Is the Affordable, Fast Mesh Router Velop System from Linksys worth your data?
WiFi is easily the most commonly used means of network and internet connectivity, even in business, due to its ease of deployment and connectivity. What it lacks in the overall speed compared with LAN, is more than made up by the lack of hassle, as well as that speed difference constantly getting smaller between wired and wireless connections. This is due to many factors, from more powerful portable technology and improvements in wireless security, but in even, the very best wireless routers and access points fall foul to the same two problems – walls and distance! Many ways have been attempted to avoid these issues, but easily the most affordable and proactive option for the best wireless network in 2019 goes to Mesh routers. On the face of it, these appear like rather slimmed down routers the like of which your internet service provider (ISP) include in your deal, but with fewer ports and sold in bulk – why would you pay for something your ISP would give you for free?
Well, mesh routers, such as the Linksys Velop system that we are reviewing today, are designed to be placed in multiple points of your home or office and along with each of them giving you access to your network and internet connection, they have an extra internal antenna node that is designed to communicate data with any other mesh routers in your environment. Unlike using a WiFi powerline adapter, a mesh router does not try to replicate your existing network or create a separate network access point but is designed to just make the existing network SSID and connection BIGGER. Your mobile phone, laptop, TV, PC, etc should not be able to tell the different and not get confused or keep attached to a wireless point that is far away, whilst ignoring identical point feet away! So, now you know the appeal of mesh routers, many of you that have been searching for an affordable mesh solution have considered buying the remarkably affordable Linksys Velop Mesh WiFi system.
Quick Pro & Con of the LinkSys Velop Mesh:
Available at £99 per Mesh router, greatly expandable by adding nodes as you need and available in bulk packs (we will be looking at the 3pack AC6600 Velop today), it is noticeably better value that many mesh routers from Trendnet and Netgear. So, should you consider the Linksys Mesh Velop WiFi router to improve your network? Does it deserve your data? Let’s find out.
LinkSys Velop AC6600 Mesh Routers – Design
The retail packaging that the Velop Mesh from Linksys arrives in is quite loud and proud about its speeds, it’s ease and it’s a utility on your home and office. Shunning understated design found in Netgear and apple products, favouring brash colours and slightly 90s ‘coming at’cha’ retail packaging. I can get behind this and it did make me look forward to opening it. In an age of most technology products being purchased from online retailers, it is always good to see a brand still invest in retail packaging regardless.
Once we got inside the retail box, we find a very, VERY tidy arrangement. The three Linksys Velop Mesh nodes are neatly and securely displayed inside, which when deployed, give you the potential of 6600Mb/s. Before going any further, let’s talk about that AC6600 speed boast. Here is what that means.
What does the AC Number on a Mesh Router Mean?
When you purchase a wireless router (mesh or standalone), you see the term ‘AC’, followed by a number, somewhere in its name. AC means that the router has support for the latest 802.11ac networking standard, which offers fast WiFi network connections on the 5GHz frequency. The number that comes after AC represents the maximum theoretical bandwidth of the router. 1200 means 1200 Mbps, 1900 means 1900 Mbps, 2200 means 2200 Mbps and so on. When reading the AC2200 on each Linksys Velop Mesh router (or the AC6600 on the Velop Mesh pack i.e. AC2200 x3), it means that you are dealing with a WiFi router that offers fast wireless networks using the 802.11ac standard, with a total maximum theoretical bandwidth of 2200 Mbps. on each node when connected to it.
However, it is VERY important to understand that though an AC2200 mesh outer provides a wireless network that works at 2200 Mbps, this is theoretical and actually, the sum of all the available individual bands added together. The reality is that this AC naming rule is not that useful for making a purchasing a mesh, as most devices cannot actually get more than 90-100Mb/s each over 5Ghz and this 2200Mb/s is actually for multiple connected devices at once, on 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz channels. These bands or frequencies, on which the router emits the wireless signal, will be selected automatically (or manually, if you choose) depending on your wireless device. In the case of the Linksys Velop AC6600 3-Pack Mesh system, this router has three bands (2.4Ghz and 2x 5Ghz), each of them with its maximum theoretical bandwidth: 400 Mbps for Band 1, and 900 Mbps for Bands 2 and 3. This ends up in a total possible and theoretical and maximum of 2,200 Megabits per second network coverage per node, and a maximum 6,600 Megabits per second coverage across all channels/bands with all three Linksys Velop nodes up and running. With each added or removal node, you gain/lose 2,200Mb max coverage respectively. All clear? Good.
Once we open the accessories side (which turns out to be covered by the first time setup instructions on a handy card), we find two accessories. A single Cat 6A RJ45 LAN Cable and three seperate mains power cables. Although all the individual Linksys velop mesh nodes include RJ45 network ports (2 each), only 1 needs to be connected to your primary internet connection (as a WAN), so they only include 1 cable. It’s quite a good quality cable for this price and a decent length.
Somewhat undermining the wireless aspect of the mesh system is the unavoidable need (in 2019 anyway) of mains power for each Linksys Velop AC2200 node. The actual network and internet activity is done wirelessly, but wherever you chose to install the individual mesh pods, you will need a mains power point. Again, the quality of the power cables is pretty good and around 1.8m each in length. I will get onto a rather unique cable hiding aesthetic on this device later on, but for now, the accessories (few as they are) are of good quality construction.
LinkSys Velop AC6600 Mesh Routers – Design
Each individual Linksys AC2200 node measures 7.9 x 7.9 x 18.5cm in size and contains 6 internal antennas for full surrounding coverage and communication with other nodes. Additionally, in order to speedily carrier signal along, manage traffic efficiently and to help the Linksys software run effectively (will discuss this further along below), each velop mesh node contains Quad-core Qualcomm IPQ4019 713Mhz Quad Core CPU and 512MB of memory, as well as 4GB of flash storage memory for the software to store.
As well as the sleek and branded design of each node, the other side of the device shows us that it is fully ventilated to dissipate heat as the device is in operation. As the ARM CPU inside the device is not fan assisted (as this would require more power AND generate noise), this kind of passive cooling is seriously required to keep things moving at the top and efficient speeds promised.
If we flip one of the Linksys Mesh AC2200 points’ up, we can take a look at the physical connections. As is common with mesh router points, the design has been kept as discreet as possible, as well a the number of ports being far less than a router from your ISP. This is more about the mesh router aesthetic in general across all vendors, with wireless, seamless and invisible connectivity being paramount. Though I know well that I am not the only one that wants at least one mesh point to have more LAN ports, or a USB port (such as found in the RT2600ac and MR2200ac combined mesh network from Synology), and you will likely need to connect your primary mesh node to a network switch in order to compensate for this
At the base, we find a power connector (sadly necessary, as mentioned), reset button and on/off switch (though, sadly a lack of WPS button, something that many users rely on for easy and tech-free connectivity of new devices that do not feature a default user interface like Sonos Sound Systems and Bose without connectivity at the beginning). There is also 2 network ports that can be used as 1Gbe LAN connectivity or 1 as a LAN and the other as your WAN port for internet connectivity. You only need to connect 1 velop mesh node to your internet access point via cable, as the others mesh Velop nodes in range will connect with it and carry the signal wirelessly. It is still a shame that there are only two ports, but this is depressingly common with mesh systems and the Linksys velop AC6600 pack is no exception.
One neat little feature is how the velop discreetly hides the LAN and power cables. One bottom corner of each Linksys Velop mesh node has a cable clip built into the casing and this is just wide enough for 3 average width cables. This holds the cables in lovely and tight, as well as keeps them straight, behind the device, moderately out of sight. I quite like this, as most mesh routers, aside from a dip in the base of the device, rarely provision the cabling in terms of tidiness
All, in all, I cannot fault the design and hardware of the Velop Mesh AC6600 pack from Linksys, as it is clean, available in multiple colours and once up and running, is very well hidden. I wish it had the multi-LED strength indication system featured on the Synology MR2200ac, that shows a growing green LED indicator that grows or decreases, to show how well the device has been placed, but aside from this, the Linksys Velop mesh has a nice feel and construction. Now, on to the software.
Linksys Velop AC6600 Mesh Routers – Software
The Linksys Mesh Software and it’s day to day use is somewhere where (i am sorry to say) I found the Velop AC6600 very underwhelming. The software itself is actually pretty easy to use, free (most of it) and you can set up all mesh router nodes with the use of a mobile phone application available for Android and iOS. Setting up a 3 Velop router mesh network only took me around 2015 minutes from beginning to finish, using a moderately recent Android mobile phone. Initial setup could be conducted by connecting to the 1st node via it’s own WiFi network a few minutes after it was powered up, or over Bluetooth.
As mentioned, the Linksys Velop mesh router system is very discreet, almost too much though. As during setup, the blue/purple LED light at the top of the unit was the only indicator that the device provides and despite the fact the app offers generic advice for how and where to set the device up for the first time (best max distance etc), when it came for one node finding another for the first time, you were left to hope they would find each other.
Once a node is found, then you are then advised as to the strength/weakness of the connection and advised accordingly whether to move it closer or further away. This didn’t feel smooth and I would have really, REALLY liked to have an on-unit LED system in place that would show me the connected strength, without having to go into the app (such as found on the Synology MR2200ac Mesh Router). In the end, I set up all three Linksys Nodes in a single office and once they were all connected, powered them down and then re-connected them in new locations. I am pleased to confirm that the nodes all found each other again when they were booted up (the self-healing system on display).
As mentioned earlier, the setup and configuration of your Linksys Velop mesh system are conducted by an application available free on iOS and Android. However, it is worth noting that the mobile app is the only straight forward way to configure this mesh network. With a bunch of playing around and routing, you can manage to access the device from your web browser, but not in any official capacity and not at all comfortably. I know that the majority of people will own an Android or iOS mobile device with the ability to install the app, but the lack of a web UI will be a bitter pill for business users to swallow and something that will prove difficult in corporate setups.
That said, the software does what it says on the tin and gives you the ability to create a sub network that runs parallel to your primary WiFi network for guests, configure device priority, add websites to barred lists and deactivate network/internet access to devices easily and at the touch of a button, as well as some more detailed technical controls in the settings and the means to perform speed tests on each Linksys Node router. However, it is still very chewable-easy in its design and what it has in simplicity, it hugely loses in the details and comes across way too simplistic in the end,
As devices are connected to your WiFi network (PC’s, phones, TVs, laptops, etc) you can configure individual rules and conditions to these devices. You are able to ensure that some devices will always have the priority when it comes to bandwidth if needed, as well as a light option to group devices. This is so-so, but not as extensive as the Synology Router Manager 1.2 software we have used previously.
Which leads me to (for me) the biggest disappointment in what is ostensibly, a very good mesh router system. The Linksys Velop AC6600 mesh router software features some small parental and defensive controls, as well as a 30 day trial to the Linksys Shield Software. This software gives you access to the regularly updated google safe search parameters and user-tailored blocking, whitelist and blacklist site controls. My complaint is not the access to these services, but the fact it is a PAID FOR service. If you spend £50+ a year on this service, you will be getting the same level of white/blacklist services and updates that are included in the price of Google WiFi 3 pack. Alternatively, for a very similar price get three Synology MR2200ac Mesh Routers that include the Google Safe Search updates AND the incredibly featured Synology Router Manager software included with your purchase. So the fact that these options are a monthly, paid for subscription service extra on the Linksys Velop Mesh Router is a bit sad.
The Linksys Mesh Router software is easy to use, great for first-time users to get their head around and definitely, gives a good base level of control in the palm of your hand. But there is no avoiding that those that want alot more control or analytical information from their mesh wifi system will be rather disappointed and may need to spend a little more.
Linksys Velop AC6600 Mesh Routers – Conclusion
The Velop Mesh Router system from Linksys comes very close to being the best value mesh system for hardware that you can buy in 2019. However, where it falls short (somewhere many brands find tough) is finding a good balancing point between software and hardware. If you have ZERO networking experience and want something that is easy to set up, forget and never have to play with – the Linksys AC6600 will definitely be a great mesh router system for you. However, it’s rather limit mobile online software applications, paid subscription service to access google safe search and lack of ports beyond 2 LAN on all nodes (no option of a primary point with 4 LAN ports, such as you would get from your ISP for free) make it a rather limiting Mesh system for those who want to get more than just network/internet coverage. I would recommend it to home users only who want quick, easy and simple mesh WiFi.
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|Pros of the Linksys Velop Mesh
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