Nokia WiFi Beacon 1 makes its debut in Singapore through a partnership with StarHub, called Smart WiFi. Nokia consumer routers are unheard of in this country and readers may be wondering if Nokia routers are any good. I’m pleased that the overall experience is more positive than some of the established home networking brands I’ve reviewed over the years. The Beacon 1 has a retail price of S$199. StarHub 1Gbps Broadband Plans with 24-month contract comes with one unit free, while the 2Gbps plans and HomeHub plans come with two units included in the subscription. Additional units can be purchased at S$120 or S$5 per month over 24 months.
Why Mesh Router
Mesh routers definitely performs better than a single-unit wireless router by extending coverage across the house instead of transmitting WiFi signal from a single source, unless your apartment layout is such that the router is in the centre and can reach to all parts of the house equally. Even so, the doors should be open so that the signal will not be blocked.
I definitely recommend that you switch to mesh router, even though the specs may not be as high as traditional router, they are more stable when your devices are further away from the main router.
The Nokia Beacon 1 supports hybrid backhaul, meaning it will auto-switch between wireless extender mode and direct Ethernet cable. Wired backhaul is even better because the data will transfer through cables to each mesh unit instead of through wireless. If your home has Ethernet ports in all your rooms, the Beacon 1 will definitely deliver better experience. For my review, I am using wireless backhaul as I do not have Ethernet ports in my rooms.
Unboxing and Setting Up
The Nokia Beacon 1 comes sealed but upon opening, the protective cover of the Beacon 1 unit is loose. The StarHub Product Manager informed me that they tested the first batch to make sure all are in working condition, so rest assured these are not refurbished units. There was also no custom firmware installed, so the units can be used with any service provider, though I’m not sure if there are any peculiar setup by other broadband providers which causes compatibility issues. For instance, Google WiFi could not work with SingTel Broadband due to VLAN tagging.
Setting up takes about 10 minutes, just install Nokia WiFi smartphone app and follow the on-screen instructions. If your smartphone comes with intelligent WiFi feature (which will switch from WiFi to mobile data automatically when no Internet traffic is detected), please disable it because the smartphone must connect to the Beason 1’s node directly to configure. One way is to disable mobile data before starting the setup, or if you find the setup is not progressing at the Beacon detection stage, manually reconnect to the Nokia Beacon 1’s Wi-Fi network.
During my setup process, I registered a new Nokia WiFi account, which required me to check my email to verify before I could proceed. With this Nokia WiFi account, I should be able to monitor my Nokia Beacon 1 network from anywhere outside the home network using Nokia WiFi app. After the mesh setup is completed, then the app gave you an option to rename the Wi-Fi network name (SSID) and password, which I highly recommend you do that as these are factory defaulted values.
Setting up subsequent units are more straightforward. Just go to the side menu and select “Add Beacon”.
The Beacon 1 comes with separate WAN and LAN port that are not interchangeable, unlike many other mesh products. This is a disappointing feature and I hope Nokia can change this in future firmware. Because of this limitation, I had one fewer LAN port to use on my mesh nodes. My resolution is to bring out an unused wireless router and plug it to the Beacon 1, turning it into a network switch with 4 LAN ports.
The Nokia WiFi app design is quite good and overall I like the UX, though there are some bugs here and there (like everything else). The dashboard radar shows the devices marked in numbers to signify the strength of the connection. The list of devices appear below and when I tap on them, it lists the device details like which node it is connected to, device information including transmit and receive rate.
2 things on this page that are unique and I like. First, I can choose the Wi-Fi band to connect the devices to – 2.4GHz (N) or 5GHz (AC). Second, I can enable email notification if the device encounters poor network experience. I will receive two emails: one is when it’s poor, and another one when it’s good.
On this page, there is also another option called “Connect To”. This is where you can assign each device to a “Family Profile”. In this profile, you can configure schedules on the timings that the devices should be disabled from the Internet, as well as website filters by blacklisting websites.
Under the Advanced Settings, you can also customise some network features like choosing networking mode (DHCP/ Static/ PPPoE/ Bridge), DNS, Port Forwarding, IP Address Reservations, UPnP. But if that’s not enough, you can access the router admin portal directly from the web browser, just like a traditional router.
Router Admin Portal Experience
Like most wireless routers, Nokia Mesh 1 allows you to access the admin portal when you enter the primary node’s internal IP address (192.168.x.1) on your web brower.
The portal presents quite a list of functions that you will find in traditional routers. Here, you can set up more stringent security filters by IP, MAC, URL, Firewall, DMZ, ALG.
Then there are the usual application-based config like port forwarding, port triggering, DNS, NTP UPnP. For network-related settings, you can define the wireless bandwidth, strength, channel, number of users. While most config are self-explanatory, few are unusually complex, for instance, QoS Config.
I like the Status -> Home Networking page, where they list down the inventory of the devices, present and past, active and inactive, including connection type, IP address, MAC address, last active time.
Initially StarHub provided 2 review units, which worked sufficiently well for most areas of my apartment – except my child’s room. This is known to be a problematic place for all previous routers I have tested over the years. So I requested for an additional unit to properly compare with my existing mesh setup. Strangely, it also could not resolve the coverage issue in my daughter’s room, as I noticed the devices in the room latched to either the living room node or the bedroom node.
My last resort was to move the third node into her room. In my previous mesh reviews, this would still not work reliably, because logically, if the room had a weak network coverage, putting another mesh would just extend the weak signal. But somehow, the Mesh 1 works pretty well in this layout. No complaints from my daughter since then.
Another plausible reason explained by the Nokia local tech support is that the affected devices have “sticky client issue” where they could not switch to the nearest mesh node. In any case, the smartphone app comes in handy to diagnose the problem, which was not visible in many other mesh products.
With a spec of AC1200, the Beacon 1 supports 300 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz (2X2 MIMO) and 867 Mbps on the 5GHz (2X2 MIMO). When running speed tests near the nodes, I get about 340Mbps. At the farthest part of the room – my bedroom toilet – I can still get about 80Mbps. Just like all previous router tests, I do not rely solely on speed tests as they have too many factors. Even if you are running the test one after another, you will still get different results. So my best way to tell how good the router works is by real people giving real feedback – my family.
Once I positioned the Beacon 1 nodes at the right locations, there are no complaints from any of them, and that says something about the product. It’s not as smooth as a single router, but I am impressed with the information I get to see from the app and some additional controls I get from it.
One thing to note is that the routers should be placed in an open area, and not in an enclosed space like storeroom (especially with thick doors) or cabinet. This would definitely have an impact to the overall mesh performance. If you experience some network stability issues, this is the first thing you should look into.
As a StarHub customer signing up for a new or recontract Broadband service, I would use Beacon 1 and buy a few additional units to put in every room. This is going to almost guarantee you will have great WiFi performance to make use of the full bandwidth that you signed up for.
I am also delighted to find that the units do not get too hot. They feel warm, but many other mesh nodes run at pretty high temperatures.
While Nokia lost its race in the mobile device market, they have strengthened their networking equipment portfolio. The Beacon 1 demonstrates their innovation in design and functionality, offering experiences that are both unique and refreshing.
The Nokia WiFi Beacon 1 is available free through signing up StarHub Broadband or HomeHub service. Each unit purchased from StarHub comes with 2-year local warranty by StarHub. Visit the following official links for more information:
Disclosure: the reviewer is an employee of StarHub Ltd. but does not work in the department responsible for the sales and promotion of the products mentioned here.