Dedicated wireless backhaul is an important feature that probably doesn’t get enough attention. When you see wireless networking hardware that supports dedicated backhaul, that can be a big advantage for you. Let’s talk about what dedicated wireless backhaul is, what it can do for you, and how to find it.
Why you need dedicated wireless backhaul (or wired)
My neighbor bought an expensive mesh networking system and gigabit Internet. And then he set up what he thought was going to be the ultimate home network. Then he went to measure his speed, and he couldn’t get better than 500 megabits throughput over his wireless. When he plugged straight into his router with a wired connection, he got a little over 900.
His connection was consistent and reliable throughout the house, but it ran at essentially half speed, even though his wireless network was theoretically capable of 1.3 gigabits.
He wondered why it was worth paying extra for gigabit service when all he got was half speed. He might as well get 500 megabit service, right?
His problem was overhead. When his systems were talking over wireless, the system had to talk to the access point, which in turn had to relay the traffic back to the router. That meant all of the information had to transmit twice over the same channel. So effectively he got half speed over wireless.
Wired backhaul vs wireless
The solution he bought did allow him to connect all of his components over a wired connection. The wired connection served as back haul. This meant that wireless communication could operate at whatever speed the access point and network card could negotiate, and then the traffic would travel over the wired network back to the router. With lower overhead, he would have been able to get very close to 900 megabits, and possibly a bit more.
It was a lot less convenient than using wireless for everything, and it certainly didn’t sound like the scenario that was printed on the box the hardware came in, but that’s frequently the way it goes with technology. You know the old saying fast, reliable, cheap: pick two? Well, you can probably substitute easy for one of those, but you still only get to pick two.
As of 2022 at least, wired backhaul works better than wireless. It’s faster and more consistent.
Now, in theory, if you could use the traditional 2.4 and 5 GHz bands for wireless communication and a third wireless band for backhaul, you could potentially get a fast, reliable, and easy solution. It won’t be cheap, and it probably won’t work as well as a wired backhaul would, but it would be better than 50% efficient. You could get seven or 800 megabit, which is sufficiently faster than 500 to make gigabit internet seem worth it.
Shopping smart for mesh wi-fi
So when you are looking to buy a high-end mesh wi-fi setup to give a consistent speed throughout your house and even into your yard, be sure to make sure it has some type of backhaul solution. Be sure to check whether the backhaul is wired or wireless. Don’t expect to find the answer on the box, and don’t expect the salesperson to know. You’ll have to do some research before going to the store. And if you need dedicated band control, you’ll really have to dig. That’s never on the box either.
Running wires back to your router isn’t necessarily as hard as it seems, but it is a lot less convenient than just setting up access points. If running cable isn’t something you are comfortable doing, it may be cheaper to pay more for a system with wireless backhaul than to pay a professional to run cable. You will need to weigh your options accordingly.
Otherwise you run the risk of spending hundreds of dollars on a wireless networking solution and spending $100 a month on gigabit internet, and spending a lot of money to turn your $100 a month internet into $75 a month internet. If you are going to spend that kind of money, you want to make sure you are receiving value. Having a rock solid wireless 500 megabit connection was a pipe dream just a few years ago, but I understand not being happy with a 500 megabit connection when you happen to be sitting right next to the access point.
If that’s the best you’re going to be able to do with the solution you can afford, you want to know that before you spend the money. Then you’re at least not disappointed.
So that’s what backhaul in wifi is. Hopefully this helps you get the best value for your money.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.
8 thoughts on “What dedicated wireless backhaul is”
So I have Ubiquiti Mesh – AP’s are POE going to switch – it sounds like they may be better going to a port on the fiber router? Am I following you on this? Will start reading on backhaul – thanks for posting
There should be no noticeable difference between plugging into the switch or the router. If you have a nice enough switch that it has PoE, you might get slightly better performance by connecting to the switch. But you’ll only notice it in benchmarks. For what it’s worth, I have no quibble with how you set yours up, you set it up the way I would.
So actually Unifi does support backhaul – now I have to understand if I implemented this correctly.
Do I need a UniFi mesh AP to use wireless backhaul?
No. All 2nd generation (AC Wave 1) or newer APs can do mesh, meaning they can operate with wireless backhaul. That includes every currently sold UniFi AP including the AC-Lite, AC-Pro, AC-HD, nanoHD, etc. Only very old models supporting 802.11n (which are no longer sold) can’t work this way.
What are the applications of such a fast wireless connection? IMHO a wired connection still wins over a wirelss one if one really needs speed
I agree with you Giordano, I ran wires. I think the applications are either like the scenario Nate describes, where you don’t want to run wire between buildings, or if part of the house is unreachable without running wire outside (unusual, but can happen), or if you just want wired-like speed and are willing to trade higher cost and potentially slightly lower reliability for convenience.
I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but I have an outbuilding from my home where I do all my nerd activities and I am using a wireless bridge between the two. My issue is that I didn’t want to trench and bury 300 ft of cable. The bridge is supposed to do 3 km so I am guessing 300 ft shouldn’t be a problem. Overall, it seems to be working quite well with the only issue being the initial address negotiation of a device taking slightly longer. Throughput is pretty great and I think I must may blather about this myself on my site. 🙂
This is a problem that the so-called tri-band routers should be able to solve. (Tri-band routers support two simultaneous signals in the 5 GHz band, and the latest ones can also use the new 6 GHz allocation.) One of the two 5 GHz signals can be used for backhaul while the other is available for connections to users. 2.4 GHz is slower because it has less bandwidth available, so it would only be used for user connections.
Agreed. And since it’s hard to tell from the packaging what solutions support what kinds of backhaul, looking for tri-band equipment may be the best way to find it. It’s hard to find router manufacturers touting their wireless backhaul on the box. I guess the word tri-band makes marketing departments less nervous. Maybe I’ll ask my employer’s marketers tomorrow.
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