There are a lot of reasons to be frustrated with routers, and hands down one of the biggest is that the range is too small — I can commiserate with anyone who’s ever been stuck with the bedroom that only gets two bars. Lately, we’ve seen mesh network routers like Eero, Luma, and Almond3 — routers can often be purchased in pairs or packs of three, and can be set up strategically in the home to create a mesh network that covers the whole house with Wi-Fi.
The problem with those? Functionally, they aren’t that much different from range extenders, and those have been around for ages. Internet traffic that needs to be bounced from one router to the next gets slowed down by all the traffic coming directly into that router — if the house has a lot of people using a lot of gadgets, plus a lot of smart home devices, it’s a real problem. In August of last year, Netgear broke away from the pack with Orbi, a tri-band router — by putting communication between routers on a separate Wi-Fi band, that bottlenecking problem was alleviated. Problem there? A pair costs $400! Fortunately, Netgear finally has some competition.
Who else would step up but Belkin-owned Linksys, the other company practically synonymous with routers? They’re coming to CES 2017 with Velop, a tri-band mesh network router system. Velop works the same way Orbi does — a dedicated channel for traffic between routers leaves the other channels clear for traffic coming from your devices and smart home gadgets.
Usually, we see dual-band routers — that refers to the 2.4 GHz band and the 5.0 GHz band. The former is slower, but has longer range, while the latter is much faster, but only has a range of a room or two. If you’ve ever bought a router and wondered why two networks showed up, that’s why — and that’s another problem. With a lot of dual-band routers, it’s on you to manually switch networks when you get a little too far out of range of the 5.0 GHz network. Mesh network routers like Velop and Orbi are a little smarter — you’ll only have one network to connect to, even if you use two or three routers in the home. After setting up the network using an app, the network will automatically move devices between those two bands to optimize traffic. In other words, the router itself is working to make sure you’re always getting the fastest possible internet speeds. Better yet, the routers can even detect slower traffic (from an older device or from simple tasks like web browsing) and keep it in the slow 2.4 GHz lane, keeping the fast lane free for streaming video and gaming.
Velop also supports 802.11ac, the fastest home Wi-Fi standard currently available. That means Velop won’t be the limiting factor in your home’s internet — if your connection is slow, you can safely go back to blaming your service provider.
Linksys has also added Alexa support, but one of these towers won’t be an Alexa unit. Instead, you’ll be able to make permissions to allow others to use your home Wi-Fi network, if you’re big on getting into the security features of your router.
If the prospect of setting up multiple routers sounds daunting, don’t worry — like Netgear, Linksys has made it very easy. Using the companion app, you’ll be able to see exactly where to place your routers around the home to make sure that the routers have a stable connection, but also cover the whole home in Wi-Fi. And, that’s about it — just start connecting devices to the Linksys network, and don’t think about it anymore. Good thing, because if you’re thinking about routers a lot, something has gone very, very wrong.
Linksys Velop and Netgear Orbi are both great options that provide fast Wi-Fi and coverage to the entire home with simple setup. But, Linksys has the advantage for now. While two Orbi units still sell for $400, a two-pack of Velop is launching today at $350. A single unit costs $200, while a three-pack goes for $500.