Linksys has launched a Linux-based “Velop” mesh networking router with Tri-Band WiFi-ac Wave2, up to 2K sq. ft coverage per router, and Alexa voice support.
At CES, Belkin’s Linksys subsidiary has jumped into the hot market for mesh networking routers, which aim to improve WiFi coverage, especially in larger homes. The Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi system joins others in the category including the Eero, Netgear’s Orbi, and Google WiFi.
The Tri-Band Velop sits at the high end of the category, priced at $200, $350 (two-pack), and $500 (three-pack). Several positive reviews that accompanied its launch suggest it’s worth the money for those who need to the most bandwidth possible.
A single Velop (left) and a three pack
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Also at CES, Linksys announced a dual-band, $300 WRT32X Wi-Fi Gaming Router, which also likely runs Linux. The device offers a “Killer Prioritization Engine” quality-of-service (QoS) system to ensure that lag-sensitive traffic like video and VoIP are assigned the highest priority.
The sleek, 7.3 x 3.1-inch tall Velop mini-towers look nothing like earlier Linksys routers, such as the hackable WRT1900ACS and more advanced WRT3200ACM. Like these devices, the Velop runs Linux, and like the WRT3200ACM, it provides the latest Tri-Band 802.11ac Wave 2 compliant MU-MIMO (multiuser multiple input, multiple output) technology for simultaneous WiFi connections to multiple devices. NetGear’s Orbi provides similar Tri-Band technology.
The Velop has a WiFi range of 2,000 square feet per router, with each router delivering a combined speed of up to 2200 Mbps, claims Linksys. As with most mesh routers, there’s no hub and extender configuration. Instead, as with Sonos, each device is both hub and satellite. The router’s six antennas are placed at the top and middle of the unit, with “some pushing signal up and down and others pushing signal left and right,” thereby improving coverage in multi-story homes, says Linksys.
Dynamic channel scanning algorithms decide which of the three bands to use: the single 400Mbps 2.4GHz band or one of the two 867Mbps 5GHz bands. It also determines which channels to tap within each of the bands. The Tri-Band technology operates in multiple mesh configurations without bottlenecking thanks to a static back haul function, in which a single radio is defined for inter-node communication, temporarily limiting its mesh capabilities.
Velop mesh network
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The Velop supports multiple mesh topologies, and can also use an Ethernet connection for inter-node communication to “allow all three radios to communicate with clients and help Wi-Fi reach distant locations, such as the basement or the garage,” says Linksys. During setup, which is eased with a new Linksys mobile app that also works with other modern Linksys routers, a built-in spot-finder feature helps users optimally place each router.
While the recent Linksys routers mentioned above run on dual-core, 1.6GHz Marvell SoCs, the Velop uses an unnamed “first of its kind,” Qualcomm SoC with four low-power Cortex-A7 cores running at 716MHz. The Velop has 512MB DDR3 RAM, 4GB flash, and two auto sensing LAN/WAN GbE ports. A Belkin/Linksys rep tells us that the device runs on a Linux 3.14 kernel, although it’s unclear if it continues to run OpenWrt like the earlier devices. There were no claims for hackability.
Velop bottom and top detail view
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The Velop’s WiFi radios are supported with six antennas, “high power amplifiers,” and WPA2 encryption. A cavity at the base of the unit helps organize power and Ethernet cabling.
Unlike the earlier devices, the Velop also incorporates a Bluetooth 4.0/LE radio. The new Linksys app makes use of Bluetooth for easier and more secure setup. “When the user customizes the network name to their liking the app maintains a connection to Velop and does not force the user to exit the app and change Wi-Fi settings on the mobile device,” says Linksys. The app provides access to WiFi name and password, guest access, parental controls, and device prioritization.
The Velop also works with Amazon’s Alexa voice activated digital assistant, giving you the rough equivalent of the voice support provided by an Amazon Echo speaker, or if you prefer a Google voice agent, a Google Home speaker. The Alexa system will initially support turning guest access on and off, obtaining the guest WiFi name and password, and getting the main network credentials. However, much more interaction should be possible in the future, potentially including home automation functionality.
Soon, perhaps, someone will launch a router, speaker system, voice assistant, and home automation hub all within a single mesh networked, multi-device system, thereby reducing device clutter and providing a single point of security protection and access. An open source product along these lines would be even more compelling. We’re not quite there yet, partially due to price sensitivities, but the Velop suggests some interesting possibilities.
The Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi is available for pre-order at $200 (1x), $350 (2x), or $500 (3x), at Amazon, Best Buy.com, and Linksys.com. Shipments and retail purchases start Jan. 15 at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Fry’s, Newegg, Microcenter, Staples, and Linksys.com. More information may be found at the Linksys Velop product page and Velop announcement.