If you’re in the market for a simple way to cover a large space with reliable WiFi — and would like a few useful, extra features built-in to boot — the TP-Link Deco M5 is an excellent option. It’s not cheap, at $299 MSRP, but it’s still comparable with other systems and stacks up favorably.
As far as testing: My house is pretty much designed to give routers nightmares. It was built in the 1930s, has three levels (basement and upstairs), and is notoriously fickle about letting WiFi evenly spread across every floor. I’ve used mid-size routers dropped on the main floor in the center of the house up to this point, which was adequate, but not all that reliable once you got to the corners in the upstairs or downstairs. If you went a few steps outside the house, it was pretty much useless. So, testing out the Deco system provided a good test case for before-and-after.
The Deco M5 arrives in a package with three stylish, white units that look a bit like the saucer of a UFO. In a good way. They look good on a shelf, and much nicer than what you’d typically think of as a router. They’ve built the setup process around a smartphone app, so if you’ve ever set up a Nest product, you know what you’re in for. If not, the directions are simple enough that even the not-so tech savvy should be able to follow them.
Hook one of the three nodes up to your modem, open the app on your smartphone, and it should kick in and walk you through the directions. Though, I should note I did run into a snafu during setup — the system wouldn’t recognize it was connected to the internet for some reason — but a quick restart remedied that, and the rest of the setup process was smooth sailing. The directions make the setup process a breeze, and again, even a layman should have minimal problems getting their network up and running in just a few minutes.
Once the first unit is up and running, just follow the directions to connect the other units around your house, and voila, the mesh network should be bathing your house in reachable WiFi. For me, I headed to each separate level of the house. I kept the main node in the center of the first floor, connected to the router, then dropped one in the center of the basement, and on a shelf upstairs. They all connected without a hitch, and were online in a matter of minutes. If three units aren’t enough to cover your home, TP-Link is selling single pack Deco M5 units for $129 to extend the range of your mesh network, if needed. Three units should cover most larger homes, but if you have an exceedingly large space, a few extras could come in handy.
For most users, the entire setup process should take less than a half an hour, and with no hiccups, closer to around 15-20 minutes. Not bad for a system that is, below the surface, fairly complicated and feature-rich.
I have internet devices pretty much everywhere, from the smart TV and laptops on the first floor, to the Roku upstairs, and the PS4 and videogames in the basement. So, a good signal is important to make sure they can all stay connected with consistent speed. The Deco handled that, and then some. I walked around every room, up to the walls, testing the signal on my phone — and it stayed at full signal throughout, no matter where I roamed. Every device also showed a full signal, including those that had been a bar or two lower on the old router.
Even better? The mesh network actually managed to extend my coverage outside, despite the thick, brick walls separating the signal from the outdoors. I wandered the yard streaming on an iPad and phone connected to the WiFi, and made it 30-40 feet away before the signal started to get spotty. Grilling out with some friends, I put it to the real test: My son fell asleep, so I put him down in his crib upstairs under the watchful eye of a Nest Cam. Fired it up on my iPad, and carried it outside — and the Deco worked like a charm. I was able to stay connected from across the yard (around 30+ feet from the house), with no stuttering, and kept an eye on the kiddo while snacking on ribs and veggies. As far as real world connection execution, the Deco nailed it.
Outside of providing stable, mesh internet coverage, the Deco also comes with some useful features bundled in the mobile app. Which, it’s worth noting there’s no web-based backend. You manage the Deco from the app. Which could be an adjustment for some people, especially those used to tinkering with their network from a computer browser. But, during my testing period, the app was arguably a better user experience in the long run. It’s simple, fast and easy to use. It might take a bit of getting used to, sure, but it still works great.
The Deco M5 comes with built-in antivirus and malware protection, which his provided by Trend Micro. It’s all painless to activate and set up, and can provide coverage across your entire network, including devices outside of the usual laptop or desktop. The security system also includes an SPI firewall, and remote control of the network via the app.
The system also includes a suite of parental controls that are arguably worth the price of admission alone for parents. The settings allow you to establish different profiles, manage and monitor access, and the amount of time a profile is using the internet. It also generates monthly usage reports to make it easy to know what’s happening on your network, which devices are connected and what’s using data. Best of all, it’s all relatively easy to digest and parse from within the app.
As for the tech specs, the Deco M5 runs off a quad-core processor, uses a dual-band AC1300 system capable of throughput speeds of 400 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 867Mbps on the 5GHz band. It also supports MU-MIMO data streaming. The three-unit set-up is designed to cover a space up to 4,500 square feet, which can obviously be expanded with additional units (the system can support up-to 10 units on one network). It also uses TP-Link’s Adaptive Routing Technology (ART), which is designed to recognize the fastest path for each device.
The TP-Link Deco M5 three-pack system is available now for a MSRP of $299.