A simple and affordable way to get a decent 802.11ax wireless signal all around your home
- Good range
- Wi-Fi 6 compatible
- Low price
- Not the fastest of mesh systems
- No parental controls
Wi-Fi works fine when you’re close to the router but, once you move away the signal, inevitably drops off – especially when it has to travel through walls or past electrical appliances. The result is slow downloads, glitchy games and low-quality video streams.
One solution is to buy a standalone extender, to boost the signal to remote areas of your home. If that sounds good to you, check out our guide to the best Wi-Fi extenders to buy. The alternative is to buy a mesh system that includes multiple Wi-Fi access points you can situate all around your house. A big benefit of this is that it’s all configured and administered from a single console, so it’s easier to manage and there’s less chance any security problems will go unnoticed.
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Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000 review: What do you get for the money?
Mesh systems can be expensive but not Xiaomi’s new AX3000. It supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology and costs just £100 for a two-node pack.
Why is it so cheap? The answer’s partly down to good old Chinese mass production, but the design is also more economical than many rival products. High-end mesh platforms use tri-band designs, with 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios for your devices to connect to and a third radio, also on the 5GHz band, which is reserved for passing backhaul data between the mesh stations.
The Xiaomi system, by contrast, is a dual-band design, so it only has two radios: a 2.4GHz one rated at 574Mbits/sec and a 5GHz one capable of transfer speeds up to 2.4Gbits/sec. Those are decent numbers, but the bandwidth isn’t all available for your laptops and smartphones to use, as the capacity has to be shared with backhaul traffic.
It’s also worth remembering that the speeds advertised for wireless routers and meshes are theoretical maximums; in the real world you’d never get anywhere near 3,000Mbits/sec anyway.
While the Xiaomi Mesh System isn’t the fastest mesh around, it can still make your network feel nippy. For one thing, it supports 2×2 MIMO and a channel width of 160MHz, to help maximise the amount of data that can be crammed into a single connection. Since the mesh configuration helps provide a stronger signal over a longer distance, devices that are far away from the router should see a particular speed boost.
What’s more, Wi-Fi 6 is much better able to handle large numbers of connections at once than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). As more and more devices come to support the latest standard, you’ll find your network is overall smoother and more stable, with fewer inexplicable slowdowns. There’s support for the latest WPA3 security protocol too, as well as IPv6.
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Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000 review: Is it easy to set up?
The Xiaomi mesh units are little black monoliths, standing 222mm tall with a footprint of 97mm square. They have two small LEDs at the front, showing power and network status but, otherwise, there’s nothing to see or interact with. At the back, each node offers three Gigabit Ethernet ports for hooking up wired devices, plus a WAN connector that plugs into your modem. If you need to use your ISP router to connect to the internet, you can use the Mesh System in Repeater mode, with the nodes acting as access points.
You can manage the network using either the Xiaomi Home smartphone app or a web browser. Initial setup just takes a few minutes, as the app automatically locates the router and invites you to name the network – it’s up to you whether you combine the 2.4GHz and 5GHz connections into one or give them different names.
Once the network’s configured, you can use the app or the web interface to view and block individual devices, and set up address reservation and port forwarding for games and services running on your home network.
Advanced options include speed limit options for individual devices, which is handy if you don’t want the kids’ tablets to interfere with your video streaming. You can enable Dynamic DNS, too, to make it easier to reach your home network over the internet and an unexpected bonus is that you can configure the mesh system to send all your traffic over a third-party PPTP or L2TP VPN service – with a smart option to exclude specific devices or addresses.
There are a few features that are only available in the mobile app. You’ll need to come here to turn on the guest network, or to activate WPS, to simplify the process of joining the network. If you’re looking for clever parental controls or network-based security scanning, however, you won’t find them anywhere. Such features are too advanced for this cheap and cheerful mesh system.
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Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000 review: How far does it reach?
Xiaomi claims that two mesh nodes can cover an area of up to 4,000 square feet, or around 370 square metres. However, since every home is different, it’s impossible to promise that the AX3000 mesh will deliver a strong enough signal to allow you to – for example – watch Netflix at 4K resolution on your bedroom TV.
Still, having set up two nodes at convenient locations in my own home (you can connect up to ten), I was impressed by the coverage they delivered. At close range, my test laptop was able to download files over the Xiaomi network at a speedy 49MB/sec; naturally, speeds fell as I moved into other rooms, but transfer rates never dropped below 25MB/sec – not even in the bathroom, which can be tricky to reach owing to its thick walls and pipework.
To put that into context, my average download speed over the Xiaomi system was around 15% slower than the TP-Link Deco X20 – previously our favourite affordable Wi-Fi 6 mesh system – and about 35% slower than the fastest mesh we’ve tested, namely the Netgear Orbi RBK852.
Don’t get too hung up on that, though: the Xiaomi was still fast enough to deliver the full speed of a 200Mbits/sec internet line, or to stream as many as eight 4K videos at once. Considering the Deco X20 costs £180-ish for a twin-pack, and the Orbi is a whopping £640, the Xiaomi is an attractive deal.
Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000 review: Should you buy it?
The first question is, can you buy it? At the time of writing, the Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000 isn’t officially available in the UK, and there’s no word on a launch date. You can however have one shipped from China through a site such as AliExpress or Banggood. The UK region is fully supported, too, and the app and web interface are all in English. Just be aware that if anything goes wrong, these grey-import goods may not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
If you’re happy with that, the Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000 is a nice easy way to get a decent 802.11ax wireless signal all around your home. Of course, you’ll get higher speeds and more advanced features from pricier mesh kits but most homes will be more than happy with what the Xiaomi delivers for just £100.