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