Can You Mix and Match Mesh Network Hardware?


A Nest WiFi mesh node sitting on a side table in a home.
Nest

Mesh networks are an increasingly popular solution to the Wi-Fi demands of modern homes. You might be curious if you can mix and match different hardware devices— either different models from the same manufacturer or even devices from different manufacturers. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Mix and Match?

Why even consider mixing and matching? Maybe you found a good sale, a friend is upgrading and willing to hand-me-down some network gear to you, or you just want to extend coverage a little and would like to buy some less expensive hardware to get the job done. Or, perhaps, your older system has some software features, like easy-to-use parental controls, you don’t want to lose.

Whatever motivated you to consider the project, let’s dig into when mixing and matching mesh network hardware works, when it doesn’t, and the tradeoffs you’ll make along the way.

Same Manufacturer Mixing Is Usually Pretty Smooth

A network map, showing different TP-Link Deco units working together.
TP-Link

When it comes to mixing and matching hardware produced by the same manufacturer, you’re generally pretty safe, although it’s worth double-checking the fine print on the manufacturer’s website before making any purchases.

All eero hardware is completely backward-compatible, for example, as is Google Nest WiFi gear. The popular Deco lineup from TP-Link is also backward compatible.

When mixing and matching hardware from the same manufacturer there are a few things to keep in mind to make the experience much smoother.

First, double-check if there are any specific downsides to mixing and matching hardware by checking the support documentation for your manufacturer of choice.

Although it’s increasingly less of an issue sometimes you’ll run into a situation where keeping older hardware as part of the setup leads to some of the features on the newer gear getting downgraded or turned off entirely for compatibility reasons. If that’s the case, it might be worth retiring the older gear and upgrading to all new mesh nodes.

Second, be sure to update all the firmware across all the devices in your new setup including the router node and all the mesh nodes. Things are constantly evolving and you don’t want to deal with compatibility problems or poor node-to-node communication because of old firmware. With updated firmware, you can often avoid that feature-downgrade problem we just mentioned.

Third, always follow the manufacturer’s configuration recommendations where available or, if no specific guidelines are provided, structure your network with the newest mesh nodes functioning as the router and in the most used areas of the home with the older nodes on the peripheral and in the lesser-used areas.

eero Pro 6 (3-Pack)

Improve and expand your coverage worry-free. All eero units are backward compatible.

For example, if you have an older eero system and you buy a new bundle, use the newer eero nodes as the main router and in the core area of your house, and then move the older eero nodes to the edges to provide coverage in the yard, the garage, or other less important areas. This ensures the newest hardware is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting and the older hardware is picking up the slack at the edges.

As long as the manufacturer supports inter-model and inter-generation compatibility, if you follow these guidelines you’ll have a really smooth experience adding more mesh nodes to your home network.

Mixing Manufacturers Is a Huge Headache

You can mix hardware from different manufacturers together but it’s a significant hassle and comes with significant penalties in terms of ease of use and features.

If you wouldn’t describe yourself as an amateur network administrator, you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience much and we’d recommend you skip it and stick with hardware from the same manufacturer.

Why is it a hassle? Wi-Fi as a standard is very well hashed out but that doesn’t translate to interoperability between mesh nodes from different manufacturers. They might all be using the same Wi-Fi standards, broadly, but how they implement mesh communication within the closed system of a given manufacturer’s mesh network ecosystem is not interoperable.

Back in 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization in charge of the Wi-Fi standard, announced a new companion standard called EasyMesh. In theory, EasyMesh will make mixing and matching mesh nodes from different manufacturers simple. In practice, as of this writing in mid-2022 it’s been five years since the announcement and very few manufacturers have adopted EasyMesh in any meaningful way because they have nearly zero incentive to do so.

A diagram of a home using an EasyMesh Wi-Fi system.
The EasyMesh idea is great, but we’re still waiting for widespread adoption. Wi-Fi Alliance

Between the different mesh standards and the nearly non-existent EasyMesh support, if you want to mix and match hardware you can’t just hook up some Google Nest WiFi nodes to your existing eero system, or throw some inexpensive TP-Link Deco units on somewhere to boost coverage.

At best, if the manufacturer in question supported it, you could turn the new mesh nodes into just dumb access points, tethered via an Ethernet backhaul back to the existing mesh router.

Why might you take that approach? Let’s say you like specific features on the original mesh router platform—such as robust parental controls or a particular bedtime lockout feature—that aren’t available on the newer system. You could keep the mesh node in place to serve as the router (and keep providing the parental controls, or such, that you need) while using the newer mesh nodes as access points to handle the Wi-Fi.

But, again, it tends to get a bit messy and complicated. You’ll need to make sure you’re not running the newer mesh system as a separate network with its own router and DHCP assignment to avoid a double-NAT—a common issue when you “stack” routers—and other issues. Depending on the capabilities of the older system you may or may not totally lose mesh functionality by switching it over to just access point mode.

Unless you have a very pressing need to mix the systems together, we really can’t recommend it. At that point, you’re better off just upgrading your router.





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