Migrating your home network

Published January 18, 2021, 10:32 AM

by Professor Rom Feria

I have been planning on migrating my home network from a one access point/router solution to a mesh network — not that I have a huge living area, it’s just that having a mesh network is better if you have multiple users using multiple devices at the same time — for several months already. Finally had the guts to jump in. 

Migrating a live network (when all your users are online) is tricky enough, but having multiple home automation devices adds to the complexity. I am still optimizing the configuration, but to give you an idea, just in case you plan on changing your home network architecture, specially now that WiFi 6 is getting more affordable, maybe you can learn from my experience.

Configuring the main router

In a mesh network, you need to designate one node as the main node. Essentially, this is where the internet connection from your telco will be connected. You may be tempted to simply pull the plug from the existing router and replace it, but that will not make my family happy. haha. 

I connected the main node to the existing network — luckily, I have a spare ethernet port on the Asus router — whilst I downloaded the mobile application required to manage the new mesh network, Eero Pro. With the mobile app, it is pretty straightforward to configure it, but I would recommend that you decide on a new SSID beforehand. You might be tempted to use the same SSID for convenience (all your devices will just re-connect later), but with online users, their connections might get disrupted as the main node updates, reboots, etc.

Re-configuring your home automation system

I had issues with the Asus router in the way it handles a hybrid 2.4–5GHz network. You either have one combined 2.4GHz and 5GHz network using the same SSID, or have two distinct SSIDs, one for each band. Either way, home automation devices often get confused. One smart plug that I had wouldn’t connect properly on either of the setup. For those that successfully connected, the devices performed dismally as my smartphone and tablet shift between bands, making the devices undetectable. If you use HomeKit, you will notice a common error message that the device is unreachable.

Speaking of HomeKit, the first device that migrated was the Apple TV. The Apple TV serves as the HomeKit hub, where all other HomeKit devices connect to. 

The HomePod and HomePod Mini followed. Both were easy to connect to the new SSID. I was really surprised as the Eero manages just one SSID on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands without the clunkiness of the Asus! What is better is that the HomePods did not complain a single bit (the first time I set them up on the Asus network, there were some minor issues with the network).

With music blasting from the HomePods, the smart bulbs, plugs, switches, cameras and door locks followed without a single issue! Something that I can’t say after years with the Asus!

Migrating the rest

After configuring the home automation devices, doing the same on the smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops, was easy! If you are on the iOS/iPadOS/macOS ecosystem, it is even easier. The first iOS/iPadOS device you connect to the new network can easily share the passwords with the other devices — no typing the long WiFi passwords anymore!

Configuring the other nodes was easier than the main node — just run it through the mobile application and that was it. 

Missing Ethernet Ports

The Eero Pro access point only has two (2) Ethernet ports. For most, that might be enough. Unfortunately, not for my home network as I have two network devices that I prefer to be wired, the Firewalla and the Raspberry Pi (which runs Pi-Hole and serves as my media server).

With this in mind, the Asus router is still online, but solely as an Ethernet switch. I might just replace it with another simpler Ethernet switch later.

Issues 

I did not expect to encounter some issues during the migration. The ease of configuring the Eero also meant not having access to the fine-grained network settings. For example, I selected to use the 10-subnet (instead of 192.168 or 172.16), but couldn’t specify the netmask to reduce the network size — am stuck with /8. Not a big deal (only the port scanning feature of Firewalla is complaining), but would have preferred to have a smaller one. I know I can use the either of the two subnets, but I’m stubborn.

Another issue I have right now is that the main Eero, as a DHCP server, gives the main Eero IP as a DNS server, along with whatever Custom DNS server I specified. Currently, the Custom DNS server, yes, just one, is configured to point to my Pi-Hole. Since DHCP clients get two DNS servers, with the main Eero IP as the first one followed by the Pi-Hole, my Pi-Hole dashboard shows most queries to originate from the main Eero node. Weird. I am still trying to figure out what is happening. 

Next step

As I continue to troubleshoot and optimize my home network, I am still planning on investing on a hardware firewall with IPS/IDS. An upgraded Firewalla is an option, of course, but I am still looking at the pfSense appliance. 

 
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