Mesh networking is the latest buzzword in the world of home networking. To be honest, mesh networking systems are not entirely new. Smaller brands have started selling them since 2015. But it is only recently that established players like Linksys have come up with their own mesh networking system. At CES 2017 earlier this year, Linksys announced their first mesh networking system. It is called the Velop and it is finally available here.
Very briefly, mesh networking systems allows users to create their own wireless distributed system at home to increase and spread Wi-Fi coverage. So how does it differ from range extenders? Glad you asked. You see, range extenders work by amplifying an existing Wi-Fi signal. If your Wi-Fi signal is already weak to begin with, what good is amplifying that signal? Mesh networking systems, on the other hand, do not rely on amplification. Instead, mesh networks consist of nodes which expand Wi-Fi coverage by transmitting data around at Wi-Fi speeds.
If you are still lost, check back soon because we will be putting up a newbie’s guide to mesh networking. In the meantime, here is Linksys explaining how mesh networking works:
Compared to earlier mesh networking systems, Linksys Velop is more advanced in a number of ways. And it is thanks to these advancements that Velop claims to offer improved performance. Let us detail you how the Linksys Velop works.
Unlike some of its competitors, the Linksys Velop is a true Wi-Fi mesh networking system. There is no master router or gateway or any kind of that stuff, each node is capable of communicating with each other (in other words, each node is built like a full fledged router). This is an important differentiator as it allows the Velop to function more flexibly.
One of the benefits of a true mesh Wi-Fi system like the Velop is the possibility of daisy-chaining. Take the home above for example. Let’s assume the termination point and optical modem (ONT) is located at the right most of the house, so this is where you would install one of the your nodes. With Linksys Velop, you can spread Wi-Fi across the house by putting another node near the middle and then another one at the extreme end. This ensures the home is sufficiently blanketed by Wi-Fi coverage. But this is only possible with a true mesh networking system.
Some competitors who claim to be Wi-Fi mesh networking systems are actually not. These typically have a master and satellite configuration, where the master router is connected to the ONT and transmits data to the satellite router (node) via Wi-Fi. This still beats traditional Wi-Fi range extender, but the key difference is that these satellite routers are incapable of communicating to each other. Therefore, in the case of the example above, if the master router is positioned at the extreme right, it will have difficulties trying to communicate with the satellite router at the opposite end because it so far away and it cannot rely on the middle satellite router to relay any data.
Pleasing aesthetics, ease of use, and class-leading performance are the three central tenets of the Linksys Velop.
Well, the Velop certainly is quite a looker. In fact, it doesn’t look like a router at all. I think it looks like a wireless Bluetooth speaker. According to Linksys, a single Velop node takes up 88% less footprint than a traditional router. That sounds about right to me. Since the Velop is compact and stylishly designed, what this means is that it will be easier for users to install Velop nodes around the house - it blends more easily with existing furniture and requires less space.
To allow the Velop to blend into households, the unit itself is quite nondescript. It comes in a glossy finish of white and there is only a single LED status indicator on the top. Vented panels on the top and sides help keep the unit cool. Lifting the Velop up and inspecting the bottom, we find two Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as the power port. That’s all you get, there is no USB port, so no file sharing or print sharing for you.
On the one hand, having only two Gigabit Ethernet ports is a bit stingy. But on the other hand, this is understandable considering the compact size of the Velop. Giving the Velop more connectivity would result in a larger unit or a less clean design. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
The two Ethernet ports can be used for both WAN and LAN. In fact, the Velop is so intelligent that if you already have a home LAN network in place, it can use its Ethernet connection and your LAN network for backhaul data transmissions, but more on this later.
Inside, each Velop is essentially a tri-band router on its own. The Velop is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm IPQ4019 SoC running at 716MHz, which is complemented by 512MB of RAM and a generous 4GB of flash memory. Since, the Velop is a tri-band Wi-Fi mesh networking system, this SoC also consists of two 2x2 radios that broadcast a single 2.4GHz network and another 5GHz network. A separate QCA9886 2x2 radio is responsible for broadcasting the second 5GHz network. The 2.4GHz network supports a maximum speed of 400Mbps, whereas the two 5GHz networks support a maximum speed of 867Mbps. Add them all up, and you get 2,134Mbps, which also explains its AC2200-class rating.
Though the Velop is marketed as a tri-band router, users will actually only be able to use two of the three networks that the Velop broadcasts. This is because one of the networks will be used for backhaul transmissions. The Velop chooses which one of the networks it will use for backhaul, but it will typically use the 5GHz network as that offers more bandwidth. However, it can use the 2.4GHz network as well if it sees that it is unused.
Interestingly, teardowns of the Velop revealed that there’s a ZigBee radio within. Though Linksys did not say that the Velop will support ZigBee, we think that there is a very good chance that will some time down the road. With the ZigBee radio already in place within the Velop, adding support for it can be done via a simple firmware update and possibly enabling other smart home solutions to work with the Velop in the near future.