Mesh network systems promise to increase wifi range without sacrificing performance as devices move further from the network core. They do this by using two or more access points that work in concert. Over the next few days, I'm going to look at three different systems; the Linksys Velop, Tp-link Deco and Netgear Orbi. Today, I start with the Velop system.
Linksys has been around the networking business for a long time. Fifteen years after being founded, they were purchased by enterprise network giant Cisco which struggled to find a place for them before they were sold to Belkin ten years later. So, while the Linksys brand lives on, it's now part of the Belkin family.
Until recently, the best way to cover your home or office with reliable WiFi was to invest in a decent wireless router. If the signal didn't cover the entire premises, you could add a powerline network adaptor or add a wireless access point to the network. But a new class of device that employs mesh networks is on the market. Over the next few days I'm going to look at three mesh network systems. Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi and TP-link Deco.
Once you open the box for the Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi system, you're confronted with three small towers that stand about 19cm tall and have a base of just under 8cm by 8cm. Under the base, there's a power socket, a pair of Ethernet ports, a red reset button and an on/off switch.
There's an ethernet cable, for connecting to your inbound internet connection - mine comes via a Netgear CG3100D modem router. I've disabled all the routing functions so it's acting purely as a cable modem for the service I get from Telstra. All the details about the environment i tested in are in the overview I recently wrote.
The setup process requires downloading the Linksys app from the Android or iOS app store and setting up an account with Linksys. I already had one from some previous product testing I'd done.
To get started, you need one of the three Velop routers, an Ethernet cable and a power supply. The app guides you through the setup process. I started by powering up one of the nodes. I then connected my modem. Once an internet connection is established by the node, the blue LED on the top turns purple.
After tapping the "Next" button on the app, the purple LED started blinking, indicating the node was in fine working order. The setup wizard in the app then guided me trough personalising my network configuration. Whenever I test new network gear, I use the same SSID and passcode so I don't have to reconfigure all my end-point devices. The app also prompted me to give the node a name so I could distinguish it from others on the network. By default, nodes are named according to their location - there's a list of room to choose from - or you can use your own naming system.
Once the first node was set up, I could add more through the app.
One little quibble I have was that once everything was complete, the app checked for updated firmware. Although the risk is low, I'd prefer the process to start with updating the firmware so any known security issues are fixed before I make the network active.
I did hit a snag with one of the nodes. For some reason the setup process wouldn't complete but once I killed the app on my iPhone and tried again it resolved.
Once all the initial configuration is complete, the Linksys app takes you to a dashboard that displays the status of your internet connection, the number of devices currently connected and a range of settings.
You can set prioritisation for up to three specific devices so they get first crack at your available bandwidth. You can also set Parental Controls so specific devices can only access the Internet at specific times. You can create a blacklist of banned sites but this is a clunky feature as you need to add each site individually - there's no connection to a third-party site categorisation service.
If you want to keep track of your network's status, you can set the app to notify you when a node is offline and there's a Guest Access mode that can be easily toggled on and off.
If you're a tinkerer, you can adjust the DHCP address range, DNS settings and other network options. And, if you look at the details of a connected device using the app, you can make DHCP reservations for specific devices.
For testing, I set up all three Velop nodes. Given the size of the house, three nodes is probably overkill, but who ever said less coverage was better?
Here's where I placed the nodes.
I probably would have preferred to put one in the loungeroom but I don't have a spare power outlet. But the master bedroom was a major deadl-zone before and that's well and truly sorted out by having a node in the room.
I started with a simple ping test. Using a Ping app on my iPhone, I walked through the entire house and across the entire property to see if i could maintain connectivity back to network core. Of the 243 packets sent, five were lost with ping times ranging from 1.3ms to about 125ms. The average ping time was 21ms.
Next up was some video streaming. I ran two Apple TVs connected to Netflix and streamed two movies. At the same time, I streamed a movie from my NAS, connected to the primary Velop node via Ethernet, using Plex and another movie to my iPhone from the same Plex library. All those streams played without a hitch with very little wait time from hitting there play button to when I was watching.
Although three of those device were in fixed positions, I didn't encounter any issues as I walked around the property, including outside, when watching movies on the iPhone.
I did hit three snags with the Velop.
Support for wired devices is very limited. While each node has two Ethernet ports, it would be handy if the central node supported a couple of extra wired devices. Given the choice, i'd prefer to have my desktop computers connected using Ethernet rather than WiFi.
My other problem was the size and shape of the power supply. On a regular double power outlet, the design impinges on the space available to a second device on the outlet. As you can see, this means the Velop's power supply, while connected, isn't nicely positioned. I could overcome this by using a double adaptor or some other device but it's a pain the butt.
Also, the LEDs on the tops of the units are quite bright and there's no way to turn them off. If you place a Velop node in a bedroom, that can be annoying - as I discovered much to my wife's chagrin!
Price and availability
The Linksys Velop system I tested has a street price of around $699. That's a hefty price tag. And while it looks great and offers great performance, that's lot to pay. If you live in a smaller home, it's probably overkill. For a multi-storey home where the distance between the network core and furthest edges pushes the limits of a traditional wireless router then it's an option with considering.But for the price, you could probably run ethernet cable and use a lower cost wireless access point and get a similar result.