Can I use my existing router with new mesh networking hardware?

TP connection

There are some situations where you may want to continue using your existing router alongside your new mesh network. In some cases, you may even be forced to do so! Here’s what you need to know.

Why use a mesh network with your old router?

Typically when you buy a new router, be it a traditional standalone model or a group of mesh nodes, you are replacing the old one altogether. There are, however, situations where you may want or need to keep your old router operational.

Your ISP requires it

Sometimes you have a combo modem router, where a piece of hardware is the modem that connects you to your ISP, a router and a Wi-Fi access point all in one. If so, you’ll need to keep the device around to at least act as a modem.

In many cases, you must keep the hardware your ISP provided you with active because the modem is integrated and / or because the MAC address of the hardware they provided you with is assigned to your account and required for authorization.

Faced with this situation, you can disable the routing and Wi-Fi function of the combo unit provided by your ISP to use a multi-node mesh kit for both better Wi-Fi coverage in the home and better quality of rules service. or parental controls.

You want to keep the functionality of your old router

If you really like some features your current router offers but Wi-Fi coverage is poor, you might want to keep the routing feature on but use the mesh Wi-Fi network to provide better coverage for your home.

Perhaps, for example, your current router offers exactly the parental control features you need, as well as support for the specific VPN protocol you use or some other specific use case. While we recommend upgrading to newer hardware with the features you want, we understand the appeal of sticking to a proven family system.

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can combine existing hardware and a mesh network. Be sure to check the documentation and settings for your particular hardware, both the existing hardware and the hardware you are considering adding, to make sure it supports the required features and settings for the particular installation configuration you are interested in.

Router Bridge Mode: Your mesh network takes over

Someone who connects to an eero router.
Amazon

We will start with one of the most common configurations: using the new mesh network as the primary router. This is the preferred way to do this for most people because it downgrades the combo modem / router / Wi-Fi drive to just a modem and allows new hardware, like an eero mesh network, to handle everything else.

To do this, you’ll need to log into your existing router’s configuration control panel (and in some cases you’ll need to call your ISP to have them make the change).

What you are looking for is an option to put your router combo unit in “bridge mode”. Sometimes, particularly in the case of many of the new fiber modems used by AT&T, there is no real bridge mode, but there is an option called “passthrough mode”.

eero Wi-Fi 6 mesh network

Mesh Wi-Fi networks like the eero are a great replacement for the poor and underpowered Wi-Fi router your ISP has provided you with.

The purpose of putting your existing router into bridge mode is to instruct it to simply pass network traffic without any of the extras a router usually provides, such as DHCP address assignment.

Then, connect your new mesh network hardware to the router and set up the new mesh network using a web browser or app, as directed by the manufacturer.

Make sure to double check the Wi-Fi status on the original router. Sometimes putting a combo unit into bridge mode turns off the Wi-Fi radios, but sometimes it doesn’t. You don’t need the old Wi-Fi setup (nor do you want congestion to run it right next to your new mesh network), so take a moment to disable it.

From now on, you will use your new mesh network to manage all aspects of your home network, and your previous Wi-Fi router and access point will simply act as a gateway to connect your mesh network to the internet.

For anyone stuck with using ISP-provided hardware but want to upgrade to better devices, this is a simple and easy way to upgrade your network.

Mesh network bridge mode: a very mixed bag

A configuration of the TP-Link mesh node as an access point.
TP connection

On the other end of things, instead of putting your existing router into bridge mode so your new mesh network can do all the heavy lifting, you can instead put the mesh network into bridge mode to keep the functionality of your existing router while using the mesh nodes as access points.

We will warn you of this course of action, however, as it is a situation where “your mileage may vary”. Different mesh network systems handle bridge mode in different ways. Additionally, most consumer mesh platforms are designed to be deployed as a cohesive end-point solution for the consumer, not tied to other hardware.

Some mesh hardware, when put into bridge mode, continues to function as a cohesive mesh platform, albeit minus the routing features and usually some of the advanced features.

The eero platform, for example, will function as a connected mesh network when put into bridge mode (although you lose access to some of the more advanced features that require the routing component). It is not possible to use the eero nodes as stand-alone access points; it’s an all or nothing thing.

Other platforms like Google Nest Wi-Fi support bridge mode, but only for a single node at a time. In other words, if you put your three-node Nest Wi-Fi system in bridge mode, the primary node will function as an access point for your existing router, but all the additional nodes will simply fall out and core functionality will be inaccessible.

Finally, other platforms such as the popular TP-Link Deco line support standalone access point mode. In this configuration, the existing router handles all routing functions and the access points simply handle the wireless traffic. You will typically lose all communication between nodes, advanced features, and access point configuration will require a wired backhaul with Ethernet connecting each access point to the router.

Ultimately, unless you have a Very specific need to slap the mesh networking hardware in bridge mode over the existing router, we highly recommend not to. Mesh systems have advanced so much and offer so many features that it would be a shame to miss most of them.