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Project update 3 of 10
For this week’s update, we’ll take a look at mesh setup.
Other mesh systems are a bit of a pain to set up. Usually there’s some phone app involved that requires you to register with the company, give them your email address, etc. Then you follow some lengthy process of setting up each node, which typically includes lots of spinning lights and waiting, while you cross your fingers and pray that the node eventually connects like it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, you have little choice but to put a quarter in the swear jar, bang your head on the wall, try lots of times, and hope someone answers on the customer support line, where they will tell you to power cycle things.
Mesh setup for Maxwell is quite simple. Just plug the nodes in to power, and they automatically start searching for each other. Once you plug one of the nodes into your router or modem, it automatically becomes the hub, and the other nodes automatically become satellites. Done!
Now let’s take a look at what’s happening behind the curtain. Here’s how it works…
To connect over the Wi-Fi mesh, nodes have to be within range of each other, defined by at least -75 dB of signal strength on both sides (or be connected with Ethernet cable). They also need the same Wi-Fi mesh ssid name and password. (The encryption is WPA3-SAE, by the way, which is quite secure). All nodes ship with the same default mesh ssid name and password:
working 12345, respectively. So once they’re powered on, they’ll all connect to each other.
All nodes start with a default IP address of
192.168.2.19. They also start up with a script that searches for a hub at
192.168.2.1. The script also checks whether an external WAN IP address has been assigned. This will be the case for the node that was plugged into a modem or router on the WAN port, which will then becomes a hub and change its IP address to
192.168.2.1. Other nodes will then be able to contact the hub and will determine that they need to becomes satellites.
The tricky part is that each satellite needs to assign itself a unique static IP address. What they do is contact the hub via its webserver and send a POST message claiming to be a new node. The webserver on the hub responds with the next available IP address, starting with
192.168.2.2, and flags that address as "taken" in
/www/allnodes.txt. By the end of this process, each node will have been assigned a unique IP address.
Now suppose you want to work out which physical node—at a particular location in your home or office—corresponds to a particular IP address. To help identify nodes, you can just click on a node’s green dot on the hub’s monitor page (or the node’s monitor page) and the node will flash an LED for 10 seconds. This allows you to map devices to IP address fairly easily.
If you just plug everything in, things will probably work fine, but it’s often a good idea to monitor systems like this, which you can do via the hub’s monitor page at
http://192.168.1.1. This page, which becomes available automatically on whichever node is connected to the router or modem, shows each other node as it powers up and connects to the mesh. The monitor page is a good way to make sure things are going as expected, no new node is out of range, etc. If a new node is not connecting as expected, you can always find it at
http://192.168.2.9 to debug the situation.
Of course, at some point after your mesh is set up, you’ll want to change the mesh ssid name and password, so other people can’t just join your network. Then, if you want to add another satellite node, you’ll have to tell it the new mesh ssid name and password. When the node is first powered on, it will be at
192.168.2.19, so you can just point your browser at
http://192.168.2.19 and change the mesh ssid name and password there on the monitor page. The new satellite node will then connect to your network and receive a unique IP address.
If you are adding a lot of new satellites at the same time, it might be easier to change the mesh ssid name and password for the existing network back to the defaults temporarily. You can do this from the monitor page of the hub. This will allow new nodes to join the mesh without further intervention, after which you can once again change the ssid name and password.
Despite the fact that Maxwell allows you to monitor and understand each step of the setup process, I really think it is the easiest mesh Wi-Fi system to set up. My Mom got it working in less than 5 minutes! :)