WWith wifi more important than ever to keeping your home work and online entertainment up and running, maybe it’s time to banish those irritating “no-spots” and get your broadband running all over your home with an update. router level.
Now that most new devices, from laptops and phones to televisions and streaming boxes, support wifi 6, I’ve tested several of the latest mid-range “mesh” routers to see which ones do. work.
These mesh systems work by replacing your current wifi. One of the units connects via cable to your current internet service provider (ISP) router, then connects wirelessly to other units spread around your house to cover it with strong wifi.
Double or tri-band?
There are two main types of mesh routers. Cheaper “dual band” systems connect to each other using the same frequencies they use for your phones, computers, and other devices.
In testing, dual band wifi 6 mesh systems provided good coverage, but did not significantly increase whole-house speeds compared to older, cheaper wifi 5 equivalents. I would recommend spending less on the old wifi 5 kit rather than the newer dual band wifi 6 systems if your broadband speed is below 200Mbps.
The more expensive “tri-band” systems connect to each other using a separate wifi frequency band from those they use to connect your devices to the Internet, and they can deliver significantly faster speeds throughout the home. .
If your broadband speed is over 200 Mbps, here are three of the best 6 tri-band wifi mesh systems available. Each has been tested with a high speed of 400 Mbps with more than 50 connected devices, including an Apple MacBook Air, an iPhone 13 Pro and a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with wifi 6, and a Microsoft Xbox Series X tablet and Amazon Fire HD. 10 Plus with wifi 5, each used for testing speed and range.
Great for speed and coverage
Linksys Velop MX4200
Recommended price: £ 399 – deals £ 300- £ 350 (two-pack)
The Linksys Velop’s tall white towers do two things better than any other tested: high signal strength over a long range and high speed from each satellite.
The mid-range MX4200 version with three nodes completely covered the house and provided a reliable signal about 25 meters from the house at the end of the garden – which none of the others succeeded.
Everything remained stable under high load, with multiple devices streaming and downloading simultaneously, while speed and latency were consistent throughout the house. WiFi 6 speeds matched those using Ethernet on the main unit, and ping times were kept below 12ms – only 3ms slower than over cable – and dropped by just a few megabits at the ends of the the house, which was extremely impressive. The speeds of the wifi 5 devices were equally good, consistently staying within 100 Mbps of the wifi 6 devices throughout the house.
The Linksys Wifi app on a phone manages the system setup and can then be used to remotely manage your network while you are away. The app is a bit slow and does not display the wifi version or the speed of connected devices. More advanced settings also require accessing the system’s web interface through a browser.
Each unit is identical, with three gigabit Ethernet sockets and a USB3.0 port in addition to the socket for your ISP’s router.
Velop covers most of the features that are table stakes for routers including guest access option, port forwarding, speed tests, firewalls, automatic updates, device prioritization or video calls for slower connections and other bits. However, it doesn’t have a built-in VPN to connect to your home network while you are away.
Parental controls allow you to suspend Internet access manually or according to a schedule and to block specific sites device by device. Velop is also Apple HomeKit compatible for enhanced security of some smart home devices.
Netgear Orbi RBK753
Recommended price: £ 629.99 – deals £ 450- £ 550 (three-pack)
Netgear’s mid-range Orbi system came in just behind the Linksys, delivering super fast 6 wifi speeds and low main unit latency, with slightly slower speeds at the ends of the house. Its wifi 5 performance was slightly lower than the Linksys, while its range was shorter, failing to provide a usable connection at the end of the garden. He also struggled to get the signal through the concrete block walls.
The main unit has three gigabit Ethernet ports and a jack for your modem, while the satellite units only have two Ethernet ports. The network remained stable under heavy use, but struggled to migrate laptops between Orbi units as they moved between rooms, requiring manual wifi disconnection and reconnection to get the best connection.
The Orbi app was straightforward to set up the system. It has a few more features than the Velop, like a network map of your connected devices, but it’s slow and lacks information about the wifi version and speed of each device.
The browser-based web interface has advanced settings, including a built-in VPN, which allows you to connect to your home network remotely – convenient both for privacy when using public wifi and for using devices such as smart CCTV cameras when you are away.
Basic parental controls include manually pausing the internet and blocking certain sites, but for more options Netgear charges £ 6.99 per month for ‘smart parental controls’, which includes time limits, planning, website history and device usage tracking, content filters and a few other bits.
Standard firewall security is free, but Netgear also sells an annual ‘Armor’ subscription for £ 85, which is a proactive security solution from cybersecurity company Bitdefender that helps stop viruses and other threats. I found this irritating, flagging my attempts to configure smart speakers and other devices as threats and blocking them.
Eero 6 Pro
Recommended price: £ 599 – offers from £ 419 (three-pack)
Amazon’s Eero 6 Pro is one of the easiest tri-band wifi 6 mesh systems to set up, with the ability to log in with an Amazon account.
But wifi 6 speeds were the slowest in the group test, dropping 10% from Ethernet use on the main unit and drastically dropping when connecting to ends of the house. The performance of Wifi 5 was also disappointing in comparison. Each unit is the same, but they each only have two gigabit Ethernet ports, one of which must be used to connect to your modem on the main unit.
The coverage inside the house was good, but the Eero struggled with the concrete block walls and had a much shorter range in the garden compared to the others. I also had annoying issues with Sonos speakers and a Sky Q decoder which required replacing a faulty Eero and software updates to fix. The Eero system also caused interference to the Xbox wireless audio through headphones connected to the joypad.
There is no advanced interface to control the Eero, but the app is best for the basics. This includes the ability to group connected devices into “profiles” so that you can pause the internet manually or on a per profile schedule and see how much bandwidth they are using.
But parental controls – some of the best in the industry – to filter content, sites and services require the Eero Secure subscription of £ 2.99 per month, which also includes historical data usage, blocking of viruses and ads, and a few other things.
The Eero also includes a built-in Zigbee smart home hub for connecting select devices directly to Amazon’s Alexa, without a third-party hub, and supports the upcoming smart home standard Thread.