Linksys Velop, Amazingly Simple, Amazingly Powerful Mesh Router(s)

Linksys Velop (from $200 to $600) WiFi router system is most certainly in the upper echelon among a new generation of dead spot-eliminating mesh routers providing uninterrupted, strong wireless signal throughout the home.

For the few months I have been using a three-node Linksys Velop system, and all is still well, very well. I am excited about Velop. No, I am thrilled with it. Velop (and other mesh routers) changes virtually everything wrong with previous routers I’ve used. The biggest complaint with all previous routers was that there were always dead spots somewhere in the house. Not that the house is large, mind you.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to place your router central to your home and way up high, you might still have adequate signal strength in a traditional, single device setup. However, with Linksys Velop, there is no maybe, no doubt, and there are no dead spots here.

Mesh router technology is THE most important, beneficial and worthwhile advance in home (or office) WiFi since the first wireless router hit the market. Linksys has hit a grand slam home run with Velop!

Here at Gadget Central, my main workspace is in a back corner of the house, not ideal placement for propagating WiFi signal to the opposite corner of the house, much less outside the walls into the back, front and side yards.

In addition, we have a TCL Roku TV in the bedroom, which is wireless-only to the network, so a strong signal is required. Back in the main workspace lives a couple of printers, a desktop computer, three Internet-based (VoIP) telephone lines, and a hard-wired box that creates the wireless link to our Internet-enabled Chamberlain garage door opener.

There is one Ethernet cable from there under the house to the bedroom and another to the entertainment system with its own 8-port switch feeding Internet to the TV, Blu-ray player, TiVo, Roku and whatever else is around for fun and testing, and at least one spare Ethernet port.

In the main workspace room is another 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch so I can use and distribute router signals to all needy, wired devices. Finally, the Ethernet to the bedroom feeds a $150 TiVo mini that shares a tuner with the main living room TiVo, an inexpensive way to add TiVo to another room.

There are other wireless devices, including a few mobile phones, a couple of tablets, a Nest thermostat and other surprises at Gadget Central rotating in and out for evaluation and review.

DIGRESSIONHere is a good place to admonish readers to run hard-wired connections wherever possible and reserve wireless signal only for devices that require it, such as phones, tablets and laptops. Even a wireless printer can be hard wired to the network, yet accessed wirelessly by all your WiFi-enabled devices, though wireless printers are best placed where you want and need them. These devices don’t occupy wireless bandwidth unless something is being printed. Besides, it’s awfully cool and convenient to have a printer whose placement is not tied to it being wired on the network.

Why mostly wired? Because the amount of WiFi bandwidth available to your system will always be less than the capacity for wired signal, and wired is always more reliable than wireless, so why not go wired at every possible opportunity?

Once the wiring is in, you’re finished! Choose CAT6 for greatest capability in the [known] future up to about 10 years and maybe more. The next advancement in Ethernet speed, providing up to 5x the current Gigabit Ethernet standard is designed to be compatible with the current CAT5e and CAT6 cabling.

Further, if possible, and especially in new construction, make redundant and multiple Ethernet runs from each start point to each end point or switch location. It’s cheaper and easier than pulling new cabling if needed. The cost of wiring is cheap, with 1,000 feet of household, indoor CAT6 bulk cable around $100, or under $200 for CAT6A, a more robust, heavier-duty cable, though a bit tougher to work with. My longest under-house runs are all with this CAT6A Monoprice cable. Find all your cables best-priced at Monoprice.

Each user must decide whether to run wired from above or below into walls. In our little and old place, the cable company had already drilled holes into the hardwood floors through which they had run their coax cable, so why not drill and run one more for Ethernet in each location where TV coax already existed?

For the cable runs from device to nearby device, head on over to Monoprice to get pre-made CAT6 cables in needed lengths as I do. You will be amazed at how inexpensive these pre-made cables are!

One last digression. Those long custom cable runs through floor or wall holes, will need Ethernet connectors on both ends. I’ve put ends on Ethernet cables many, many times over many, many years. It is not so much difficult as it is tedious, as well as rewarding. If there is access from the main distribution spot in your home to the other places Ethernet needs to be, this is not so tough a DIY project instead of hiring someone to get the job done. The eight wires bundled inside the Ethernet cable jacket all have to be exposed, prepped and lined up just so, in a specific order, and then carefully fed into an unused Ethernet connector, and then the connector with the wires run into them must be crimped to finish.

For more info on home networking, start HERE with this excellent CNET primer.

As for making those Ethernet connector ends, as I am far from a pro, I found, use and recommend Platinum Tools crimpers and Ethernet connectors. Remember the eight color-coded wires inside the CAT-6 jackets? There is a precise order that each wire must go into the connector so it can be crimped and actually function properly. Platinum Tools EZ-RJPRO crimpers and connectors are a fail-safe “system” that can’t be beat.

EZ-PRO RJ-45 connectors are a pass-through design, meaning that the wires exit the front of the connector making it a cinch to eyeball before crimping to be sure everything is lined up and in the correct order. The EZ-RJPRO crimpers have not only a precision, ratchet design assuring the best possible, solid crimp, but there is a cutter at the front, which lops off the excess wires stuck through the connector and a neat built-in wire stripper to cut the outer jacket revealing the eight wires inside.

Friends, this is THE way to go. Spend the money to do it right or don’t do it at all. I cannot begin to tell you how many cables had to be re-done before I discovered Platinum Tools products. Now, I am mistake-proof when making Ethernet cables. Mind you, it still takes time to prep each cable end before crimping, but at least I don’t have to repeat the work to fix a bad cable end.

The right tools always make a difference. This Amazon link takes you to the crimping tool and lower on the page there is a “Frequently bought together” link to order all three – the crimping tool, 50 connectors and 50 strain reliefs to help protect the tabs on each connector from damage that necessitates a re-do.

There are many other less expensive solutions using generic and standard tools and connectors. After years of trial and error, I have never been able to create cables as easily as is shown in online videos, including those linked above from C/NET, which is why I moved to Platinum Tools products. BACK TO THE ARTICLE . . .

Unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switches are dumb, just plug and play, and not expensive, nor do they consume lots of electricity. I use these plug-and-play, unmanaged and reliable switches by TP-Link, available in 5-, 8- and 16-port models starting at about $20. Just plug in the Ethernet wire supplying the signal to any port and your nearby devices to the other ports. That’s it.

Another excellent and reliable unmanaged, more expensive Gigabit Ethernet switch choice would be these from Linksys, for consumers who would like to keep things under a single brand umbrella.

Even with my previous dual-band router with four ports, I still needed an 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch to connect all my other devices to the Internet.

Another downside of modern conventional routers is the dual-band or even tri-band setup with one 2.4 GHz and one or two 5.0 GHz bands (Other technologies are on the way!). Have you noticed? The 2.4 GHz band signal travels much further from the base, but not at the highest speed. The 5.0 GHz band has the strongest, fastest signal, but only within a very short range, usually much less than 25 feet, and that’s without a wall between your device and the router. Users are forced to choose (or not) the best frequency band at any given time. If close to the signal source, that is, the router, then the 5.0 GHz band would offer the most throughput for streaming, updating software, downloading or transferring data from device to device. Otherwise, the relative pokey 2.4 GHz band would be the only choice.

There are signal enhancers and repeaters to add signal where there is otherwise none, but ALL practical solutions other than this new mesh technology are compromises. Principle among them is that signal throughput suffers mightily. So where is the advantage? And let’s not forget the added expense of these boosters, and the complexity of setup relative to what I am about to share with you.

If you long to have whole-house highest signal strength and fastest throughput without having to do anything beyond enjoying the experience, a new mesh router is likely the easiest to set up and offers the greatest value, though they are not inexpensive. Ah, but think of the value – they just work. Period. And you get the most and fastest WiFi signal everywhere you need it for every mobile user and across all your devices, both wireless and stationary.

What’s hot?

  • Comes in single-, double- and triple-node kits for out-of-the-box coverage up to 6,000 square feet
  • Outstanding range and coverage
  • Truly simple guided setup
  • Setup and management using iOS or Android mobile apps
  • Automatic firmware updates
  • Seamless, best performance, automatic band selection throughout your home
  • For all but the smallest apartments, a Linksys Velop mesh router will be a welcome change, even if just using a single node.

 

What’s not?

  • No setup or management capability (yet) using computer browser on Mac or Windows (as you can with conventional and some other mesh routers)
  •  No router restart capability using the app (a feature that will be fixed soon, I was told)
  • Initial cost is higher than conventional routers, though a 2-node Velop kit is not much more expensive than a single, conventional top-tier router as well as some other mesh routers

From unboxing to successful setup of three “nodes” took under 15 minutes. The first one lives near the modem, of course, and is hard wired to it. Using the downloaded Linksys app for iPhone, I let the app find it and do the setup automatically. Once the tell tale top-mounted LED glowed a solid purple, the first node was set. (Note to ALL tech companies employing multicolored LEDs – Please be sensitive to the tens of millions of consumers with color deficiencies and provide color-neutral LEDs.) I had to ask for the assistance of another set of eyes to tell me if the LED was solid blue or solid purple.

Now it was time to do the basic settings:

  • Name the SSID (the network name you will look for and log onto)
  • Choose security settings, defaulted to the most ropbust, WPA2, with strong encryption, using a strong password
  • Enable or leave Guest Access disabled, ideally with a different password than the main network
  • Name the nodes so you can know which is where, such as Office, Bedroom, Living room.

 

Next, deploy another node. Using the app, I placed node two in another room nearest the first node and plugged it in. All nodes come with the power switch ON, so as soon as it is plugged in to power, it starts looking for another node to join. If too far away, the app lets you know so you can move closer. In my setup, in our small home, this was not an issue.

On to node three. Piece of cake!

Node one, attached to the modem, resides in the bedroom/office at the back corner of the house, providing coverage not only inside but out to the back of the property. Node two is in the den, in the midpoint of the back of the house, where signal extends to the kitchen and kitchen dining area and on to the laundry area of the service porch. Node three is in the living room at the front of the house, providing robust signal that extends out to the street as well as throughout the dining room area. Between nodes one and three and off to the front right lies our bedroom, which is blanketed by full strength signal for our mobile devices as well as the TCL Roku TV on the wall.

Velop uses three bands. One 2.4 GHz and two 5.0 GHz bands, with one of them reserved for communication between all the units. This is how the mesh works. So long as each node is within another’s signal bubble, all is well.

In my installation, there are no dead spots and no slow spots. Signal is robust enough to provide full strength 50 feet out the back of the house all the way to the back wall and out the front into the street at the driver’s side door of cars parked in the front of the house.

No more having to choose 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz. Selection is automatic. No more poor signal anywhere. Full coverage, even outside into the back, side and front yards. In short, Linksys Velop has made WiFi truly forgettable and ultimately reliable. Get yours from Amazon.

Is it perfect? It is STILL a radio signal, so there are always going to be unforeseen and even unknown anomalies, but they have been fewer than with any other setup since the inception of WiFi. For my own peace of mind, I reset the network every week or so, just to clear out the cobwebs, as I have always done with my networks.

In conclusion, whatever misgivings there have been regarding WiFi in the past are now in the past with Linksys Velop here at Gadget Central. This is the way WiFi is supposed to be.