The Linksys Velop -- Belkin's first home mesh Wi-Fi system -- finds itself right between the and 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.