Wi-Fi mesh router system is the new way of offering improved coverage in Singapore homes, no thanks to our thick solid wall partitions. I have tested several mesh systems and they generally work better than a single powerful router.
In a nutshell, mesh Wi-Fi systems consist of setting up multiple small wireless nodes around the home so that the primary node can transmit data to the nodes which then amplify the signal to the surrounding. If there are other nodes nearby, they will again receive the signal and re-amplify again. It works just like repeaters except the nodes are designed to talk to one another more coherently and the user uses a single network name (SSID) over the entire area. In contrast, repeaters act as independent network points and use separate network names.
Not to be left behind, D-Link comes out with their own version of a “whole home Wi-Fi System”. It is not the usual nodes that are small and limited in connectivity. The COVR (COVR-3902) is made up of one standard router COVR-2600R and an extender COVR-1300E. The primary router is dual band, supports 4X4 MU-MIMO (sends and receives data to and from multiple devices simultaneously) and delivers up to 2533Mbps (1733Mbps on 5GHz, 800Mbps on 2.4GHz). It comes complete with 4 Gigabit LAN ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, 4 antennas.
The 2X2 MU-MIMO extender can support up to 1267Mbps (867Mbps on 5GHz, 400Mbps on 2.4GHz), with 2 Gigabit LAN ports and 2 internal antennas. There is no USB port, unlike the Aztech AIR-706P which uses identical routers for all the repeating units.
Note that the AC adapters for both items are different, but is clearly labelled on the wire.
It seems to take a little longer time to set up the router and repeater for the first time compared to the mesh routers I have reviewed. You can do it either from the usual web interface or via the D-Link Wi-Fi smartphone app which is recommended for novice.
All mesh routers require auto-band management so that the system can assign the band to devices automatically when they move from one node to another. That is a small drawback for people who knows the advantage of connecting to 5GHz. While it supports higher bandwidth, for normal browsing and video watching, the 2.4GHz actually suffices. The bandwidth might not be super fast, but you will not get any buffer issues. When testing the speed of the D-Link COVR, I made sure the device is connected to the 5GHz band. On the whole, I am getting very healthy speeds, hitting 380Mbps (actual average daily speed 200Mbps) when connected to the main router, and about 220Mbps (actual average daily speed 100Mbps) when connected to the repeater. I separately added the D-Link DAP-1720 wireless extender from my study room to the D-Link COVR so that my desktop can be connected via LAN. On my desktop, I managed to blaze through 570Mbps! This shows the potential of D-Link COVR.
Managing the router configuration is like any standard D-Link routers, via the web interface, unlike most other mesh routers that have dedicated apps that makes setup easier but with less advanced management. Through the web interface, I can clearly observe which devices are connected to the router and the repeater.
When logging into the repeater web UI, there is only one screen without any other settings to control. Clearly, every other network settings have to be done from the main router’s web interface.
The D-Link COVR supports most of the advanced networking settings, which I will not go into details. You can study the specs on the product website. You can connect a USB storage device and it can work as a media server or network storage. It supports QoS to assign priority of the connected devices. There is also a page to study the real-time network traffic stats on all the access points (routers and repeaters). You can also set up guest Wi-Fi.
How reliable is the connectivity? I felt that while the coverage is good, the D-Link COVR is not as seamless as the other wireless mesh systems I have reviewed. There are noticeable occasional Wi-Fi issues, though less hiccups than the Aztech AIR-706P. I have to add that the experience have a lot of uncontrollable factors, including the devices I tested with, the ISP performance, and radio interference. To add, none of my family members have approached me to complain of problems with COVR throughout the review period.
It seems to suggest that hybrid mesh system like the D-Link COVR is a small compromise in allowing a more advanced home networking system at the expense of ease of use. Given the COVR main router is more powerful than the COVR repeater, the repeater can be located slightly further away than the usual mesh routers. The other features I miss on mesh systems are: parental control, usage stats per device or user, and remote access monitoring.
The D-Link COVR whole home Wi-Fi system is designed for conventional home networking owners who want to improve their home coverage without radically changing to a mesh node system that has limited LAN ports. It definitely works better than installing separate wireless repeater which requires manual switching of network names (SSID). While it lacks the user-friendly app UI to manage the network, it offers powerful networking tools that are familiar to standard router users. D-Link COVR retails at S$399 at good electronic stores in Singapore or online stores like Hachi.Tech.
Official product website: http://www.dlink.com.sg/product/ac3900-whole-home-wi-fi-mesh-system/