One of the biggest issues people have with home wireless networking is range. There is always a part of your house that is weak or just totally useless because your router is too far away or there are too many walls or appliances in the way. TP-Link has come out with their Deco line of routers that are designed to address this pain point as well as a few others.
TP-Link sent me the M5 Whole Home System to review which can cover an approximately 4500 sqft home. I have a three level townhouse (about 2000 sqft) that has had a couple of dead zones which I tried to address by adding a secondary router in a more central location which further complicates my home network by having multiple network nodes.
The Deco basically looks like and is the same size as a typical smoke detector. The nice thing about this setup is that you only need to have one wired (by ethernet cable) to your internet modem. The other units can be placed anywhere in the house and just need a power outlet using the included USB-C power adapters. This makes it really easy to put one on each floor of my house and they all wirelessly talk to each other. They can be put anywhere you have power and can be hidden just about anywhere in your house although there is no wall mount, so you’ll have to place it on a flat surface.
If that was the end of the story, it would be fine but it’s not. TP-Link also tried to really make the process of setting up, configuring and even remotely managing the Deco much easier than most other routers out there.
The companion Deco app is very simple and basic…which is a welcome change compared to most router configuration pages.
You start with one Deco connected to configure things and then add more via the app which even gives suggestions about where to place them.
When you launch the app (after initial configuration), you get an overview of your network that shows the number of Decos online, a speed test result and the number of connected devices. When a device connects to the Deco network, you get a notification and have the ability to block access if you’d like. You can also set that device’s priority on the network, label it (it does a pretty good job at identifying devices) and set any parental controls. You’re also to view a specific device’s bandwidth usage in real time remotely in the simple interface.
Using the parental controls, you can also pause the internet across all devices…say when it’s dinner time and you want everyone at the table. During my press briefing, I suggested it would be even better if you could push a custom message to the network connected devices from the app (like “Dinner’s ready!”)…it’s not a feature yet but you heard it here first when it does become one.
Another benefit of the Deco system is that it comes with three years of free Trend Micro anti-virus and malware protection at the router level. This means that Trend Micro maintains a list of bad websites and viruses that gets pushed down automatically to the router protecting the network before these can get to the devices.
I’m not sure it completely removes the need to have anti-virus at the device level (on your laptop for example) because I didn’t confirm it’s effectiveness in different email applications but it certainly seems to work with websites. This is the message you get if you try to visit a site that has been flagged:
This particular website was blocked but there is no way to unblock it (from the browser page you’re using while you’re attempting to visit it)…it would be a nice option to have a warning that you could override (maybe with an admin password) like Chrome’s malicious site option rather than having to turn off the feature in the app. I’m not sure how the process works to get Trend Micro to unflag a site as safe but I suspect it doesn’t happen quickly or immediately. Within the Deco app, there is a log of any blockages that lists the device (and MAC address), the blocked site and the classification of that site (the reason it’s blocked).
If you have family or friends outside your home that you regularly have to help them ‘fix their internet’ the Deco app lets you add additional units to manage as well and basically makes you a remote admin for their devices, all within the same app. Although the simplicity of the system might make it much easier to set up those friends or family with a Deco and not have to help them.
Overall I’ve been really happy with the performance of the Deco units over the past few weeks of use. I no longer have any wifi dead zones in my house and have full bars in all the places that used to be very weak. The App based notifications are great. The Deco is not an inexpensive system. The suggested retail price for 3 pods is $449 Cdn (individual pods will be $179.99 Cdn) but if you’re looking for dead easy setup and excellent coverage throughout your house, it may just be worth the extra cost…especially if you’re already paying for super fast internet like I am.