscriber units in high density environments requiring high data through puts. You also need to consider the APs will still need powering, so it might be just as easy to power them over ethernet then it is to run new power cables if you cannot take advantage of existing furniture such as night lights. For smaller sites, when the data requirements are less demanding, meshing the APs where cables are an option will serve as the perfect solution. The thing to remember is there will always be a performance penalty for the root AP in mesh mode as it is backhauling data from un-cabled APs, supporting other APs and devices so if your requirements are high, meshing might not be for you.

Mesh networking has another pro worth mentioning here, and that is that they can form dynamically in the event you have a disaster in the network and an AP loses its wired connection (assuming more than one AP in the mesh is cabled to the gateway). Another con for meshing is you cannot separate the bandwidth of a mesh connection with VLANs.

To mesh, or not to mesh, that is the question

Our team use wireless surveys as part of the planning phase to be able to design a network tailored to business requirements. The options for locations, cabling, wireless bridging or to use meshing are discussed and presented to clients to ensure they get the best value from their Wi-Fi network. For some customers, meshing APs is the ideal solution, for others not, it simply is not a one size fits all approach. If you would like to discuss your WiFi needs, please feel free to call.