Mesh networks are the soup-de-jour of home Wi-Fi at the moment. They’re quick & easy to setup, provide great, reliable coverage and don’t carry a price tag to scare off the average family. The ASUS Lyra is one of the latest mesh systems available and despite not having any real Wi-Fi issues of my own was keen to try it out and see if even in my apartment a mesh network could improve my setup.
But first, lets quickly cover off what a mesh network is and why they’ve become so popular. For most people Wi-Fi is provided in your home courtesy of the router given to you for signing up with your internet provider. These emit a Wi-Fi signal from a single point, doing its best to stretch across your home and often failing to do so well. They’re often cheap, underpowered and even those that aren’t, still struggle to cover a large home or one with a great deal of interference or thick walls. And while there are products on the market to extend your Wi-Fi signal they’re often unreliable, difficult to setup and something most do their very best to avoid.
Mesh systems comprise of multiple base stations or hubs that you even place around your home. They communicate with one another automatically to create an invisible “mesh” offering a comprehensible blanket of Wi-Fi to your home. They’re often sold in packs of three, which will easily cover the standard three bedroom house and then some. One of the hubs you own will connect to your internet and act as a main hub routing the traffic to its mesh network and the myriad of devices you have that communicate with their closest hub. Want to extend your network, no problem add another hub. Someone unplugs a hub accidentally while vacuuming, no problem the mesh system routes around the gap automatically. You can see why they’ve become so popular.
The ASUS Lyra base package comprises of three aesthetically pleasing, small, white disc like hubs. Each are identical and have their own power supply, the only other ports on them being two ethernet ports allowing you to hardwire desktop computers or network switches should you desire.
The only other included piece of hardware in the box is a single ethernet cable. This is for you to connect one of the hubs to your modem and feed the internet into your soon to be setup mesh Wi-Fi system.
Plugging the power into one of the hubs brings it to life, it’s entire circular surface covered in a honeycomb like pattern that throbs in and out with different colours. The colours represent the state the hub is in or if it’s experiencing any errors and after slowly throbbing as a warm yellow while it booted settles on a solid low white waiting for instruction.
The quick-start guide was missing from my review unit, which had me at somewhat of a disadvantage but would prove an interesting exercise in finding out just how easy these mesh networks, in particular the Lyra, really are.
A quick google search on my iPhone brought up the first hit as an iOS app, which I promptly downloaded. Opening it for the first time it the app scanned my existing network, where it found and identified an ASUS Lyra base station waiting to be configured.
Two questions later, “What do you want to call your network?” and “What password do you want to use?” and the app advised it was configuring the hub and once done I can connect to the new, at this point, single node mesh network.
Reconnecting my phone to the new ASUS Lyra network I’d just created and returning the app I was then told to:
“Pickup the next Lyra and your app, then move your steps to the place where you want to setup next Lyra.”
Say what now?
“Pickup the next Lyra…”, ok “Lyra” is ASUS’ term for the hub as well as their system. Confusing.
“…and your app”, hmmm, that’s take my phone with me yes?
“…then move your steps…”, this was the most confusing part. I mean not it seems kinda obvious typing it out bit by bit but at 11pm on a Tuesday night after working 14 hours I was kinda a little lost I have to admit.
Who did the copy writing on this thing and how has no one in the English speaking world not reported it back to them? “Move your steps”, it was the heading of the page too. I felt like I was supposed to be dancing while cradling the next hub or something!?
After ‘moving my steps’ from the kitchen cupboard that houses my phone line, modem and an array of other non-kitchen related tech gear (don’t you keep your NAS in the kitchen too?), to the study I plugged in the next Lyra and watched it colourfully throb into life like its sister.
Looking at the app on my phone while waiting for the second Lyra to boot the word “Good” stood out in bold blue writing at the top of the screen. This was the app’s way of telling me that I was in “good” range of the original and this would be a suitable place to put a hub. Moving closer to the original it changed to a green “Great” and as I moved further away to a red “Poor”. It was a really nice touch I thought and despite their poor English skills a well designed setup wizard.
Moments later the app had dedicated the new hub in pairing mode and asked me if I wanted to add it to my network, which I of course did. Job done. In no more than a couple of minutes I had added a second hub and expanded my network automatically to cover my apartment in a significant spans of Wi-Fi.
The third was just as simple to get up and running. Powered on, opened app and connected, job done. I put this one in my bedroom, the room furthest from the original in the kitchen and whilst it was likely complete overkill for a 120m2 two bedroom apartment (ASUS say a 3 hub setup can cover up to 500m2) I now had a full three node mesh network up and running in under fifteen minutes. Now comes the fun part…
To test just how effective the mesh network was in comparison to my single, perfectly sufficient ASUS RT-AC88U router, I used an app called “Netspot“. Walking around my apartment, MacBook Air in hand I took a series of measurements to create a heat map of signal strength as well as perform a series of speed tests by moving a 4GB file off my ethernet connected NAS to the laptop.
As you’d expect my current single router solution had no issues covering the apartment, especially in the longer reaching, but slower 2.4GHz spectrum. With 5GHz there’s definitely a distinct drop off as it moves out to the east but not exactly diving into the poor range by any means.
Interestingly, where I have my study and desktop PC setup is one of the worst places in the apartment for a signal. After no more than a few metres on 5GHz once you add a few walls and perhaps some neighbourly interference the drop off is quite significant.
Looking at the heat maps coming from the ASUS Lyra’s tests, it’s like chalk and cheese. Even over such a relatively small area you can see a significant difference in both the 2.4GHz and even more so in the 5GHz ranges. Any wavering or hint of lower range colours are basically gone, nothing but a solid glow of Wi-Fi that any network engineer would kill for. I was definitely impressed.
A clear winner in coverage it would make sense the Lyra would also perform well in its results when it came to transfer speeds as well but the results weren’t quite as clear cut. Over the slower 2.4GHz spectrum Lyra was far more efficient and transferred the file significantly quicker however on 5GHz there were cases it was in fact slower in some places, like my study where reception was supposedly poorer, yet better in the bedroom which was physically much further away.
|System||Spectrum||Average Transfer Time|
One reason for it being slower could be the way in which it hops the traffic between the hubs to reach your device, or in this case my laptop. Rather than the one hub talking directly to your device it needs to bounce the signal from the first hub in the chain to the next closest and the next and so on until it hits your phone or laptop or fridge even.
The reality is the “lag” in doing these hops is so minimal that for 99% of home users it’s not going to outweigh the benefits of having the coverage and reliability of a mesh system. Even in my transfer tests the largest gap was no more than three seconds.
The Lyra system also plans its hops in the most efficient manner for you. Each hub has four antenna equally placed around its edges that are dedicated for communicating with other hubs only. Instead of trying to talk to every hub it can find near it it will use two of these antenna to speak with those that not only are closest to it but have the strongest connection further improving your network’s speed and reliability. A stark difference to some other big name mesh systems.
Management of the Lyra system is done via a standard web portal that we’ve seen in routers and modems for years, or via its own dedicated ASUS Lyra app.
Either give you the ability to configure standard network features like IP binding and port forwarding (with port range support) but also offer an expanded set that I think families in particular will make use of.
Parental controls for example are extremely easy to implement. The Lyra app simply lists each connected device which you can then turn on and off a range of online services. Kids watching Youtube instead of doing their homework? Easy, just disable streaming services. I was surprised by just how effective and instantaneous it was to toggle on and off.
The network Lyra gave me, the ease to set it up and the controls I had over it via the app left me thoroughly impressed. Even in my apartment I can see the benefits of such a system and have no qualms about recommending it to friends now. For those in larger homes and stuck with Wi-Fi blackspots it’s really a no-brainer. A mesh system will definitely help you and offers the flexibility to grow and cover your space exactly how you need it to.
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