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The Linksys Velop -- Belkin's first home mesh Wi-Fi system -- finds itself right between the Google Wifi and Netgear Orbi in terms of performance. There is room in this new category for routers of different product tiers, but with middling performance, the fewest features and the highest price of those competitors, the Velop is hard for me to recommend.
Indeed, the new mesh system costs $500 for a set of three units (often called nodes), $350 for two or $200 for a single unit. By comparison, the Google Wifi costs $300 for a set of three or $130 for a single unit. And the Netgear Orbi costs $400 for a set of two units, which are strong enough to deliver the same Wi-Fi coverage as three units of other systems. I also saw many Wi-Fi systems unveiled at CES 2017 and when those become available later this year, all of them will cost less than the Velop.
(The Velop's price converts to about £405 or AU$685 for the set of three, £160 or AU$275 for a single unit, or two for £285 or AU$480.)
Like all Wi-Fi systems, you use one unit of the Velop as the main router to connect to an internet source, such as a broadband modem. After that, if you have a large home, you put the rest of the nodes one or two rooms away from the main unit to automatically extend your Wi-Fi coverage.
The setup process is easy as long as you have smart phone, and like many other mesh routers, there are no alternative set up options like a web interface. Just download the Linksys app, follow the instructions to register and log in with a Linksys account the rest is self-explanatory. Keep in mind that, like the case of the Google Wifi, your home network powered by the Velop will stay connected to Linksys at all times. In my trial, the Velop's install process took a bit longer than with Google Wifi but if you've used a smartphone before, you will likely be able to set up all three units in less than 20 minutes.
What makes the Velop better than the Google Wifi is the fact that each unit is a tri-band dual stream (2x2) router with two 5GHz bands (867 megabits per second each) and one 2.4GHz band (400Mbps). The system dedicates one 5GHz band for backhaul, the job of linking the nodes together. This minimizes the effect of signal loss, which is the 50 percent efficiency reduction that always occurs if a band has to both receive and rebroadcast the Wi-Fi signal at the same time.
This means the Velop only has to deal with signal degradation over distance. In my trial, I got full speed at up to 25 feet away; by 50 feet, I got about half the speed, and the farther out I ventured, the slower the connection between nodes would get. The mobile app has a test function that helps determine the optimal distance between nodes. However, I learned from Belkin that the threshold was set at just 50Mbps, basically fast enough to deliver a moderate residential broadband connection. So yes, if you want Wi-Fi coverage over a very large area, about 5,000 square feet or more, the Velop can do it but your Wi-Fi speed will suffer.
This is where the Velop significantly trails behind the Netgear Orbi, which is also a tri-band router with a dedicated backhaul. However, the Orbi's backhaul is a quad-stream (4x4) band that has a top speed of 1,733Mbps. This means that even with signal degradation, the Orbi still delivers much faster speeds between nodes. This is why the Orbi's Wi-Fi network has the same Wi-Fi coverage with just two nodes that the Velop gets with three, while delivering faster Wi-Fi speed.
As a single unit, the Velop was about as fast as most 2x2 routers, with a top speed of 383Mbps at close range (less than 15 feet). When I increased the distance to 70 feet with one wall in between, it then averaged 209Mbps; again, about the same as similar routers. However, when used as a system with two or three nodes, it was clearly faster than the Google Wi-Fi and the Eero, though still far behind the Netgear Orbi.
In terms of coverage, I found that one Velop unit could cover about 1,800 square feet, two nodes, about 3,000 square feet and with all three, the system could handle about 4,000 square feet, all in a typical residential settings. I calculated this based on the need to maintain a speed of at least 100Mbps between nodes. Technically you can get larger coverage by placing the nodes farther apart, but clients connected to the satellite nodes will get very slow speed. By the way, you can link the nodes together using network cables, in this case, there's no speed degradation no matter how far you can place them from one another. But if your home is wired for this, the Google Wifi will deliver the same performance, or you can just get a regular router and a few access points for much less than any Wi-Fi system.
The Velop passed my 48-hour stress test -- during this time it was set to transfer large amounts of data between multiple Wi-Fi and wired clients -- without disconnecting even once. The system also delivered very good signal hand-off. No disconnection was detected when a client moved from one node to another. I figured this out via the data speed since there was no way to know to which node a client is connected.
I lamented the lack of features and settings in the Google Wifi, the Velop is even worse. The home network powered by the Velop is hardly customizable, if at all. For example, you can't change the system's IP range, nor can you customize any settings of the Wi-Fi network, other than changing its name and password. Most consumers won't miss those setting options, but for those that tend to dig deeper into their home network configuration, this mirrors the trend towards simplicity we have across most of these new mesh routers.
Right now the Velop has just two main features, namely the parental controls and bandwidth prioritization. Neither is comprehensive or worked well in my trial. The parental control, for example, only allows for manually blocking a single device at a time from certain websites, or turning its internet access off completely. There's no scheduling or blocking a group of devices at a time. Worse, websites seemed to be blocked only when accessed via a browser, so if you block a mobile device from Facebook, the Facebook app on the device might still has access as it did in my trial.
I can't find any reason that makes the Velop a must-have, at least for now. This is an effective Wi-Fi system that's faster than the Google Wifi, it's just not $200 better. And compared to the $400 Netgear Orbi -- which doesn't require an account with Netgear to work, has more network ports, much faster speed, and all the features and settings you can expect from a regular router -- the Velop's only saving grace is its compact design.
Belkin told me that it's working on adding more features and improvements (including to issues I mentioned here) via firmware updates. That said, I suggest you wait for those updates to emerge, and for the price to drop, before getting your own. But if you don't care about the cost and just want to have a solid system to deliver your fast broadband connection, the Velop will get the job done, with flying colors.