D-Link's New Mesh Networking System: The Australian Review

Image: D-Link

Mesh networking is the "in" thing at the moment. As we depend on Wi-Fi to connect more devices than ever, those blackspots around the house or office become more acutely annoying. D-Link has been a long-time player in the networking business so it's no surprise they've made an entry to the mesh business. They have several options to choose from. I've been running the COVR-C1203. Here's what I've found.

Quick overview of the COVR range

D-Link offers four different solutions in their COVR range. There's the COVR-C1203 that I looked at. This is similar to most of the other solutions on the market that offer neat looking access points that you can put around the house but don't look like traditional networking gear.

Then there are the COVR-2022 and COVR-3902. The former looks similar to the Netgear Orbi or Linksys Velop gear I looked at previously with the COVR-3902 comprising of a traditional-looking router and a second node.

Image: D-Link

The fourth product in the range is a powerline adpator for expanding your wireless footprint without replacing your entire router setup.

Image: D-Link

Setting up the COVR-1203

The setup process takes the now-familiar path of requiring you download an iOS or Android app and doing all the initial configuration there. The process is simple but I did encounter one problem.

My usual process when replacing a router is to use the same SSID and password for the wireless so I don't have to run around the house, changing the configuration of a bunch of devices. However, when I did this, I wasn't able to connect to the network. After about ten minutes of stuffing around, I factory reset the "A" node - which is also a router - and started over. That's when I discovered that an extra space had been added to the end of my Wi-Fi passphrase.

I'm not sure whether to blame D-Link or Apple for that but it's something to watch out for.

After the initial point was set and connected to my cable modem (I'm on Telstra Cable but have disabled the routing functions of the modem/router they provide) I added the two nodes that came in the box.

All up, most people should have this up and runnng in about ten minutes assuming you don't have the same password issues I encountered.

Router management

One of my criticisms of the Netgear Orbi I reviewed was that the app, while attractive and easy to use, lacked many of the network management functions I wanted. That meant I could do some things but for others I had to launch a browser session on my computer.

The D-Link COVR has the same issue. For example, the COVR has a brightly lit logo on the top of the unit. While having the light either on or flashing during set up or if there's a problem is useful, I don't want a bright, white light on, particularly as I wanted to place one of the nodes in a bedroom. Turning that light off is done from the browser, not the app.

However, it's unlikely you'll need to go to the setup options too often once the network is set up and you've got everything running as you want.

One of the criticisms I'd level against many networking companies is that they are very engineering-led. Although it's important to create hardware that is robust and secure, there seems to be a lack of focus on getting the user experience right. If there's a mobile app for management, it needs to include all the management options.

There are also controls so you can block devices from connecting or limit the time a device is connected. That's handy for parents looking to manage their kids' online time.

Show and go

The COVR-C1203 looks pretty smart. The nodes resemble small space ships and the coloured plate on the top can be removed and replaced with a difference colour. My review kit shipped with a coppery-coloured finish but there were also blue covers so I could match them with the decor.

Each node has a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports so you can connect wired equipment. That's likely to be adequate in many homes but I'd prefer the primary node, that acts as a router to have three or four ports. The first Ethernet port is used for the modem connection leaving me with just one port. I used that for my NAS but it meant I couldn't use a wired connection for anything else.

As you'd expect, the COVR-C1203 boasts the usual MIMO capability but it's only dual-band unlike some of the other options on the market. That third band is typically used for connectivity between the nodes exclusively. Using dual-band means the 5GHz channel is shared for connectivity between nodes and between nodes and end-point devices.

The nodes use the increasingly common USB-C connector for power and the wall-wart is compact so it doesn't block access to the second outlet on a standard double general power outlet.

Performance

My test environment is my home office. While the construction is the usual brick veneer you find across suburbia, there are a couple of quirks. Firstly, I have a steal frame rather than the usual timber. There's also an internal brick wall adjacent to where my internet connection enters the house so my router is about 10 cm from a solid wall.

Image: Anthony Caruana

It's worth noting that I get strong connections to several other networks from my neighbours, suggesting there's quite a bit of wireless traffic floating around.

I placed the two satellite nodes so that they had reliable signal from the primary node. Coverage and performance within the house was fine with large files transferring back and forth, HD streaming and other activities all working without any hassles.

Range was excellent, covering an area of about 10 metres around the house before I started dropping packets.

Pricing, availability and recommendation

In my view, the decision about whether to go to a mesh solution will depend on what you're trying to achieve. If all you're after is an extension of your network to cover a black spot, then a powerline soltiuion or wireless extender may be more cost effective.

But if your old router is getting long in the tooth and you're looking to upgrade then a mesh solution makes sense. There's a lot to like about the D-Link COVR-C1203. The nodes look good and performance will meet the needs of most home and small office users.

The lack of refinement in the app is something D-Link can address but most of the functions you need day to day are covered in the app.

I think D-Link has managed a decent balance between price and performance if you're looking for a mesh networking solution.

The D-Link COVR-C1203 retails for $449.95 and is available now.

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