Smart home

Linksys Velop boosts home network throughput

securing the smarthome
Stephen Sauer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series on smart home networking: Our introductory article set the decor for this series, and the second one focuses on home hubs.

If you are going to invest in smart home tech, you want a solidly performing wireless network throughout your house. There are two ways to increase performance: one is to optimize the connection between you and your ISP. The other is to provide better wireless coverage and boost the signal inside your home.

To address the first issue, I’ve been using IQrouter, which automatically adjusts for the minimum network latency between your home router and your ISP.

To boost in-home coverage, I tried out a new product from Linksys called Velop. It is a mesh-connected set of controllers, sold in packages of up to three different access points that can be easily assembled to distribute a wireless signal throughout your home, no matter how big or how many stories.

I set it up in our test home, a 1,200 square foot suburban St. Louis property with a finished basement. The DSL modem is located in the basement, so that is where the first access point is connected, via a wired Ethernet port. Once this first access point is configured, adding other access points around the house is very easy: they don’t require wired connections and you can experiment moving them from one room to another to optimize your signal strength.

Why would you bother with replacing your existing access point? Several reasons. First, your home may not be friendly for wireless networking. You may have a lot of steel or concrete, which eats wireless signals. Or you may have dead spots in different rooms, depending on where your existing access point is located. Or you may have installed multiple access points around your home, which creates different SSIDs and requires you to login to different wireless networks as you move your laptop or other device from one room to another.

For all these reasons, it might be time to consider a mesh network and the Velop set of access points.

Our test home wasn’t all that big, but having a main floor and a basement meant that the signal upstairs wasn’t as strong as what we could get in the basement, where the DSL modem/access point unit was located. Yes, we could have moved this upstairs, but “spousal design approval” eliminated this option (all those ugly wires).

And this is one of the big advantages of the Velop: it actually looks nice, and with just its power cord, there are no other unsightly wires to see or deal with. If you have something that requires a wired connection, each access point comes with two wired gigabit Ethernet ports. As part of our tests, we used all three access points: besides the one in the basement, we placed one access point in the living room, and one in a bedroom that is used as an office.

Given that Velop comes with six internal antennas, you would suspect that it can deliver better throughput than the average access point. We immediately noticed two things: first, the wireless signal has a much wider reach not only across the test home but also around their entire half-acre property.

Second, we saw a big speed bump over the standard AT&T 2Wire modem/AP combo that my homeowners got with their DSL service. The AT&T access point delivered 42MBps down and 7.5MBps up. The Velop came in at anywhere from 60M to 75.5MBps download speed (which is the maximum speed that our homeowners were promised from AT&T) and 7.5MBps unchanged upload speed. That was much appreciated, given that my homeowners are avid gamers and watch a lot of streaming videos.

Velop is controlled via a smartphone app that requires Android v4.0.3 or iOS 8 or better: if you try to connect to its IP address on your PC’s web browser, you will be told to download the app and continue from there. Setting it up was very simple and took just a few minutes. The more difficult task was first connecting to the AT&T web interface and disabling its Wi-Fi radio signal.

And then we had to switch all of our devices to the new Velop network such as our smart TV, our gaming consoles, our individual computers, our NEST thermostat and smartphones. That took much more work than the initial Velop configuration.

The Velop app is much better crafted than a previous smartphone app we tested for the Bitdefender BOX, both in terms of usability and configuration. It was much more tolerant at finding the right IP network to connect to, and like other smarthome apps, it first communicates via Bluetooth with your phone to make the setup process easier.

That process took about 10 minutes, and that included some running up and down the stairs to reset it when we purposely tried to mess things up. It automatically creates a WPA-2 encrypted network among all your devices, finds the least congested radio frequency channel, and will update its own firmware to the most current version. All of those are nice features.

One drawback, which isn’t unique to Linksys, is that the app works with its own username and password authentication. This means if you want multiple family members to control your network parameters, you have to share account information among them, because only one account per Velop installation is allowed.

The screen has some simple controls, such as to turn guest access on or off with a slider, a globe icon to show you that it can detect Internet connectivity, and a summary of how many connected devices it sees on your network. Your guests will receive a text with the appropriate authentication details. There is also an entry on the main menu screen for parental controls and device prioritization.

smarthome David Strom

The main Velop dashboard on your smartphone.

Parental controls enable you to limit your kids’ use to particular times (such as no internet use after 10 p.m.) or to particular zones in your home, and are easily setup with just a few taps on the phone app. Devices can be given higher priority (for streaming video or gaming for example) by moving them around on the appropriate screen.

Velop can work with either Alexa and Google Home to receive voice commands through these devices. You can turn guest access on or off or get the guest network authentication details spoken to you. While this sounds nifty, once the novelty wears off, it is probably easier to do this via the smartphone app.

We had an initial problem getting the meshed network to work properly: devices attached to the wireless network would lose their connection to devices attached to the wired network. The vendor could not reproduce the problem, and sometimes we could resolve this by moving devices from wired to wireless or vice-versa. Nevertheless, I would recommend Velop if you have issues with your current Wi-Fi signal strength or overall home network throughput.

Pricing: Velop is sold in packs of one to three access points. The three-pack costs $450 on Linksys’ website. This isn’t the lowest price access point, but it definitely delivers value.

Next time: Understanding how to choose the right smart home products.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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