Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Linksys Velop mesh WiFi install

This article is primarily to set the record straight that the Linksys Velop WiFi routers can be installed as more traditional access points and retain the advantage of mesh WiFi.

Why did I want this?

I've had WiFi extended out to our stables and yard for many years however I have done it by simply setting the SSID and passwords to be the same.  This works but you cannot roam between them cleanly.

In the above setup a mobile phone or laptop will hang on to a connection to an access point, way beyond it's useful range. What is needed is mesh WiFi that negotiates between each access point. The portable device is directed to connect to whichever has the strongest signal.

In the last year or so, mesh WiFi systems have dropped to a more affordable level.

Why did I select the Linksys Velop?

The Linksys Velop wifi routers include the essential mesh technology I wanted and MU-MIMO with 802.11ac WiFi. I also deliberately wanted a tri-band version, which has one 2.4GHz band transceiver and two 5GHz band transceivers. There were very few on the market, outside expensive business systems, that met all of those criteria.

I was a little disappointed to note that all the WiFi systems, that had the features I wanted, were now routers. They also all used WiFi to extend their range and included consumer, supposedly easy to use, set up software or mobile apps.

It took a bit of reading but I was able to confirm that the Velop system did allow for a more traditional wired installation and that the mobile app provided enough control.

How did I set them up?

I followed the Linksys instructions. These are fairly clear but don't give sufficient help with trouble shooting.

Node one, the master worked without any issues. I had pre-configured my username and password first, to get the e-mail address verification out of the way.  I was right to do this because there was the typical long delay between them saying they had sent a verification mail and it arriving with me.

With the master node installed, and knowing that I wanted to use my existing gateway router, I changed the configuration of the Velop WiFi to Bridge Mode.

I knew I had to do this BEFORE adding the other nodes because their settings change depending on the mode.

The Linksys instructions for how to configure Bridge Mode are easy to follow. The important bit is that the smartphone you are using for the configuration must be connected to the node's WiFi.

Once changed to Bridge Mode, the Velop routers operate as Mesh Access Points in a traditional set up where a separate router or firewall is at the gateway.

It's fairly obvious to me, that in this configuration, not all of the traffic passes through the master node, therefore some features, such as parental control, DHCP and device management, will no longer be available. Those features would now fall to the gateway router, as I would have expected and how I wanted it to work.

Installing the rest of the nodes

Installing the second node went OK but the important bit is that it was done within about 3m of the master node.

The problem came installing the third. I tried to do this in situ, as per the instructions, where I thought it would work but, what I now know, is that the range required between these things is very short or, at least, should not have more than one wall in the way.

When the install got stuck, I tried lots of things to get it going again but what worked was to move the node back to be very close to the master node and the key bit was to not only reset that tertiary node but to also cancel the attempted install and start it again from the app.  It was that last bit that got me out of the endless stuck, retrying, loop.

Neither the app nor the instructions make it clear that to recover from a failed install it is necessary to not use the retry link, as the app suggests, but to abandon the install and completely start again.

Go back to the 'Set Up a New Product' option.

Eventually I had three working nodes but they all had to be so close to each other as to be pointless.

I was disappointed with the very limited extender range of the Velop routers but that will have been affected by the number and type of walls in the way in my home.

My wired network

Luckily for me, I had always known that at least one node would need to be wired, so the need for all of them to be wired was not a big issue.

When I had been doing my research I came across quite a few postings with, what I am now confident, was poor network advice. So, to correct that, here are the facts, as I know them:

  • The nodes CAN be connected to a switch
  • The master does NOT have to be directly connected to the router (if used in bridge mode)
  • The master does NOT have to replace the gateway router (use bridge mode)
  • The nodes can be ANYWHERE on the LAN
  • The nodes do NOT need to be daisy chained

In short, the nodes use normal IP networking to communicate with each other so any normal LAN configuration will work, or at least it did for me.

My network

The important bit for my traditional LAN design to work, is that I have set the Linksys Velop to Bridge Mode.

Is it working?

Yes. Exactly what I originally set out to achieve, is working. I can roam inside and out and retain a good WiFi connection and I am still using my original dual WAN gateway router.


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