Wi-Fi Mesh Support: Overview and Howto

Now that we have both AP and Router Beta/RC firmware with Wi-Fi Mesh support, I wanted to walk you through the finer points of how to use this.

Intro to Mesh
What is Wi-Fi Mesh and why would I use it? Wi-Fi mesh will let you take one of our Wi-Fi enabled routers or APs that now support Mesh and wirelessly expand the WI-Fi coverage using other Peplink APs.

You can use Ethernet cables to add more APs in other areas. This is nothing new, we have had AP controller support for years to allow management of the built in AP and external APs so all function as one scalable WLAN.

Now with Mesh support, you are able to add wireless mesh APs to the network, so you can enhance coverage in areas that you are unable to run Ethernet to. This allows you tons of flexibility when you are trying to improve coverage. Great, now I don’t have to run all that Ethernet, right?

Performance
When trying to add additional coverage the first rule is Direct wired APs will always perform better than mesh APs, so do it that way if you can. Meshing shares Wi-Fi frequencies and radios to provide a link back to the rest of the network and also provide Wi-Fi client access at the same time. When meshing, any Wi-Fi clients on the meshed AP are going to be limited by the capacity of the wireless link between the hardwired AP/router and the meshed AP. This capacity will depend on all the variables any wireless connection is subject to, but this is on top of the same variables that will impact the capacity of the Wi-Fi client > AP connection, so you now have two sets of wireless links that will be subject to fade, interference etc.

Placement
So you need coverage in a hard to reach area? The natural instinct would be to put a mesh AP in the location your users need better coverage. This may or may not work well. If you are having problems getting users connected in this location, there is unlikely to be a very good link for the mesh AP as well. Sometimes this can work as the APs have better antennas and usually more power than any Wi-Fi client. Often, you will need to put the Mesh AP somewhere in between where the hard wired AP is located and the area you want to improve coverage - this gives you two strong wireless links vs. one poor wireless link.

This is really the goal of a mesh network, to reduce the distance or signal loss between two locations, so you can have fast data rates on each wireless link and more efficiently use the Wi-Fi spectrum (aka, better coverage). The stronger you can make all of your wireless connections, the faster and smoother your Wi-Fi network experience will be for all users.

We could spend days discussing the merits and strategies for deploying mesh networks, but we’ll move on to the HOW part.

Prerequisites:

  1. You need one Peplink|Pepwave router that has 802.11ac or newer Wi-Fi integrated - or - you need one Peplink|Pepwave Access Point that supports mesh that is connected to the LAN via Ethernet. This is a wired mesh AP, it can allow other wireless mesh APs to join the network.

  2. You need a second Peplink|Pepwave Access point that is 802.11ac or newer - this will wirelessly mesh to the first AP/Router.

  3. You need firmware that supports these features. That would be 8.1.1 (in beta now) for routers and 3.6.2/3.7.3/3.8.1 (in RC now) depending on your AP Wi-Fi Generation (3.6.X = 802.11ac 3.7.X=ac wave 2 3.8.X=802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6)

  4. Your mesh AP will still need power. This is “wireless” but it is not magic. Power from a wire is still needed wherever you put this “wireless” mesh AP.

Setup:

Router with Wi-Fi
If you are using a Peplink|Pepwave router with Wi-Fi as the wired AP for the mesh, you need to set up a few items:

a) Navigate to AP >Wireless Mesh and create a new Mesh Profile. Select the MeshID, Frequency (always use 5GHz unless you know why you are choosing 2.4) and Shared Key(these need to match any other APs in the mesh) Save, no need to apply yet.

b) You need to enable the newly created Mesh Profile in AP > Settings Save and Apply Changes

AP
a) Navigate to AP > Mesh and add a profile as described in the router section, you also need to check the enable box on this profile. Save. Apply Changes.

b) You’re done, nothing else needed for the APs!

AP Controller Integration

If you are trying to deploy a mesh on a network that has a Peplink|Pepwave router that supports the AP Controller feature, you can streamline provisining the Mesh settings, along with the SSID and Radio settings as well.

Before doing the above settings, check to see if your AP tab has the ability to control external APs:

Once you have this enabled, set up the mesh and SSID settings you want, and then plug in your APs to the network so they can receive the initial provisioning. After that, you can move them to whatever location and let them discover the network wirelessly.

Notes:

  • Each AP will auto detect if they have a wired uplink to the network. If it has a wired uplink and a mesh profile that is active, it will allow other wireless mesh APs with matching Mesh ID and Key to join the network

  • Each AP without an Ethernet uplink will scan for a wired Mesh AP with the same ID and Key on the selected frequency band

  • The Mesh simply forms a backbone for the APs, you still need to configure SSIDs just like you would otherwise - using built in AP controller, IC2 SSIDs, or locally programming into each AP (if you really like doing things the hard way)

  • This is a Layer 2 connection, so VLAN tagged SSIDs will function like they would on a wired network

  • The 8.1.1 and later firmware also supports managing the mesh settings via the AP controller, so you can automate this deployment, you could sync APs on the wired network and then deploy them wirelessly after the first sync

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What if:
Wired AP is in southern end of a home
A Wireless AP is in the middle of the home
Another Wireless AP is in northern end of the home

Can the Wireless AP2 in the North talk directly to the Wireless AP in the middle? If so:

  1. Can we confirm that the North AP is communicating with the middle AP rather than the South AP?
  2. Do we have any control over which mesh device the North AP communicates with?
  3. Must the North<–>Middle communication use the same WiFi frequency band as the Middle<–>South? It could be that the middle AP has a strong 5GHz signal so we use that for speed, but the AP in the North may be very far away, too far for 5GHz to reach, so we would want to use 2.4GHz when it talks to the middle AP.

I assume that if the North AP is using one WiFi frequency band for the mesh backbone, that we can force it to use only the other band to talk to clients. True?

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This is depending the placement of the AP.

They may connect in this way:

  1. Southern AP <— Middle AP <— Northern AP
    or
  2. Middle AP —> Southern AP <— Northern AP

Most likely they will connect with option 1 above.

AP will choose a best path (less hop and better signal strength) to reach the backbone automatically. So, this is depending on the placement of the AP.

WIFI Mesh should use the same frequency.

This is depending on the design. There are a few ways to design your WIFI Mesh network. A simple design is using 5GHz to join WIFI Mesh and 2.4GHz for client connection.

Hope this helps.

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Have you seen any benefits in terms of client roaming between access points?

Its often given as a benefit of a meshed network that it improves client roaming.

I presume activating mesh will only help in cases where I cannot hardwire an AP but need to extend the WIFI.

I thought perhaps a mesh network would take care of configuring the channels and signal strengths for each AP automatically instead of manually setting them on each AP. I had 3 hardwired Eero Pros in the past which did exactly this. Made setting up easy, although APs were overpowered for the space.

@cgreen, I currently have 3 hardwired APs (1 B20x and 2 minis) set with varying TX power and signal thresholds and channels with « Fast transition » enabled and seems like client handoff/roaming is working ok.

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@stego yes thats been my experience on testing as well, no clashing channels etc, fast transition enabled and it seems to work pretty well. I think as you say the big benefit here is adding more AP’s where you cannot run a cable easily.

More questions:

–How can we tell if the North AP is talking to the middle AP or to the wired AP in the south?

–How do devices connected to a mesh AP appear to the wired router when using the local web interface on the wired router? That is, do they appear as directly connected or do all devices seem to come from the mesh AP.

–Can we learn the signal strength from each mesh AP to the mesh device it is talking to?

–Can we learn the signal strength for the client devices talking to a mesh AP?

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You may check at AP > Mesh / WDS.

The devices here are referring to the WIFI client that connects to the client Mesh AP (e.g. Northern AP in your case)? If so, they are shown as WIFI clients.

You may check at AP > Mesh / WDS.

You may check at Status > Client List

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I am trying to get my mesh network setup. I recently purchased 2 AP One AX access points to replace AP Mini AC access points (HW1). Since the AP Mini Acs still work, I decided to try to add them as meshed access points and connect them through the new AP One AX.

I have found that access points with a wired uplink are trying to join the non-wired APs - which leaves to my wifi clients connected to access points with no uplink to the router.

Here is how it should work
Balance One <-- wired AP One AX <-- non-wired Mini AC <-- wifi client
Here is what it appears to be doing
wifi client --> wired AP One AX --> non-wired Mini AC --> absolutely nothing

It is almost like the wired AP cannot tell that it has an uplink to the router. Are the APs using the health check function to determine connectivity? I have disabled the health check on my APs since they are all running in “switch” mode.

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:thinking:. @jmjones, can you share the firmware version of your Balance One, AP One AX, and AP One AC Mini?

I am having a similar setup but it is working fine. Of course, I didn’t disable the health check. Please help to enable the health check to confirm it helps. By the way, is that any connection issue between the Balance One and wired AP?

Thanks.

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I am using the latest firmware on all devices.
Balance One Core - 8.1.1b02 build 5015
AP One AX - 3.8.1 build 4906
AP One Mini AC - 3.6.2b01 build 1920

I am still digging, but it looks like if I can get the APs to generate traffic, they stay accessible via IP. What is even weirder still is that the Balance One seems to be able to ping the IP of the AP through the LAN (System-Ping), but another device on the LAN cannot ping it. That makes remote support kind of difficult since the router is able to do things that other clients cannot. I will do the test again and do some screen grabs if time permits.

When I woke up this morning, one of the APs has lost its connectivity to the mesh. I guess I will need to use the “turn radio off if no network connection” option. I will use my other thread Wifi Mesh and Balance One AP Controller / Channel scanning to try and keep this one from getting cluttered.

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I have recently replaced a Peplink SUS-SOHO-T Surf Soho MK3 Router with a Balance 20X for routing and wifi access point along with an AP One AX as an additional wifi access point.

Can I use this mesh feature in the new firmware to add the Surf Soho MK3 back into my home network for use as an additional wifi access point?

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I can say that this wouldn’t be a “supported” configuration, but I also expect this would work fine. Just be sure to shut off the DHCP server of the Soho when you are setting up all the mesh and SSID settings.

Curious to hear how it goes!

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Previous, working set-up:

  • A Balance 380 HW6 router, FW 8.1.0 build 4942 in a HA pair.
  • A LAN with quite a few wired devices, and with 3 wired AP One access points - one AP One Mini HW1, two AP One Enterprise HW1 and HW2). All running FW 3.6.2 build 1938.
  • Configuration performed via IC2:
  • 4 SSIDs
  • 3 VLANS
  • 2 SSIDs mapped to untagged (2.4 and 5GHz for one, the other 2.4GHz only), the two other SSIDs (one for IoT devices (2.4GHz) and one for devices/connections requiring GDPR compliance (2.4 and 5GHz) - each mapped to a corresponding, tagged VLAN)
  • VLANs handled by the Balance 380, incl. DHCP

This works very well.

Mesh (not quite working) set-up:
Take the above configuration, activate Mesh on all the access points and

  • Add a non-wired AC One Mini with FW 3.6.2 build 1938
  • Configure it (and the other access points) for a mesh, 2.4GHz. The configuration is performed on the devices themselves.

Observation:

  1. This works (for the most part) well on the SSIDs mapped to the untagged VLAN. (There was one instance where the non-wired access point locked up and the remedy was to reboot the non-wired access point)

  2. This does not work well for the SSIDs mapped to the tagged VLANs. Devices connect to the SSID, but they are not provided with an IP address. Something getting in the way of the DHCP connection to the Balance 380?

Please advise.

Z.

PS> And with best wishes for happy holidays and an improved new year!

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@zegor_mjol, let me set this up then let you know the finding. :thinking:

Thanks

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@zegor_mjol, please upgrade both wired and wireless Mesh AP to the firmware below.

https://download.peplink.com/firmware/apone/fw-ap-acmini_enterprise_flexhw2_rugged-3.6.2s01-build1940.bin

I tested Untagged and Tagged VLAN are working fine.

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Thanks,

I’ll upgrade the firmware and report of the problem persists.

The issue itself is annoying, in that it is intermittent. Last night the network exhibited the problem (the iPad connected to the SSID, but no IP address was supplied), this morning (same iPad, same location, no changes to the network) the iPad connected without issue. :frowning:

Cheers,

Z

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@zegor_mjol, may I know the wired and wireless Mesh APs are powered on all the time?

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The APs are all powered all the time. The wired ones through PoE, the mesh-only by wall power. I have checked the logs, and no power outages were reported by the devices during the period of observed instability.
After the upgrade to the firmware you provided (now 12 hours ago), there system has been stable with connectivity on the VLAN SSIDs functioning well.

Z

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@zegor_mjol, can you help to open ticket for us to take a look? We need the Remote Assistance access for both wired and wireless Mesh APs. Please attention the ticket to me. Thanks.

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