Wi-fi can be a pain. Interference from other devices — both your own and those of neighbours — and thick walls can mean patchy coverage even within a relatively small space. Powerline adapters and range extenders can be a hassle to set up, deliver far from maximum throughput, and — in my experience — have a tendency to go offline on a whim.
All of those drawbacks can be overcome if you move to a wi-fi mesh system like the Linksys Velop.
The idea is that Velop ‘nodes’ sit at appropriate points and act like routers rather than extenders. Linksys promises no degradation in signal strength, easy setup, and easy control via an app from anywhere with an internet connection. That means no more fiddling around with a web browser to make system tweaks.
The Velop AC3900 dual-band tri-pack is a new addition to the tri-band Velop product that was launched last year. It’s less expensive, and so should be more accessible to home users and remote workers. Dual-band (one 2.4GHz and one 5GHz band) support means speeds are slower than with the tri-band version (which uses two 5GHz bands), but that compromise might well suit many users. As I write, these are the price variants available at Amazon UK:
|Velop variant||Typical coverage||Price (inc. VAT)|
|Dual-band two-pack||2/3-bedroom home||£149.99|
|Tri-band two-pack||2/3-bedroom home||£199.99|
|Dual-band three-pack*||4-bedroom home||£219.99|
|Tri-band three-pack||4/5-bedroom home||£374.99|
To determine the spots with poor wi-fi coverage, it might be a good idea to use one of the many free wi-fi analyser apps for your handset. Armed with this knowledge you can work out whether you need a two-pack or a three-pack of Velop nodes.
The whole setup process is designed to be user friendly and non-technical. A printed setup guide takes you through plugging in the first node, and after which an app takes over, walking you through the process. Apps are available for iOS and Android.
The first node is plugged into the mains and connected to your modem via the provided Ethernet cable, whereupon your existing router is discarded. If your router and modem are in one box, its wi-fi can be disabled once setup is completed.
SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)
Changes in the colour of the blinking light on the top of the node, from blue to purple, let you know it when it’s time to move along the setup process. At the appropriate juncture, the printed manual asks you to download the app — which requires the creation of yet another login and password, of course. The printed guide is now set aside, and the app takes over. The first part of its process works over Bluetooth, then it switches over to wi-fi. There’s no hassle with this — it just happens.
My first node took about five minutes to set up, and each subsequent node is configured entirely through the app. With each node, you plug it into the mains and wait while it goes through its preparation phases, with buttons to press in the app as device lights change from blue to purple. The second node took a further five minutes to set up, but the third got stuck along the way. Fortunately there’s a reset button on the base, and having been instructed by the app to press that, I ran the setup process again and it was fine. That one took about ten minutes.
I then had the joy of administering a firmware update, which meant a somewhat longer wait than setting the three nodes up in the first place. In fact, I left it for a while, wondering if the whole thing was going to fall over. It didn’t, and in a shade over 30 minutes I had a fully working wi-fi mesh network.
The nodes themselves are reasonably well designed as these things go. White rectangular blocks, the dual-band nodes I tested are 141mm tall and 79mm square (the tri-band nodes are a little larger). The status light is on the top, so it doesn’t glare at you too much if the node is on a shelf. Each node has two gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections. On the main node one of these is always in use, providing a wired connection to your modem. More Ethernet ports would be appreciated.
Once setup is complete you can go into the app and do more sophisticated things like configure up to three priority devices that will get the lion’s share of bandwidth, and create scheduled offline times for particular devices (handy if you want to keep tabs on the kids’ iPad time, for example). You can also set up a guest network.
Everything is done through the app — there’s no web interface. Some will not be bothered about this, but others, used to web-based access to their modem/router setup, might find it limiting. More problematic is that the app can ‘see’ devices connected to the Velop network, but anything that’s wired directly to your primary router/modem, such as a printer for example, is invisible.
What about performance and reliability? Well, with two home offices in my house, both needing equally strong internet connections, a connected TV and the desire to have decent internet across the whole house, I’d struggled in the past with extenders. My kitchen has a very flaky, intermittent connection, for example. With a Velop node in exactly the same spot where I’d had an extender, the kitchen signal is superb.
Signal strength? I’m on a pretty slow broadband connection, so earth-shattering speeds aren’t to be expected. Using the Which? Broadband Speed Test I got a download speed of 13.8Mbps right by the first node attached to my router. The second home office got the same, while my kitchen I got a very acceptable 13.2Mbps.
I’ve been using Velop for nearly three weeks at the time of writing, and it has provided the same quality and strength of coverage throughout that time. My next challenge is to test the tri-band system, and see if that delivers an uplift that’s worthy of its higher price.
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