After my first wireless mesh review, Aztech AIR-706P, I received another new wireless mesh for my testing. Launched in July 2017 in Singapore, ASUS Lyra is a good representation of most wireless mesh products: a retail package of 3 units in non-conventional, attractively small design without external antennas.
Why Mesh Routers?
The main advantage of using mesh nodes instead of traditional standalone router is getting the best coverage using a single network name. By strategically planting the individual nodes, the Wi-Fi signal will be passed from one node to the other. It uses similar logic as wireless extender to repeat the signal but the handover among the mesh nodes are more effective than router-extender setup, which in most cases do not handover the device to the nearest access point. The disadvantage is that mesh node units are less powerful than the premium routers that offer many advanced network management features that some consumers might need to run their home network. If you are a casual home owner and faces normal network coverage issues, then mesh products like ASUS Lyra or Google Wifi might work better. If you have some special requirements, then current mesh products might still have limitations.
I was about to take down my current D-Link DIR-895L wireless router when I realised the ASUS Lyra mesh unit only comes with 2 Ethernet ports. That was insufficient as I needed to plug in 2 LAN devices. Fortunately, ASUS Lyra can be plugged to an existing router, and since the size is not that bulky, I left my existing router alone.
There are no indication on which Ethernet port is for WAN and which is for LAN. Lyra is smart enough to detect which port you use for WAN, hence the other one would become the LAN. To switch the port, you have to reboot the unit to re-discover the ports (on the other mesh nodes, both Ethernet port acts as LAN).
Using the ASUS Lyra smartphone app is the easiest way to set up the mesh network. Just follow the on-screen wizard to guide you through the process. As you venture in the house to place the subsequent Lyra units, the on-screen app cleverly displays the connection level (Great/Good/Poor/etc.) to give indication on the location quality.
One of my review units had been used before, hence the LED colour indicator on the mesh shows red after booting up (a clean unit would show white). I was glad that the reset button located below the unit does not require me to find a pin to poke into.
UI and Features
I like the features presented on the Lyra app, giving me sufficient insights for someone of intermediate skill level in networking to explore and manage the devices connected to the mesh. The drawback is that I cannot manage the Lyra network unless the app is connected to the home network, unlike Google Wifi which you can access outside the home network. (edit: it appears to be possible based on the Lyra FAQ. Odd why it didn’t work during my review.)
ASUS Lyra incorporates ASUS AiProtection powered by Trend Micro Smart Home Network and comes with lifetime updates. It protects devices from network intrusion due to “dumb” IoT devices such as IP cameras or smart-home devices. AiProtection will block data from sending to malicious servers.
The app captures how Lyra is connected to one another, the network path, bandwidth level, number of devices attached to each mesh unit. Notice the number of lines connecting each access point indicates the bandwidth level.
Real-time Traffic Monitoring
The app shows the list of devices connected to the mesh network, and amount of traffic for each device. Hence at a glance, I know which devices are hogging the bandwidth. Drill into each device and I can set bandwidth limiter or even block the device. When device is blocked, the message appearing on the device screen does not look user friendly. I also hoped for a more stealthy block instead of showing that the device usage is blocked on purpose.
I can attach each device to family members. From here, I can control their access across all the attached devices at the same time instead of managing one by one. For instance, I can restrict bandwidth amount, content type, and periods of the day, for each family member.
I can also view a summary of their usage statistics and the type of content they access to.
The UI lets you manage traffic priority by type of content, like gaming, media streaming, messaging, file transfer, web surfing.
ASUS Lyra also supports creating guest network for guests to access internet while restricting local network access.
The LED on the Lyra indicates the status of the nodes. It lights up the top of the units and offers good visibility of the status. It might look too glaring in a dimly-lit room, but fortunately, the LED can be turned off.
Adding More Nodes
I placed the second Lyra in my master bedroom and the third Lyra in my daughter’s room, which has the worst connectivity among the rooms. The placement of the third unit is at a very poor position with no line of sight. The Network Map took a while to display the map of all the Lyra units, even though the setup for each unit was completed, so I would advise patience and wait a few minutes for all the Lyra units to communicate to one another.
It was mentioned on the Lyra guide that each Lyra contains 7 antennas, 4 of which are used to connect among the mesh units. During the startup sequence, the units would detect the 2 best antennas to utilise, and use them exclusively for the backbone communication. Hence, if you intend to reposition the units, it is recommended to reboot the units for best results. ASUS shares that Lyra can officially support up to 5 nodes, but there is no technical limitations to connect more nodes.
The ASUS Lyra has triple band – 2 x 5GHz AC band at 866MHz and one 2.4GHz N band delivering 400Mbps, with a total bandwidth of 2200MHz. But one of the 5GHz is used for communicating among the nodes, and each connected device can only connect to one band at a time, therefore every device can reach up to 866MHz. The Aztech AIR-706P delivers 1600MHz over its single 5GHz and 300Mbps over the 2.4GHz, while Google Wifi offers 1200 Mbps between the 2 bands, the lowest among the 3 mesh products.
Compared to the Aztech AIR-706P, the ASUS Lyra delivers lower bandwidth in general, but it achieves better consistency. The average speed test result is about 170Mbps. Throughout my review, I do not experience any significant issues when using ASUS Lyra. The device connectivity is good, which is more important than bandwidth. Anything above 50Mbps is good enough for 4K video streaming and website browsing. The ASUS Lyra is effective in expanding the home Wi-Fi network all the way to my master bedroom toilet, where even the best routers will be unreacheable.
Ultimately, the throughput depends on how the mesh nodes are connected, as can be seen in the screen captures that show Lyra might change the network path among the nodes.
The ASUS Lyra is very user friendly and poses no problems during my review period. It offers excellent on-screen guides and information to help me manage the devices. It shows me how the nodes are connected to one another and which devices are connected to the respective nodes. There are features to monitor traffic on each family member and restrict usage. The app offers insight to my family members’ usage behaviour previously not possible with traditional routers. The trade-off is a slower network speed compared to my previous router-extender setup, but one that requires meticulous network optimisation which might not be ideal for most consumers.
ASUS Lyra retails at S$659 for a pack of 3 nodes and comes with 3 years local warranty. Search online for some good deals like Lazada, as low as S$569.