As a happy user of an AirPort Extreme for many years now, the confirmation of the end of life for Apple’s Wi-Fi access points came as a surprise to me. I saw the AirPort as a product range that was very faithful to the company’s ” simply works ” philosophy, which saved me from dealing with network configurations that I always considered too complicated for someone who doesn’t want to worry about that.
Now, after years of thinking about how to replace that AirPort Extreme, I’ve finally turned to Apple’s own solution: the Linksys Velop Mesh Wi-Fi Node . I’ve been using them for over a week now, so I can give my opinion on whether they are worth the extra investment compared to other types of access.
The conditions for deploying a Wi-Fi: very complicated
Here it must be said that each person has very different and perhaps special needs to extend the Wi-Fi signal well in your home, and it must be noted that my case is almost extreme. I live in a flat of only about 30 square meters, which should be more than enough for a simple router to cover all the corners of my house. However, this is not the case.
Let’s explain it with concrete figures: I have a fiber optic connection that officially is 100 Mb symmetrical, but in reality it fluctuates between 200 and 300 Mb. This is what I get with my iMac, connected by Ethernet through a Gigabit ‘Cat6’ cable using the Fast.com test:
However, with an AirPort Express purchased in 2011 and capable of launching an 802.11n Wi-Fi network (now called Wi-Fi 4) at theoretical maximum speeds of 600 Mb, my mobile devices only were receiving maximum speeds of 20 or 30 Mb per second literally inches away from the AirPort Extreme in my living room. In the bathroom the speed was down to 10-15 Mb per second and in the bedroom it was even lower at about 2 or 3 Mb per second. And my bed is literally less than ten meters from the AirPort Extreme.
What causes this? Well, I’ve done a lot of research, asking network experts and even bringing them to my house to check out these speeds. The answers I’ve received are several: there may be many Wi-Fi networks around me and the interference is very high, or the tiles in my bathroom (which is between my living room and my bedroom) may have lead and isolate the signal, or the age of my fridge may cause interference… or it may be a mixture of everything. But the facts were the facts: the Wi-Fi signal in my house was extremely weak in conditions where it shouldn’t be .
Linksys Velop: specifications and features
Each node of the Linksys Velop has two Gigabit Ethernet jacks to connect any device you want or extend the signal through that interface.
Once the situation has been explained, let’s put the technical specifications of the Linksys Velop on the table. It is a set of three nodes (any of them can work as a central access point connected to the router of our Internet provider or as a satellite), and have 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology (now Wi-Fi 5) capable of deploying a tri-band network :
- IEEE 802.11bgn (Wi-Fi 4) at 2.4 GHz with maximum theoretical speeds of up to 400 Mbps
- IEEE 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) at 5 GHz with maximum theoretical speeds of up to 867 Mbps
- Additional 5 GHz IEEE 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) with maximum theoretical speeds of up to 867 Mbps
The network security is WPA2, and the nodes also have Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy to be able to communicate with the iPhone and be configured correctly. There are also two ethernet ports in each piece, in case we want to connect network accessories and to connect the main node to our operator’s router. A quad-core processor at 716 MHz is in charge of executing all positioning operations.
What operations are we talking about? Well, the typical operations of a Wi-Fi network in mesh, in which each of the nodes triangulates the position of the devices and always offers the best possible signal depending on where it is and the quality of the network that can give each node .
Linksys Velop nodes are made of reinforced plastic. This makes them very light, although at the same time they don’t sin of looking like a toy . A top and side ventilation grill ensures that they don’t overheat. Naturally, each of them needs to be connected to the power supply with a plug.
At AppleAirPort Express gains AirPlay 2 support in its latest update
It is worth mentioning that the box with three nodes is optional: you can buy two nodes or only one depending on your needs. Theoretically I would only need one or two at the most, but seeing the very poor signal I get in my house and the expectations of moving to a bigger place in the future I ended up choosing to take all three.
Operation and Performance
The Linksys Velop application allows you to easily install and configure nodes, as well as provide options such as device prioritization not present in the AirPorts. You can manage your network even when you’re away from home.
The configuration of the three Linksys nodes is very simple, and put an end to all the fears I had about routers not depending on Apple’s AirPort Utility . The process is well explained, indicating which cables you have to connect at each step. It even advises you on where to place each node. The Velop app you install on your iPhone tells you when to do something and when to wait patiently.
The Wi-Fi network that is generated is unique, emitted by all three nodes, and we don’t have to do anything at all to ensure that our device receives the best possible signal at all times. That’s what the nodes do. And yes, thanks to that, the signal from my little home is very much improved. Here’s a test done with my iPad Pro first in my dining room and then in my bedroom:
And here’s the same test, but with my iPhone XS first in my dining room and then in my bedroom:
As you can see, in the case of the iPhone there is a significant difference in speed. I attribute it more to the coverage problems at home than to the efficiency of the Velop, and yet I have jumped from 2 MB to 64 (many times I reach 80-90 MB). There’s something that affects my home signal a lot, but it’s clear that the Velop manage to overcome that obstacle decently .
Best of all, you can forget about whether or not you ever have good network quality. If your iPhone is connected to the 2.4GHz band of your Wi-Fi, that’s because the nodes have already tried to connect you to the 5GHz band right where you are, and they consider the 2.4GHz signal to be faster. They’re also looking for the best channel to deploy that Wi-Fi on, and you’ll always connect to the node that suits you best.
In short, these Velop by Linksys are a very obvious improvement of the Apple AirPort Extreme, even losing that native integration that had with iOS and macOS . Their signal is powerful and interference-proof, their configuration is simple and they fit like a glove to your needs no matter how many floors you have.