In which we learn to keep it simple

Recap of my Linksys Velop dual band home network setup.

On my journey to find wifi nirvana, I learned a couple of things, that I hope might help another lost soul. To recap, for my modest 2 story ~2800 sq foot home, I had settled on a 2 node Linksys Velop dual band (AC1200, model VLP0101/WHW0101) setup, one on each floor. I know, I know, some of you might think this is outdated technology, but humor me, read the previous story for background. Now we have about 20–25 devices, with 2 of us working and 1 learning from home, Covid-19 and all that.

Linksys Velop Dual ban
Linksys Velop Dual ban

Given the Velop dual bands don’t have an extra 5 Ghz band for wireless backhaul, I had already decided to only use them with wired backhaul. I already had cat5e wiring on both levels of the house. Also I am not a fan of wireless mesh systems and given my modest abode I didn’t think I would even need one. But now I realized that my wiring posed some challenges. I did not wire my home from a networking/access point coverage point of view. It was what I call, more of an early 2000 era audio pre-wiring strategy, drop audio connection points where you foresee setting up your home entertainment, but I digress. I had only wired them for where I thought we might setup our primary tv in the living room below and the game room directly above it. These 2 points were just about 15–20 feet from the OnQ structured wiring box, which was central to the house. So if I placed the master Velop node in the OnQ, which I had to, to keep it closer to the AT&T provisioned Arris ONT/modem/router/AP, the other node could only be placed 15 ft away on the same level or 20 ft away below. I chose to place it below, hoping the flooring would act as a buffer in between and also that having the 2 nodes on different floors would provide some distributed coverage. Ideally if I had wired points at opposite ends of the house spread across 2 levels this would have worked great for access point placement, so this is something to keep in mind when wiring a house for access points.

I had initially set the 2 Velop nodes in bridge mode. Looking at some of the reviews had me believe that setup through the app was cumbersome and also Linksys Velop meshing seemed unstable from all the forum posts I had been reading. So I had gone full commando and set them up through the web interface after jumping through some hoops and resetting the nodes multiple times in the process. But the firmware has had quite some fixes in the 2 years since these were introduced and seems like a lot of the kinks had been worked out. So I reset both the nodes, placed my Arris ONT/modem/router in IP passthrough bridge mode and re-configured the 2 nodes, one as master and the other as a child through the Linksys app on my phone. I was all done and running in about 20 minutes. I did not notice a lot of difference from using them as separate access points in bridge mode, but this was so much more convenient with only 1 configuration and also I could see all the connected devices on the app now. Some things that I wish I had more control over, like the power level etc., also even though the Velop system has node steering and client steering they do not have band steering to steer clients from 2.4 Ghz to 5 Ghz.

Now for the keep it simple part.

I noticed that our phones/laptops/tablets etc. never roamed from one node to another even when on different floors, especially when coming down from the upper level. This I sort of expected given that the nodes were only 20 feet apart, but even at the ends of the house, they never roamed. So I surveyed different parts of the house with a wifi analyzer app and even at the farthest end and corners of the house the master Velop node that was centrally located, was putting out close to -65 to -71 dBm in the 5Ghz band (A note on the signal strength, this is signal strength from the AP, but just because you see a signal strength below -70 dBm does not mean your client can reciprocate at the same levels). The node placed on the lower level however was showing a loss in signal at some of the farthest ends of the house in the upper level. So it seemed like this puny AC1200 dual band Velop node that was placed in the center of the house on the second level (close to the OnQ structured wiring box), was enough to cover the entire house in 5 Ghz band, obviously it would not have any issues putting out the 2.4 Ghz band given it’s nature. So for the modest size of my house with no brick/plaster/steel walls and modest wifi needs, it didn’t seem like I even needed a multi access point based wifi system to spread the 5 Ghz band that is. I know for sure I can get decent 2.4 Ghz even a couple of feet outside the house, which should be ok to even stream Netflix. I still hope some day, if the housing situation or my needs grow, I can justify a system based on the Unifi line of products or the TP Link based Omada EAP access points and fulfill my nerd itch. But I think most people with a typical household with 25–30 devices and a typical 2 story 2500–2800 sq foot modern frame and drywall house will be well served with a decent wave 2 AC1200 or up router or access point. Better would be an AC2200 access point with a 4x4 MIMO, so you can get better range. I may sound blasphemous and eating my own words about consumer grade wifi equipment, but I think a decent consumer grade router would probably have more range than an enterprise grade access point in this case, because obviously different use cases. I am mostly biased towards Qualcomm based routers based on my experience. So I would like to recommend a few underdogs that are reasonably priced (except for the Synology line). Now obviously if someone is a power user, looking to setup VLANs and enhanced security etc., one would already know what features they are looking for.

Linksys EA8300 AC2200 Max-Stream triband router. You can frequently find this router on sale, I am told for as low as $35 in your local Walmart if you are lucky. This is based on a Qualcomm IPQ4019 SOC. Has 2 5 Ghz bands to handle more devices. Almost same hardware as a Velop triband, different form factor minus meshing capabilities with Velop, so cheaper. Although these can work with their extender line. There is also the Linksys MR8300 which is similar, but has meshing capabilities that can work with the Velop line.

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Linksys EA8300/MR8300

The TP Link Archer A6 V2, this is a simple AC1200 Wave 2 router based on Qualcomm QCA9563 SOC, also very low priced $40-$50 range.

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TP Link Archer A6 V2

Or maybe just get a single Linksys Velop dual band (IPQ4018 SOC) or tri band node (IPQ 4019 SOC). If you have a bigger budget, consider Linksys MX5, which supports AX and is a beast 4x4 2.4 Ghz, 4x4 5 Ghz and 2x2 5 Ghz bands and no dedicated backhaul, so all bands are usable (but I had some connectivity issues with my Samsung phones that support AX as well, so had to return it).

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Linksys Velop Tri-band

I will make an exception for the Motorola MR2600 as it seems decent even though it’s based on a Mediatek SOC, because it looks good on paper (1 2x2 5 Ghz and 1 4x4 5 Ghz stream) and who doesn’t like an underdog.

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Motorola MR2600

TP-Link Archer C10 and D-Link DIR-882, both AC2600 same hardware as the Motorola above.

Synology RT2600 and MR2200 are also Qualcomm SOC based, but have sophisticated software on them given their NAS background, which a typical user might not care much about. Also these hardly ever go down in price with the RT2600 in the $190 range and the MR2200 in the $160 range, even though they have been around for a while.

Another few recommendations are a single Goolge wifi/Nest wifi/Eero/TP-Link Deco M5 or M9 node/Netgear Orbi, all these have Qualcomm based chips and they are eye candy as well, like the Linksys Velop line.

A note on using triband mesh based routers as a standalone AP/router

One thing I noticed is that a lot of the tri band mesh nodes: TP Link Deco M9, Netgear Orbi, Synology MR2200 etc. use the second 5Ghz band solely for mesh backhaul and can’t be reassigned for clients, even when using ethernet backhaul or as a single node. Linksys Velop triband is an exception it uses either of the 5 Ghz bands for backhaul depending on which is less congested. Also a good pick is the Google Next wifi that has a single 4x4 5 Ghz MIMO for backhaul and clients, so should have good range. The dedicated 5 Ghz is because, wi-fi meshing is their bread and butter, so they don’t want any clients messing up the second 5 Ghz band and they can solely use it for nodes in a mesh to communicate, sometimes in a wide 4x4 MIMO. So this is essentially a waste of the extra 5 Ghz band if you plan on using them standalone, in which case you are better off with a dual band node or buying a true triband router if you are so inclined. So before you salivate on all the Netgear orbi triband routers on ebay, almost going for $20/$30, understand that the meaty 4x4 5 Ghz triband will be useless.

IT, geek, application developer, tinker, Java, Spring

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