Wi-Fi router straddles line between consumer-friendly and advanced networking
The home Wi-Fi router space continues to gain momentum, with additional startups aiming to provide devices that do more than just sit there and route traffic. The latest device that has arrived at the Cool Tools testing zone is the Roqos Core.
Roqos has three goals with its device: First, to provide an easy setup for its Wi-Fi router, making it so that “even grandma can set it up”; second, to provide parents with a control system that lets them pause the Internet at the press of a button, and also give filtering and blocking controls; and third, provide a cloud-based cyber-securitiy system that monitors all network traffic through Deep Packet Inspection.
This puts Roqos a little bit in competition with devices like the Circle by Disney device, but also with other more traditional router companies, as well as startups doing Wi-Fi mesh systems (including Google, which recently announced its mesh system).
The Roqos Core device looks like other standard Wi-Fi routers – it has a plug to connect to your broadband modem, and also comes with additional Ethernet LAN ports. There are no external antennas that jut out – it’s basically a roundish, square-ish box.
The pricing on the Roqos is also different – the initial hardware cost is only $19, but then they require a one-year subscription to the security service – at $17 per month (with a full-year subscription up front). So you’ll be still paying about the same as other routers, but through a subscription service and not the initial hardware sale.
Setting up the router
For the “ease of setup” goal, I’d say the Roqos succeeds (although I’d still have doubts about letting grandma tackle this). The device comes with its own initial Wi-Fi SSID, which you need to change after downloading the Roqos app (iOS and Android supported). Once you talk with the router via your mobile device, you can change the SSID to the one you want. It’s pretty much the process that I’ve seen with almost every other new home Wi-Fi router – gone are the days of installation CDs or even browser-based installations – it’s all about the app now, baby!
There’s one big difference between Roqos and the Circle device. The Circle box connects to an existing Wi-Fi router through an available Ethernet port (if wired) or wirelessly through your network’s SSID. In the case of Roqos, you are replacing an existing router (or, if it’s a new Wi-Fi network, you’re creating the Wi-Fi network with the Roqos).
What this means is that if the Circle box goes down (maybe a kid figures out what the device is and unplugs it), then all of the parental controls go away. With the Roqos, it’s the router and the parental controls, so if a kid unplugs it, poof – there goes your Internet access. On the other hand, the Circle can be beneficial if you have an already kick-ass Wi-Fi router and network (such as the eero, Luma or AmpliFi devices).
The Roqos Core device itself is very nice – it includes an Intel Atom processor (quad-core 64-bit, 1.91 GHz cores), 2GB of memory and 8GB of storage. There’s four additional Gigabit Ethernet ports that you can use for wired networking or additional LAN support. On the wireless side, the device offers 802.11ac wireless with 3x3 on the 5GHz frequency, and 2x2 802.11n on the 2.4GHz frequency. There’s also a USB 3.0 port if you want to attach an external storage drive (although I’d recommend using a network-attached storage device).
Expert users who love to fiddle with their home routers can also do this with the Roqos, as it will support static IP addresses (on the Internet port and the LAN), manual DNS server settings, port forwarding, and Universal Plug and Play support.
Parental controls and filtering
The second goal of the device is around parental controls. With the network set up, you can use the app to create user profiles (for each family member or end user), and then attach specific devices to those profiles. In order to assign devices to a profile, the device must access the network at least one time, and for the most part you should be able to figure out which device goes with which child (especially in the phones and tablet spaces). For devices that multiple people use, I’d recommend not assigning these to a particular profile to avoid any filtering management issues.
Filtering for each user profile is different from the Circle device. This one doesn’t have any age-range filters, but rather a list of categories (such as audio/video, blogs, chat, explicit content, games and social media) that you can allow or block. Another setting allows for custom filtering, which includes both a blacklist and whitelist option (the app calls it “Allow” and “Block”, where you type in the URL of the domain you want to allow or block. As an example, this means you can block all video sites (like YouTube and Vimeo), but then whitelist Netflix through the custom filters.
Because the router is network-based, it will only block traffic that’s going out from your home to the larger Internet. In the “games” category, this means it will only prevent games that require an Internet connection. If Junior has a non-Internet game app on their phone, they can still play it.
There’s no particular “bedtime” setting (found on the Circle device), but you can add schedules for each profile that shuts down or turns on Internet access for particular time periods. It’s a little bit more work to do this for each user, especially if you want to be more flexible with schedules on the weekend. But it can be done. Of course, there’s also the “block Internet” setting, which is great for when you want to get your kids’ attention at dinner time.
Security protections and options
The third goal of the Roqos is around cyber-security protection. On the admin settings of the app is a cyber-security protection toggle, as well as the ability to block ads. The toggle “protects all your connected devices against malware and online attacks” through Deep Packet Inspection (plus blacklisting of known malicious sites). DPI is handled locally on the device (using open source software named Suricata), examining every packet leaving the LAN and coming back from the Internet to look for malware, viruses, etc. (signature-based). The company says when a match is found “the packet stream belonging to that session is blocked”, and the user is notified via email or text alert. Roqos also says it updates its servers nightly with lists of new malware, viruses and malicious IP addresses, and that it can also push out severe threats to the Roqos Core immediately if needed.
Overall the Roqos achieves its three goals, albeit differently than other routers or parental control services – your personal preference may vary, depending on how much you feel like monitoring and filtering your kids’ devices and networks.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)
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