The deployment at a good pace of fiber optic connections is very good news. And it will be even better when this technology is available to anyone who wants to use it, even for those who live in small rural areas. And is that optical fiber guarantees us a very high Internet connection speed (at least 30 Mbps in the cheapest modes), as well as a symmetrical link that allows us to enjoy the same speed of upload that down.
However, there is a challenge in which the fiber optic can not intervene : the management of traffic and the connections that are established within our homes. Every time we have more devices equipped with a wireless interface (laptops, smartphones, tablets, televisions, video game consoles, etc.) that compete with each other to monopolize the bandwidth of our Internet connection. In addition, there is another problem that to a greater or lesser extent affects all of us who have a WiFi network at home: the quality of the signal and the coverage are not even homogeneous.
Hence, no matter how fast our Internet connection is, our experience can be ruined if the wireless connectivity within our installation does not measure up. These are precisely the problems that the D-Link product aims to solve in this article. Let’s see to what extent it achieves, or not, its objective …
D-Link COVR-P2502: Technical Specifications
Inside the package containing the solution proposed by D-Link we will find three hardware elements: the two WiFi Mesh access points that combine the Homeplug AV / AV2.0 PLC connectivity and the IEEE 802.11ac WiFi, and, finally, a Category 5e flat UTP Ethernet cable. If you take a look at the table of specifications that you have in this section of the analysis you will see that, in addition to the PLC and WiFi interfaces, each access point incorporates three Gigabit Ethernet connection ports, so communication between our devices and the WiFi Mesh network elements do not necessarily have to be established using a wireless link.
This possibility is very interesting if, for example, we have a desktop computer or a television placed near one of the wireless access points and we prefer to link it through a cable connection. Of course, if we opt for this option we must consider that the communication between the two access points is carried out by PLC, with the limitations that this entails if we stick to the real transfer speed between both nodes (a node is not more than an element of our local area network).
The Homeplug AV / AV2.0 standard implemented in the PLC interface of these access points allows them to reach a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 1300 Mbps, but in practice this figure can be reduced significantly depending on the parasitic noise present in our infrastructure. electrical network. And, as far as security is concerned, I have nothing to object to: WiFi Mesh access points provide the usual and necessary 128-bit AES encryption, as well as WPA / WPA2 protocols to ensure the protection of our wireless communications.
|PLC CONNECTION INTERFACE||Homeplug AV / AV2.0 up to 1,300 Mbps (IEEE 1901)|
|WIFI CONNECTION INTERFACE||IEEE 802.11ac|
|GIGABIT ETHERNET PORTS||3 x RJ-45|
|ANTENNAS||2 retractable external units|
|SECURITY||AES 128-bit / WiFi WPA / WPA2 encryption|
|CONSUMPTION||12 watts (each access point)|
|DIMENSIONS||140 x 79.7 x 47 mm (with the antennas extended)|
|WEIGHT||280 g (each access point)|
What is actually WiFi Mesh?
Meshed wireless networks, which is the most appropriate form to identify WiFi Mesh networks, began to be used in the middle of the last decade in companies to solve the problems of connectivity and traffic management posed by large network infrastructures wireless Since then, the complexity of domestic WiFi networks has gradually increased as the number of devices we need to connect has increased, as has the volume of data that we transfer between any two nodes. For this reason, it was a matter of time before a technology that was born to solve the needs of the professional sector ended up also reaching the domestic environment.
In our homes the WiFi Mesh technology is gradually becoming a very solid alternative to the use of repeaters to expand the wireless network coverage provided by the WiFi access point integrated in our router. The advantages offered by meshed networks in domestic spaces derive from the ability of WiFi Mesh access points, which are the alternative to classic repeaters, to “talk” to each other, and not only to the router.
This strategy makes possible something unattainable for repeaters, who are much less “alert”: that traffic is managed in a smarter way, and, therefore, much more efficient, thanks to the active intervention of WiFi Mesh access points.
In practice, what I have just explained means that a wireless device does not necessarily have to connect to the nearest access point, but to the one that is going to guarantee a more efficient traffic management. And, therefore, also a higher performance. The interesting thing about this approach is that it is possible that the node of the network to which a device connects at a certain time is not the closest, for example, because the latter is congested. Or, simply, because it has stopped working correctly.
This saturation could be justified in many different ways, but one easy to understand that can help us illustrate this philosophy could be that we have connected to the congested node a TV that is reading from our NAS a video with 4K UHD resolution, causing data traffic high and continuous between the latter and the TV.
As we have just seen, the pillar on which the WiFi Mesh infrastructure is based is no other than this intelligent management of data traffic, so in practice we can use this asset to place those areas of our house with a Wireless coverage deficits as many access points as are necessary to ensure that coverage is optimal. Of course, it is not good to exceed. The ideal is to install the minimum number of WiFi Mesh access points necessary to guarantee total coverage of a certain space.
This is the process of configuring the access points
The WiFi Mesh devices proposed by D-Link in the package we are testing are pre-configured from the factory, so the process we must follow to get them up and running is extremely simple. The first thing we will do is connect one of the access points to our router using the UTP category 5e cable included in the package, or another similar one (we can choose any of the RJ-45 ports of the WiFi Mesh device). Then we will plug it into an electrical outlet and wait a few minutes, until four of the five LEDs that we can locate on the front light up: ignition, PLC connectivity, 2.4 GHz WiFi network and 5 GHz wireless network.
The next thing we will do is connect the second wireless access point WiFi Mesh in an electrical outlet close to that in which we have plugged the first device so that synchronization between them is carried out seamlessly. Again we will have to wait a few minutes until the same four LEDs that were previously activated in the other access point are turned on. When this happens we can unplug the second and move it to an electrical outlet near the area of our house where the wireless coverage is deficient.
The next step requires that we carry out a very simple configuration using a D-Link application that we can install on our smartphone or tablet, and that it is available for both Android and iOS. It is also possible to carry out this same process through a web interface. In the latter case we just have to access the URL http://covr.local./ from the browser of any computer that we have connected to our network. Once we have started the process, either from the smartphone app or from our computer, the assistant will ask if we want to proceed with the detection of wireless access points . Of course, we must tell him to go ahead.
Once one or two minutes have elapsed the assistant will ask us to enter the SSID and password of the wireless network that our new WiFi access points should serve. And ready. In principle we do not have to do anything else.
If we click or tap on any of the network nodes that appear in the previous diagram, we will access a table that summarizes all the network parameters of that device and its status, as well as the clients that have previously been connected to it, if there was some linked. If you feel comfortable with the administration of network devices I suggest you browse a bit in the web interface proposed by D-Link. And, if not, at least it is interesting to know that this tool incorporates a parental control module that allows us to restrict access to the network of one or more devices.
This function is very useful if, for example, there are minors at home and we want to define an Internet connection schedule that they must respect . All we have to do is access the Application Management menu and select the Time and Programming option within it. Then we will touch on the link Programming / Add rule, and on a time schedule like the one you have just below these lines we will indicate the time slot in which the Internet connection will be available. Finally, we will save the changes and click on the Connected Clients node to identify those devices to which we want to apply the parental control that we have just defined.
Experience of use and performance
Before going ahead and letting you know how my experience has been since I transformed my domestic wireless network into a meshed wireless network, it seems crucial to me to remember that the communication between the two D-Link access points is done through PLC (Power Line Communications). This technology has the great advantage that it uses our electrical infrastructure to transport data packets, so we do not need to install more cables to get there where our WiFi network does not offer us the ideal coverage.
But PLC links also have a disadvantage that we must consider: their performance is often reduced by the parasitic noise present in our electrical network, so the maximum transfer speeds announced by manufacturers are theoretical ideal that we will hardly reach. The origin of this noise is multiple. A part comes from the high voltage lines that transport the electrical energy from the place where it is produced to the distribution center closest to our house. And another part is generated in the last section of the installation, and even within our own house.
Appliances that use electric motors or resistors usually inject a lot of noise into the network, which causes the performance of PLC links to be adversely affected. In fact, not only our appliances can affect us, but also those of our neighbors because, after all, all the lines derive from the same power line and are communicated. Fortunately, the manufacturers of PLC devices have made an effort to correct these deficiencies, so that, although it is almost impossible for our house to obtain a performance close to the theoretical maximum, we can achieve a very high transfer speed, enough, even, for make possible the transmission of video with 4K UHD resolution.
What I have just explained justifies why the performance of the same PLC devices can be very different in two different homes. Even so, the figures I have obtained in my particular installation are useful because they help us identify what we can expect from these WiFi Mesh access points. The actual maximum transfer speed that I have obtained by measuring the data traffic through the PLC link, and without using the wireless connection, amounts to 282 Mbps. They are not the 1300 Mbps that theoretically offers us the latest PLC norm, but the figure is not bad.
When the transfer of data packets intervenes, in addition to the PLC connection, the 802.11ac WiFi link, the maximum speed that I have reached in my installation reaches 164.27 Mbps, dropping to 103.91 Mbps in the most difficult circumstances. unfavorable As you can see, these figures are clearly lower than the maximum predicted by the IEEE 1901 (Homeplug AV / AV2.0) and IEEE 802.11ac (WiFi) standards, but even so, they are enough to allow, for example, the reproduction of any content via streaming. Even 4K UHD video.
Concerning intelligent traffic management that carry out WiFi Mesh devices my conclusion is clear: it works. To verify this, I connected an Ethernet cable to a television directly to one of the WiFi Mesh access points, and started to play a movie with 4K UHD resolution through Netflix. Then I took my laptop and began to move with it around the house to check which node was connected. And, indeed, he did with the access point that was not saturated by the reproduction of the video, although physically I was next to the one that was. After I stopped playing the video and what I expected happened: my laptop did not take long to connect to the latter because it was the one that was serving the most powerful WiFi signal, given how close both devices were.
The future looks good thanks to a new standard for WiFi Mesh
One of the problems that we had to face up to now with the users of wireless networks that decided to bet on WiFi Mesh technology was the absence of a standard that facilitates interoperability between devices from different manufacturers. This means, simply, that if we bought two WiFi access points Mesh WiFi from a manufacturer and later we need an additional one, we were forced to resort to another device of the same brand.
Fortunately, this scenario is about to change. Wi-Fi Alliance, which is the international organization that certifies products that use Wi-Fi technology, has approved a new standard, known as Wi-Fi EasyMesh, that allows “talk” between each other access points Mesh WiFi from different manufacturers. To achieve this, it has been necessary to force them to use the same negotiation protocol, the same “language”, which is what makes communication possible. Yes, only devices with EasyMesh certification guarantee that this dialogue is possible, so it is worth taking into account if we are determined to bet on this technology.