Mesh Networking Round Up: What Would I Buy

Image: From supplied

Over recent weeks, I've been testing three different mesh network kits, the Linksys Velop, TP-Link Deco and Netgear Orbi. All three are competent but have different strengths and weaknesses. And while they all, more or less do the same thing - deliver wireless network access over a large are - they do differ in some ways. Here's where I'd spend my money.

The idea with all these rigs is that by spreading several wireless access points across an area, you can deliver a more reliable signal. In the past, covering a large area meant connecting multiple wireless access points to a network over ethernet. That was costly, as you needed to run cable all over the place. And, unless you have PoE (power over ethernet) gear, you also needed to call the electrician in to add some access to. mains juice.

These mesh setups use wireless connectivity to link the access points, or nodes. So, all they need is power.

Getting Started With Mesh Networking

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.

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In Summary: Linksys Velop

There's a lot to like about the Velop. The devices look good, don't take up to much space and offer great performance. The control app is easy to use and the setup process was straightforward and there are plenty of options to support the needs of power users. The power supply was an epic PITA and there was no way to shut the LEDs on the unit off, making it a poor option if you need to place it in a bedroom.

Hands On With The Linksys Velop

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.

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In Summary: TP-Link Deco

When it comes to bang-for-buck, the Deco is a great system. While range wasn't quite as strong as the other devices, it worked well. The app delivered everything I needed, including access to advanced networking features. The nodes are small - if there were wall or ceiling mountable, I'd place them out of the way, even if that mean paying for some new power outlets. While the three-node pack was the lest expensive of the trio I tested, you can buy single nodes easily as well.

Hands On With The TP-Link Deco Mesh Network System

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.

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In Summary: Netgear Orbi

If someone asked me to describe the Orbi with one word - it would be potential. With each node in the set I tested adding four ethernet ports, so I can easily connect wired devices spread out around the home or office, it offers the greatest flexibility of the three sets. But each node is also the largest in this round up. And the mobile app, which was fine for set top and basic functions, doesn't include all the set up functions I expected. For those, i needed to go to a web browser. And there, I found features that were listed weren't active (Parental Controls - I'm looking at you). If Netgear can get the software right, the Orbi could top my list.

Hands On With the Netgear Orbi Networking System

The story of the Orbi is that it's great hardware let down by some less than great software. I'd rate the accompanying software at somewhere between fair and poor but at least that's a problem Netgear can fix.

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Where would I spend my money?

On paper, all three systems delivered similar functionality. But, with the different trade-offs each makes it becomes a tough call.

For most people, the TP-Link Deco will fit the bill. It's the lowest cost option and delivers solid wireless access.

But I really like having the ethernet ports that come with the Orbi. Being able to easily connect devices that lack wifi but have ethernet (I have an older Blu-ray player and my Sonos controller for example) is a big plus.

The Linksys Velop is good but if you're putting a node in a bedroom, be prepared to either stick some tape over the LED or put up with a complaining partner if you share the room.

For me, the Netgear Orbi, despite its frustrating software is most likely to meet my needs.


Comments

    Any plans to look at the Google mesh routers?

    You're missing some of the biggest names (Google, Amplifi) and Orbi isn't technically mesh, just point to point.

    What about the OpenMesh routers? They have been a solid option, though less known for years. Last time i used them they also had great software.

    The ONLY mesh network worth getting is Google WiFi. Orbi is plagued by connection issues and the rest are plagued by quality or allocation issues. I can't believe you would test mesh networks and not test the only one that matters.

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