EasyMesh: A Quick Introduction

What Is EasyMesh?

Mesh Wi-Fi is a coordinated network of wireless access points. EasyMesh is a specification and standard for such networks, presented by the industry organization Wi-Fi Alliance.

While mesh technology is frequently referred to in the specification as “Multi AP”, we will stick to using the term “mesh” to describe this type of Wi-Fi network in general (you can read more about what a mesh network is here).

Is there a difference between EasyMesh and “just” mesh Wi-Fi?

All EasyMesh devices are mesh devices, but all mesh Wi-Fi devices are not / do not support EasyMesh.

The devices that support EasyMesh are a small, but growing subset–more to follow below.

EasyMesh Is Standardizing Mechanisms, But Not Algorithms

For most aspects of mesh networking, the EasyMesh specification covers how something should be done.

Like most technical standards, the specification includes both mandatory points and optional ones.

  • Discovery and synchronization mechanisms are mandated by the standard
  • How to do the initial “meshing”, the joining of access points to form a network, is suggested, but not mandated

Generally speaking, the specification does not standardize algorithms or decision-making.

As an example:

  • How to do client steering makes up a significant part of the specification, telling manufacturers how to direct a client from one access point to another.
  • When a client should be steered is not covered. Therefore, algorithms will still vary (and client roaming mechanisms may of course still interfere).

EasyMesh Architecture and Components

The specification distinguishes between three different terms for components in a mesh Wi-Fi network:

  • Controller – every EasyMesh network must have one. The controller can be a unique device or embedded in a device that also has other functionality.
  • Agent – in order for a mesh network to exist, at least two agents must be connected to the controller.
  • Device – any component of a mesh network, whether it contains a controller, an agent, or both.

Although the controller can be completely separated from the rest of the mesh network, in practice it is almost always embedded in the router or other wireless access point.

When multiple devices in a network contain controller functionality, only one will act as the actual controller.

Building on Established Standards

For some functionality, the EasyMesh specification relies on other standards / specification, either by extending them or simply referencing them.

This includes, most notably:

  • Building on and extending IEEE Standard 1905.1 to configure Wi-Fi access point interfaces
    • Discovery–how nodes are finding each other and identifying the controller
    • Push-Button Configuration to initialize “onboarding” of access points-the process commonly referred to as “meshing”
    • Backhaul communication, that is, the communication between the nodes / access points in the mesh network
  • Relying on the Wi-Fi Agile Multiband  specification for band steering–controlling which frequency band each client should connect to

This means that in order for mesh technology to support the EasyMesh standard, it must also support at least parts of these additional specifications.

Metrics in EasyMesh

An important point for the ecosystem around the devices themselves is that EasyMesh brings with it standardization of metrics, that is, how aspects of the network are measured and counted, and how this data should be requested and communicated across devices. 

Examples of such metrics include:

  • Wireless signal strength
  • Presence and number of neighboring access points
  • Client downlink speed and client capabilities

What EasyMesh Means for Vendors

At the time of writing, the latest EasyMesh specification is version 3.0, published in December 2020. Support for the specification is growing, but not yet widespread.

For chipset manufacturers, the specifications means they actually have a standard to follow, instead of everyone starting from zero in different ways. There are still what is known as “vendor extensions” – capabilities added to standardized technology that are specific to the vendor and will only work with their equipment – but they are now extensions to a standard, instead of the entire technology needing to be vendor dependent.

The standard also provides guidance on architecture, nudging vendors towards making more similar choices.

Increased standardization of device technology also potentially make the devices more interoperable with third-party software–as an example, Wi-Fi management and analytics solutions will benefit greatly from standardized metrics and data request mechanisms in mesh networks.

What EasyMesh Means for Customers

For organizations and consumers adopting mesh technology, this should all, over time, lead to more predictability in what capabilities and functionality to expect from both wireless mesh networks and associated services. It should also lead to increased interoperability.

So far, however, you cannot pick up EasyMesh access points from different vendors and mesh them together.

As with most technical standards, there are  assumptions, omissions, and different interpretations of the specification that lead to differences in implementations and will continue to do so, making interoperability across device and chipset vendors an as-yet-unachieved goal.

Article by Dr. Eren Soyak and Jorunn Danielsen