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Wireless Reviews

Backhaul

Since backhaul is a key factor in how well Wi-Fi Systems perform, we measure that directly. These tests run traffic between the root node LAN-side Ethernet port and mesh node/satellite Ethernet port. These benchmarks also show how much throughput is available to Ethernet devices you may wish to connect, using mesh nodes as wireless bridges.

The Hop 1 results show only the Orbi RBK40 desktop because the RBK30 wallplug satellite has no Ethernet port.

Wi-Fi System Backhaul - Hop 1

Wi-Fi System Backhaul - Hop 1

The results speak for themselves. Orbi is absent from the Hop 2 chart because it uses only one hop.

Wi-Fi System Backhaul - Hop 2

Wi-Fi System Backhaul - Hop 2

Orbi always uses its dedicated 5 GHz high-band 2x2 radio for backhaul. But the other products can use any of their two or three radios. I didn't sniff traffic or use a spectrum analyzer during the backhaul tests to see which radio was being used. But I can say which channels were in use, shown in the table below. Keep in mind nodes need to be on the same channel to use it for backhaul.

  eero Gen 2 Google WiFi TP-Link Deco M5
2.4 GHz Root 1-[1 6]
11 2-[1 6]
5 GHz Root 36-[36 40 44 48]
149-[149 153 157 161]
44-[36 40 44 48]
2.4 GHz Hop 1 1-[1 6]
1 2-[1 6]
5 GHz Hop 1 149-[149 153 157 161]
149-[149 153 157 161]
44-[36 40 44 48]
2.4 GHz Hop 2 1-[1 6]
1 2-[1 6]
5 GHz Hop 2 36-[36 40 44 48]
149-[149 153 157 161]
44-[36 40 44 48]
Table 1: Channels in use

The numbers in brackets [ ] indicate all channels used for 40 or 80 MHz bandwidth. Google WiFi's single 2.4 GHz number indicates 20 MHz bandwidth.

Capacity

I have long wrestled with trying to come up with a way to measure the capacity of Wi-Fi networks. This is becoming more urgent as more Wi-Fi devices compete for bandwidth on even modest home networks. So while Wi-Fi marketeers continue to flog the dead horse that Wi-Fi "class" (aka the big number on the box) has become to promote their wares, the real battle is moving to how efficiently Wi-Fi routers and Systems squeeze every available bit of bandwidth out of the airtime they have.

My first cut at assessing Wi-Fi system capacity is very simple, using three 2x2 AC clients, one connected to each node of three node systems. Traffic is then run to all three clients simultaneously and throughput measured for each traffic pair. For two node router/extender systems like Orbi, one client is connected to the router and two are connected to the satellite.

I considered different band/node assignments and settled on 2.4 GHz for the root node and 5 GHz for the others. I first tried associating a 5 GHz client to the root node, but found it just about choked off bandwidth to other system nodes, which wasn't a very interesting test.

As I've said a few times, backhaul management is key for good Wi-Fi System design. But so is the ability to manage how much bandwidth is allocated to backhaul vs. fronthaul (devices). My 5 GHz-on-the-root-node test showed fronthaul/backhaul bandwidth assignment isn't being done on current designs. Orbi doesn't count, because it has dedicated backhaul.

The Capacity bar chart shows total throughput for the three test clients in each direction. The surprise here is the Orbi RBK30 wallplug beat out the RBK40 desktop model.

Wi-Fi System Capacity

Wi-Fi System Capacity

Looking at the results for each test case shows why. On downlink, the RBK30 (black bar) did better than the RBK40 (green bar) in Test Case C. This test does not apply additional attenuation for the C test case for router/extender products. All clients are associated with 0 dB attenuation, ensuring maximum load on the associated node.

Wi-Fi System Capacity by Test Case - downlink

Wi-Fi System Capacity by Test Case - downlink

Uplink detail shows even more of a throughput advantage for the Orbi wallplug. The important thing to observe in this test is how little throughput is left for the Hop 2 node for eero, Deco and GWiFi. There's also a pretty good drop between root and Hop 1. It doesn't look like much fronthaul/backhaul balancing is happening in these systems. Each client takes whatever it can at each node.

Wi-Fi System Capacity by Test Case - uplink

Wi-Fi System Capacity by Test Case - uplink

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