A few years ago while at CES, I found a new technology in home WIFI systems that looked to be very promising. The biggest curse with WIFI is that unless you are pretty close to the router or access point, your wireless internet connection could be quite spotty. The good news about WIFI receivers; the devices in your laptop, smartphone, tablet, or desktop that receive the WIFI signal, is that they actually do a decent job of picking up the weak signals and because of the way they send and receive packets, you sometimes never know when you really have a bad signal. If for instance, you are just reading and sending email, you may never know that the packets had to be resent several times because of the weak signal. The game changes when you are watching videos whether it be from a newscast, YouTube, or any other streaming service, it really shows when the signal is not very good. That new technology I found was the Mesh WIFI network which uses a whole different technology to pass the signal between devices and give you the end user, a much better signal and stream of data.
Tom’s Guide does a very nice job of explaining what a Mesh Network is and how it works. So the one I got at the time was from Linksys called the Velop Mesh Network. It was easy to install, easy to manage, and easy to use and it actually improved our in-home WIFI connection quite a bit. You manage it all from the Linksys app on your smartphone. In fact, I am seeing many more home electronic devices all managed from apps on your smartphone so if you are still cruising along with none or an old flip phone, it is time to upgrade.
Our problem is that we still run into snags. On one device or another, suddenly the WIFI goes dead I take a look at the Velop units and they are all blue showing operating properly but the signal is not connected. A few seconds later, we are good to go again so I began to wonder if it might be the cable signal. The perfect test of that, I hope, was to switch to AT&T fiber optic but still the outages continued. I checked the devices, and the firmware was up to date and showed no outages so we continued to wonder.
So, while searching for that holy grail of uninterrupted WIFI service at CES, I came across EnGenius. They are a company that handles a lot of different wireless products and technologies for businesses. What they also have is a new wireless Mesh technology for the home. The first thing that peaked my interest was the support for the newer faster AC internet speeds across all their devices. So, what has recently arrived is two Model ESR530 home units. I got the two pack that retails for $129 and I am really curious to see if the two units can easily replace the three Velop units I currently use.
The packaging is simple and basic enclosed in recyclable cardboard; no plastic. The unit which is only 5 inches in diameter, the AC power cable, a very short Cat5e ethernet cable (20 inches), and a bag of screws and brackets for wall mounting. The first thing you do is to download the EnMesh App for your Android or iPhone. The first thing I needed was a much longer Ethernet cable.
Next, like the Linksys Velop, you download to your smartphone the EnMesh app. According to the Playstore, it has at this time 14 reviews but only 3.8 stars. The one page instruction sheet with the unit leaves a lot to be desired. It has you download the app but then the app wants the device connected before it can sign you in. I think a “Start Here” page would have been better so you start with the Wizard on the phone first, it will then use the app to scan the bar code to connect to the device and if your phone is not quite cooperating, you can go through the manual process. What happens is that you connect to a temp network on the device to allow it to connect to your network. I think this is where the phone got in the way as I think it disconnected me from the before the temp network allowed me to connect to the real network and set up my new WIFI mesh. The manual process solved that problem. The app is simple enough to change the newly created WIFI to a new name and password and you can change advanced settings like the channel and bandwidth used. There is also a guest network you can activate if you like. You can also see the bandwidth speed for both up and downloads and the current status of each of the units in the mesh network. Very clean and easy to understand. You can also set up parental controls so the system is rich in features.
Connecting the second mesh unit is pretty straight forward. Only catch here is that you need to make the first connection within 10 feet (3 meters) of the main unit for it to properly setup. Once it is connected, you can then rename it and move it to a different location and the app has indicators as to how well it is connecting so it maintains a good signal strength and connection with the main unit.
The app will also tell you the devices connected to it and as you add devices to your network from home security to appliances to entertainment, the list can get quite extensive and that gives you more information to manage the network. In fact, while the two units came in the same package, one needed a firmware upgrade and again, the app is a good place to find all that information.
I do like the easy way it tells you if you have your second unit too far away from the main unit and that gives me more confidence in the stability of the network. This way when you start to adjust the units for optimum coverage of your home, you can easily see how it is working.
At this point, I have the main unit in my office upstairs and the second unit in the dining room downstairs and they do cover the entire house but with a lower signal in the far reaches. I put a Chromecast unit in service on the WIFI and watched a ball game with no interruptions at all so that is good news. I am migrating other devices over to it to see how well it keeps up the service and so far, it is excellent.
In evaluating the units for my home/office, it appears that three units is what will be needed to keep a very strong signal in all parts of the building. In today’s connected home, you will be finding need for WIFI in every room from the attic to the cellar and garage as more and more devices invade our homes. I know that you can get buy with a weaker signal depending on what you are doing but, in an age, where immediate information is needed, the stronger the signal the better. My examples would be including the Ring doorbell which with the older WIFI system would be spotty at times. But now we have devices that monitor water in the cellar, freezer condition, batteries for smoke detectors, garage door openers, and of course alarm systems. All needing WIFI. Not to mention guests and family that constantly stream videos.
To test the signal, I have an app on my phone from Netgear called WIFI Analytics. So to give it a good (as I can get) test, I went to the four corners of my small property and see how the signal is and I can immediately tell that the signal from the three Linksys units covers a wider area but only time will really tell how good that signal really is. From the testing I have done so far inside the home with streaming, Chromecast, and the seemingly thousands of software updates that four Windows computers is doing, it seems like it is working very well.
Unfortunately, my installation connection problems were probably caused by my cell phone but EnGenius does not have a direct phone number for tech support nor an online chat feature which is what I think a consumer products company needs to have. I didn’t mind waiting the week while they got back to me after submitting the support request as I had another network going but this could be a pain for someone starting out. In fact, I submitted an email request and was told to log into the site to create a support ticket. That slowed things up even more. It would have been interesting to try out the setup using an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.
Having used the system for the past two weeks has worked out very well. I have been doing the usual data access, updating the laptop, streaming video with Chromecast, and my daughter has been watching a bunch of YouTube videos all without any snags or hitches. This looks great. And this is all with just two units but I think I will get the third unit to spread the strong signal to the far reaches of the home and office. Right now, I like what I have and it works great.