Let’s say you have a large home and need to have WiFi accessible everywhere. You likely need to either cover your home in WiFi range extenders, which may or may not help you get WiFi where you need it, or accept that you will have dead spots in your home. Or let’s say that you have my use case which is a condo with thick concrete walls. They play havoc with WiFi as I get amazing speeds in my bedroom and den, but significantly lower speeds in my living room and on my balcony. In either case, getting top notch speeds via WiFi is a problem. Linksys now has a solution for you called Velop.
Here’s a Velop node. It doesn’t look like WiFi gear does it? You could actually put it on a shelf and nobody would have a clue what it is.
Here’s the back side of the Velop unit. There’s a lot of holes for ventilation which no doubt will help to keep it cool.
Underneath you get a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports. You can plug in your wired gear into them, or plug in your cable and DSL modem into one of them. If you look at the bottom right corner, you can route your cables through there to keep things neat and tidy.
Here’s the deal. Linksys calls this “Whole Home WiFi”. By that they mean that this isn’t a router or a range extender. It’s basically a new category of networking gear that combines both into one product. I got three of these which I was able to create what is called a “mesh network.” In short, the Velop nodes can connect to each other over wired or wireless links, and will choose the best path to route data between a client and the internet. If a node loses connection to another node, the remaining nodes will self-heal and re-establish internet connection through other nodes in the network. Besides that, no matter where you are in your home, you can move freely between each node’s coverage area and maintain a stable, uninterrupted connection. And you don’t have to worry about managing them individually as they all communicate with each other to ensure that all settings are synced.
Inside each Velop node, you get the following:
- Quad Core ARM Cortex A7 CPU
- 4GB of flash storage and 512 GB of DDR-3 RAM
- Three 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi radios (one 2.4 GHz and two 5 GHz) to
balance the wireless workload.
- MU-MIMO: For devices that support this standard, they will operate with greater efficiency.
- Beamforming support. This precisely adjusts, steers and monitors the direction and shape of Wi-Fi signals for better performance with any wireless device. Client devices that support explicit beamforming will see even greater speed and range.
- Six internal antennas
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE. We’ll get to why that’s there in a second.
This isn’t low end hardware by any means.
I managed to set up a three node Velop system in my condo in under 30 minutes. Here’s what I had to do:
- I plugged in my cable modem into the first Velop node via Ethernet and plugged it into AC Power.
- I installed the Linkys Smart WiFi app on my iPhone.
- The Linkys Smart WiFi app was able to find it via Bluetooth 4.0 LE and walk me through the setup which included naming my network and making sure my Internet worked. It then asked me where the Velop node was physically located. In my case, it was in my living room.
- It then offered to add a second Velop node. I did so and upon finding it, the Velop note automatically setup onto my network. It then asked me where this node was located. In this case, it was in my den. I then plugged in my NAS box into the Ethernet port.
- I repeated step 4 with the third Velop node which was in my bedroom. I then plugged in my VoIP phone into the Ethernet port.
- Done. Declare victory and have a beer.
You can only set up the Velop system via the Linkys Smart WiFi iOS or Android apps. If you want to use the Linkys Smart WiFi website, you’re out of luck. I must admit that I prefer the website to the app as from my experience, I can do a lot more via the website in terms of tweaking the configuration of a Linksys router to the way I want it, plus rebooting it if you have to. But other than that gripe, I really had no issues with the setup process as it was easy.
Now the next question is how fast is the Velop. Fortunately the Linkys Smart WiFi app has a built in speed test that uses OOKLA’s speed test technology that tests the Velop from the Velop itself. That in theory should give you a very accurate speed test result. This is what I got via my gigabit connection to the Internet:
Now, this isn’t as fast as I have gotten in the past as my Linksys AC5400 WiFi router consistently got into the low 900 Mbps range for a downstream connection. But it is a result that I will not complain about. In terms of the quality of the WiFi, I was able to get excellent coverage across my condo thanks to the fact that I was able place each node in places where they could do the most good. Thus I was able to get full signal strength in places that never had anything close to that before. On that front, the Velop is an #EpicWin.
There is one thing that I noted. None of the MacBook Pros that I used for testing never connected to the Velop above 867 Mbps as per this:
I was able to replicate this result on a PC with an 802.11ac card as well. By contrast, the Linksys AC5400 was able to hit a Tx rate of 1300 Mbps as long as you were in the same room as the router or near enough to it. I believe that this is likely caused by a combination of having to work in an environment where the Velop nodes had to compete for channel space with other WiFi gear, not to mention cordless phones and baby monitors. Such as my condo development which may have dozens of these things in a small space. I confirmed this by using the Linksys Smart WiFi app Channel Finder function to optimize the performance of the Velop to get this result. Thus a less crowded environment may yield better results. Handoffs between each node was seamless. And general usage of the Internet seemed fine. The only thing that I noticed in the way of abnormalities was that when I played Team Fortress 2 where lag was present. The lag only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to affect my ability to pwn the competition. In fact, when the lag disappeared, I was typically pwned by the competition. Again, I attribute this to the crowded wireless environment that the Velop has to operate in as I have seen the same behavior with the Linksys AC5400 router. One of the things that I am planning on doing is doing a test in a environment that has less wireless gear for it to compete against to see how well the Velop does. Watch for that in the coming weeks.
Velop also supports Amazon Alexa. While I did not test this as I do not have an Amazon Alexa, this sounds intriguing as it would allow you to do things like enable guest WiFi on the fly without having to open the Linksys Smart WiFi app to do it. That’s not only a time saver, but it lowers the complexity of managing Velop.
Gripes? Only one. The Velop nodes have a light at the top of them that can fill a room because it is so bright. That means if you drop one of these nodes in a bedroom, you’ll get a blue glow that will make it difficult to sleep. Now other Linksys hardware has the ability to disable the lights on their routers to avoid this. But you can’t seem to do this with the Velop. Hopefully Linksys adds that functionality in the form of a software or firmware update.
The Velop comes in one, two and three node units. That allows you to buy the number of nodes that fit your use case. For example, three units will cover 6000 square feet of real estate. Conversely, you could get away with a single node for an apartment. Maybe two if you have my use case. A three pack will go for $520 USD. A two pack will go for $370 USD. Finally a single Velop node will go for $199. If you need to cover your entire home with WiFi in a way that is easy to set up and gives you good performance, the Linksys Velop is very much worth looking at as it covers all of these bases with ease.