Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi creates a mesh to serve up to 6000 square feet of coverage.  Enjoy full speed Wi-Fi throughout your home.

We are incredibly lucky to be alive in the modern era.  Is it not amazing to have the internet at our fingertips, on our phones/tablets, in every room of our homes and at many local establishments?  Our internet continues to become faster and more robust, providing easier access to information.  In fact, I have become dependent upon this access, both for my home life and work life.   If you would have asked families 25-30 years ago about landline phones, I bet they would have stated phones would be in the home forever.  Similarly, I do not think that anyone would have dreamed about the service available in some areas.  We truly have come a long way from the days of dial-up connections.

While at CES 2017 at the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall, I talked with the team from Linksys about their new Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi system.  I had heard of a few others and talked with the Luma team at CES 2016 and again at 2017.  The idea of a mesh network is intriguing.  If you have a medium to large size home or a home with multiple stories (I have a 2 story with basement ~4000 SQ feet), you may find zones in your home that are internet dead zones. Traditional systems may link one or more range extenders to a router, but you can expect slower speeds (>50% in some cases).  Linksys solves this by providing a modular system, which will provide stronger Wi-Fi.  The Whole Home Wi-Fi kit arrives in an attractive 15.5″ x 10″ x 4.5″ retail package.  The front demonstrates the 3 included nodes and a pastel background, which is eye catching.  Linksys promises a modular 3 node system, which will provide full speed Wi-Fi Signal for up to 6000 square feet of space.

The back and sides of the packaging are very useful for the consumer.  The left side panel has an actual sized image of the device, demonstrating the rear panel and cable management well.  The packaging details the application and features/functions for the device. With the tri-band 6 built in vertical antennas per modular node, you can expect good strong signal within your 6000 sq. foot zone.  Each node measures 3.1″ square by 7.3″ tall.  The white coloration is clean and provides an Apple-esque appearance.  We have become used to devices like the Amazon Echo/Google Home on countertops/desks etc.  A device like the Velop is an attractive replacement to the traditional WI-FI router.  Before even setting up the device, the promised benefit of the tech is outstanding.  When you consider added Alexa integration and cable management with the 2×2 2.4 GHz, 1-2X2 5GHz, and 2-2 x2 Radio configuration, the product sounds to be amazing.

Upon opening the magnetic lid, you will notice the three Linksys nodes, nestled in their own cardboard cutout area.  To the left is a 3 1/4″ diameter Linksys Velop sticker, covering a 74″ white Ethernet cable.  Beneath this, you will find three, much too large, AC adaptors with 72″ cables.  I was super excited about this entire kit, but the AC adaptors are disappointing.  With wall plug space at a premium, a large 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ x 1 3/8″ adaptor is very unreasonable.  The AC adapter will plug into the upper or lower wall outlet, but the LINKSYS logo will be upside down if you plug it into the upper port.  Additionally, if you are placing the router on a high shelf, you may find that the cable pointing out of the bottom is an annoyance.  It will not work well in some surge protectors/power strips, as it will block other sites.  Pardon the pun, but there is a silver lining in the silver LINKSYS logo.  The stark contrast of the silver on the white is very appealing.  If I designed the system, I would have either made the logo rotatable or I would have made the AC box and cable separate pieces.  With output ports at the top and bottom, you could plug the cable into either the top or the bottom, for your convenience.  Perhaps this feature will be present in a future model.

Velop AppTo use the system, you will first need to download the app from the App Store or the Google Play Store.  Once downloaded, open the app and follow the instructions to complete set-up.  You will be taken to a blue screen with a WI-FI logo in the center and “Set UP New Wi-FI and Log In along the bottom.” When you begin the setup, the app will ask you to collect the Node, the ethernet cable, and the power cord. You will be asked if you have a modem/router combo or two devices.  I had a router and a separate modem combo and thus chose that option.  For the next step, you will need to disconnect the router from the modem, plug in the AC adaptor and then plug the ethernet cable into the modem.  Inside the base of the node, you will find two ethernet ports, 12V DC power input, a toggle power switch and a reset button. Each of the pieces is labeled, but there is no set input/output ethernet port.  The Nodes have a small “V” shaped notch out of the back, which serves as a cable management port.

Once the node is plugged into power and then the modem, wait for the tiny circle on the top to turn solid purple.   Your app will then show a virtual node looking for a connection.  I had an issue with this step, as my phone kept trying to connect to the old router that was not connected to the internet.  I had to deactivate Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and power through the “Looking for your node” step about 5 times.  Each time a warning would appear recommending to make sure you are near the node, the node is purple and that you need to reset the device by holding the little red button inside of the node for 10 seconds.  I then turned Bluetooth off on my phone and then back on and it finally connected. The Wi-Fi setup was incredibly easy.  Look under the node for the name/password, open up Settings, WI-FI on your device and select the listed network.  You will then need to create an account with your email and password.  This will be required to access the app features.

Once signed in you will be greeted with a “You’re connected!” page, which is quite reassuring.  You will need to return to your device and access settings, Wi-Fi, select your Wi-Fi name, enter the password that you generated.  If that is the only node you have, select “done” along the bottom of the screen.  Or, you can select “add a node.”  Apparently, you can add up to 6 nodes to the mesh.  Plug in the second node’s power adaptor and then wait for the small circle to turn purple.  When setting up the node, it will take several minutes (~5-7).  There is an animation on the screen and a progress bar that alerts you to the fact that it is working.   I do appreciate this, as it is frustrating to feel the system is frozen. You will be alerted once the setup is done that “Your Wi-Fi is ready for you.”  Again, you can choose to be done or you can repeat the setup with the third node.  Setup took about ten minutes per node and about 30 minutes total.

Now that you have changed the Wi-FI and the password, you will have to update all of the Wi-Fi connections for your various devices.  Of the entire setup, I thought that this was going to be the most frustrating part.   Previously, I would have to set up a 2.4GHz and 5 GHz password for each of the devices.  You will not have to do this with the Velop, as it will choose the frequency for you with a single setup/password.  This proved to be much easier and less time consuming than I had previously thought.

The entire system is controlled from your Smartphone.  Whether or not you feel this is a pro or a con, will depend on user interface and ease of use.  The main page/Dashboard will display the device that you are currently using and you will also notice other connected/offline devices. This did not update as fast as I would have liked.  Through the app, you can see which node each device is connected to, see which channel it is connected to (2GHz or 5GHz) and you can prioritize certain devices, access parental controls and see the IP/MAC addresses. I added each of my children’s iPad’s and wanted to evaluate the parental controls.  You can Block Specific URL sites, up to 10 per device or you can block manually.  I tested this by adding homedepot.com  to the specific sites and then navigated to the site on my son’s iPad.  I was greeted with an Internet Blocked page and a request for login.  I then attempted to “Block Manually,” which did not seem to do anything at first.  I believe the difficulty with monitoring/updating connected devices caused this to fail.  I was able to access the internet despite being blocked.  Parental controls are lacking.

The app has a built-in speed test, which will show you the download/upload speed of the system.  I tested this from all rooms of my home and was able to get speeds of 80Mbps download and up to 10Mbps upload.  Not only did I get the internet in every corner of my home, I was able to have full speed internet.  I now have a Roku on my bedroom TV that I can utilize with my home network.

The Velop mesh network system also provides newer MU-MIMO standards.  Older routers known as SU-MIMO (Single User, multiple inputs, multiple outputs) would allow you to use multiple devices on a router but required the router to focus on one device at a time.  It would send small packets of data to each device so quickly that you would not notice the change.  The more antennas the router had, the more devices you could use at once.  However, a lot has changed since 2007 (introduction of the 802.11n and SU-MIMO system).  We now have more interconnected devices and a desire for more on-demand fast internet.  MU-MIMO (Multiple users, multiple inputs, multiple output) strives to improve upon this system.  Essentially this system will allow multiple users/devices to talk to the router at the same time. Your Linksys Velop delivers data to each device as if each device has its own router.  This is a very cool feature, that will likely continue to enhance Wi-FI connections.  Additionally, the information sent to your device from the router is not accessible by other devices on the network.  The data should be encrypted.

I really appreciate the attention to the user experience.  The Linksys app dashboard is incredibly intuitive and uncluttered.  There is a large world icon that alerts you to the presence/absence of internet.  There is no confusion, as a checkmark will either be present or absent.  You can see how many devices are connected, how many are offline and you can see specifics of each device. Each of these steps is a tab and you can select which tab to access.  From the Dashboard, you can access “Wi-Fi” and change the name of the network, access the password and send it via text message, email or copy to your clipboard. Under advanced settings, you can change between WPA2 personal (Home use to log in with username/password) or WPA2/WPA Mixed Personal (original standard) or none (Do not do this, it is not safe!).  Additionally, you can access Channel Finder, which will search the area for the best channels for you. This is a feature that would work incredibly well in congested areas.

If you are more interested in advanced features, do not fret, many advanced features are present.  Instead of cluttering the user interface, the Linksys app keeps them deeper in the app. With a few extra steps, you can select “Advanced Settings, Internet Settings, Port Settings, Wi-Fi MAC filters” you can single port forward, port range forward, port range trigger (add a rule for the router to remember the port a specific device uses when sending data to the internet).  When data returns it will route through the appropriate port and get to the device in question.  If you have no idea what this means, you probably do not need these features.  Truthfully, many users will not need these advanced features.  Linksys chose to maintain an easy- to-use approach while supporting some of the advanced user preferences as well.  If you need more advanced features, this system is likely not going to do what you want it to do.  At least it will not serve you well, in this current firmware version.

Possibly one of my favorite features is the “Priority usage” feature.  To use an analogy from Disney, Linksys has essentially built a “FastPass” system into their router.  The app/device allows you to choose 3 devices that will gain priority over the connection.  It will run a speed test and then save bandwidth specifically for those three devices.  Whatever bandwidth is left will be available for any other devices.  Again, many may not utilize this feature or they may not have enough devices to notice the feature.

I have tried routers with range extenders and I have been left wanting.  I have eyed the many mesh systems for the past year and finally decided to try it.  With my previous NetGear router, I had multiple dead zones in my 3 story home (2 floors and walkout basement).  My download/upload speeds were great if I stayed in the main core of the home but drastically fell away as you moved laterally in my home.  I have tried a variety of extenders, which would get the internet to some of the other places.  However, the speeds were noticeably lower and disappointing.  I love that the Velop device looks like a White colored Echo versus a clean Bluetooth speaker.  Truthfully, without the Echo, my wife would not allow these devices to be in sight.  That is why my router has lived in my basement office. I love that you can move these devices and create a web of data throughout your home.  Move the nodes until you have the perfect connection.  This could have been an incredibly complicated system to set up, but I do not think that Linksys could have made the setup easier.

Summary:
This device is much better than I expected and has so many positives going for it.  There are a few negatives, however.  Each node has #2 Ethernet ports.  I understand the trade-off for ports to size, but only 2 Ethernet and 0 USB ports seems too minimalistic.   On the master node (1st you plugged in), you only have 1 spare Ethernet port, as you need a port to plug into the modem.  I luckily have a 5 port switch, which will allow me to continue to have ethernet for my Synology Diskstation, my Apollo Cloud device, my Luma device and to mainline my desktop.  There is no USB input/output and the parental controls are lacking.  I manually blocked both of my son’s iPad Mini 4 and they continued to have a connection to the internet, regardless of the block.   There is no access to time controls and 10 URL sites seem arbitrary.  An overall max URL block would be a better choice than 10 per device, as would a global URL or even a theme block.

Additionally, some advanced users may find this system overly simplistic. I have not yet gone into the online portal (difficult to find apparently, but can be found through customer support), choosing to use the system like most of the users (App based only).  You cannot set specific devices to specific networks on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band frequencies.  Although this may be an annoyance to some, I find the single network approach conveniently.  Again, you do not have to enter a password for multiple frequencies. The guest Wi-Fi is a neat feature, as is the ability to send the password remotely.  You do not have any method currently to modify DNS or to change the IP range.

Lastly, the system is Alexa enabled.  To enable the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi to go the Alexa App and touch skills and search for Linksys.  You can now ask “Alexa, ask Linksys to turn on my guest Wifi, What is my Wifi password, ask Linksys.”  Unfortunately, there is not a reboot router option, which would be amazingly helpful.

I would rate this system at 4/5 stars.  It is perfect for medium/large homes or for people who want a robust Wi-fi with minimal complication.  Advanced users may find some fault with the device and there are other similarly featured devices that have more advanced features.  The AC adaptors really do need to be overhauled.  For homes up to 5000 sq feet the 2 pack will likely be adequate.
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