It increasingly looks like the future of home Wi-Fi involves placing not one, but two or three routers throughout our homes to get the best possible signal. Last year, we saw these multi-unit systems from Eero, Luma, Plume, Google, and Netgear (among others). And to kick off this year, Linksys — one of the router world's old guards — is getting into the game.
Linksys is today unveiling Velop, its strangely named take on a multi-unit router system. You're meant to place two or three Velop routers throughout a home, and for doing so, Linksys promises you'll get the best Wi-Fi around.
And "best" is an important part of the pitch here, because Velop is one of the most expensive systems out there, running up to $499 for a three-unit bundle. For that price, Linksys claims you'll get even faster speeds from Velop than you would from Netgear's Orbi, which currently sits on top of the pack, by far, when it comes to speed.
Like Orbi, Velop is a tri-band system (it has three Wi-Fi radios in it) that's always dedicating a single band to communication between router units, preventing some of the speed drop-off seen by two-band competitors like Google Wifi. Linksys claims it's able to provide even better speeds than Orbi by using different bands to connect different router units, rather than locking down a specific band and using that no matter what.
Where will these look unobtrusive?
But if speed is the upside of a tri-band system, size is the downside. All of the two-band systems so far have been small pucks and boxes that could be subtly placed on a shelf. But, like Orbi, Velop is composed of big, noticeable routers. Velop isn't nearly as enormous as Orbi's weird potteryesque design, but its units are tall and have sloped sides that make them impossible to lay down flat. They're going to stand out wherever you put them, and while I wouldn't say they're necessarily ugly, they do remind me of the speakers that shipped with Gateway PCs in the mid-’90s... so, yeah.
It's worth keeping in mind that the speeds Velop promises to deliver won't be necessary for everyone. Even a two-band system like Google Wifi is able to deliver speeds fast enough to stream 4K video. And if the internet speeds you're paying for aren't above 100Mbps (and statistically, they’re probably not), Linksys' speed advantage may not make a difference.
In addition to speed, Linksys is also hoping it can win on ease-of-use, which is going to be a tougher battle. Velop's setup is handled entirely through a mobile app. It's also integrating with Alexa to let basic router functions be completed by voice, though so far, that's limited to turning the guest network on and off. Owners will also be able to ask Alexa to read their Wi-Fi password aloud, which'll be helpful since everyone inevitably forgets it (this feature can also be disabled for what seem like obvious security reasons).
Speed isn’t everything
Our current pick for favorite multi-unit Wi-Fi system — Google Wifi — wins for its ease of use, not its speed, which means that Linksys really has to deliver here, especially given its price. Google Wifi is only $299 for a three-pack, while Velop is $499.
Linksys says a three-pack is only going to be necessary for a large, four-or-so bedroom home. A smaller home, around 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, should be able to get by with a two-pack of Velop routers, which it's selling for $349.99. You'll also be able to buy a single Velop unit, either as an add-on or a standalone router, for $199.99, which is supposed to be good for up to 2,000 square feet of space.
Velop is available for preorder today and will be in stores on January 15th. Or if you happen to be in Vegas for CES and for whatever reason want to buy a Wi-Fi router system right now, you'll be able to pick one up early at local Best Buys, which should be only half as crowded as the convention center.