Mesh networking is all about spreading high-speed wireless networking across your home and doing it as easily as possible. The idea is to connect the modem-equipped router and place secondary (and tertiary, and so on) modules or nodes in locations to help extend coverage and make it more reliable.
What you don't have to do is worry about multiple network name (SSID) and passwords, or which node has the best signal for wherever you happen to be. A single ID and password covers the lot and, in theory, some intelligent connection management keeps you connected to the best node. Log a device once, then seamlessly move from room to room and node to node and let the mesh network manage everything.
At about $250, the D-Link Covr-C1203 is similarly priced to triple-node mesh networking solutions from the likes of Linksys Velop. But it's significantly cheaper than alternatives like a three-way Google WiFi kit.
It's worth noting that this triple-unit Covr package is designed for homes (or businesses) up to 5,000 square feet in size. The coverage, just like with a mesh networking system from any other brand, is based on best case scenario, which is never the case in the real world. However, I found that it was enough to give me a full coverage anywhere in my 1,800 square feet house, whether on the second floor, basement, backyard, front yard, and even all the way in my neighbour's living room.
Design and Setup
Strictly speaking, D-Link's Covr nodes don't have the latest and greatest technology. They're equipped with dual-band 802.11ac only. The triple-band solution, which I prefer, is not offered in this package. That said, with up to 1.2Gbps of theoretical performance, this dual-band kit, in theory, has plenty of headroom above most Internet connections. Quite honestly, unless you are moving files around the local network, you won't feel any limitations. Even with my Gigabit subscription from Rogers (real download speed is around 600Mbps with the occasional 800Mbps), I can't tell the difference.
Inside the package are three nodes, each with an individual power adapter, and a flat Ethernet cable. That's actually not ideal when it comes to rejecting RFI. Each node has a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports, one of which is used on the primary node to connect to your existing broadband modem or router (I use my Rogers Wi-Fi unit in bridge mode, which essentially turns it into nothing more than a modem). Alongside that is a USB Type-C port to provide power, which I don't like - there isn't enough oomph for this type of connector to securely "bite" the power cable. The nodes also have WPS buttons that can aid in connecting smart devices like printers and cameras. Unfortunately, my camera (Canon 7D mkII) nor printer (a Canon professional printer) is supported.
The nodes themselves are pleasingly bubble-looking triangular orbs made of white plastic with a metal-looking cover with the "Covr" logo clearly visible. The shields glow to indicate status, such as booting, connecting or fully operational. The LEDs are quite bright for my taste, but thankfully the LEDs can be disabled via the free download app.
Just like other mesh systems, D-Link provides Smart Steering technology to ensure that your devices are always connected to the strongest wireless signal, along with three internal antennas and support for MU-MIMO technology for high performance streaming to multiple devices simultaneously.
Setup is done via a user-friendly smartphone app, available for both iOS (the version I tested) and Android. Connect the primary node via Ethernet to your router and plug it into the power. Then, use the supplied quick install card complete with its QR code to connect your phone to the primary node without having to manually input a long and complicated password. Following that, the instructions walk you through getting connected, advising when to plug in and power up the secondary nodes, third, and so on. Although the Covr app failed to recognize the primary node on the first and second attempts, from there, it was smooth sailing and roughly a five minute job. Third time's a charm, I guess! What I liked most is that not once did I need to refer to the manual or call their technical support line. That speaks volume when ease-of-use is a top concern for customers.
Netflix 4K movie streaming was perfect. I tried this through a number of means, including streaming to my Panasonic UB9000 player in the basement, Panasonic 65FZ1000 OLED TV in the living room, Panasonic UB820 player, and Sony 55X900F TV, or running all at once (totalling about 100Mbps) while playing YouTube at the highest resolution on a pair each of iPads and iPhones. Everything was achieved seamlessly without a hitch. As for uploads, these again were on a par with hooking up via Ethernet at 21.5Mbps, nearly the maximum 25Mbps advertised upload speed to which I subscribe from Rogers.
When it comes to longer range and transmitting through walls, however, performance was a little more varied. On the 5GHz band, the Covr mesh network never dropped below 300Mbps for downloads, no matter where I positioned client devices, including the backyard, front yard, and my neighbour‘s living room.
However, it was with the 2.4GHz band that I experienced a more tangible performance drop off. In my bedroom, which is less than 35 feet away from the first node, the performance of 2.4GHz was so slow to the point that I couldn't stream anything in 4K to my 4K AppleTV. Again, I can't blame this purely on D-Link as the performance of anything 2.4GHz in my house is atrociously bad. At best, I can only get 20 Mbps out of my (minimum) 600Mbps actual download speed.
While it's true that the 5GHz band did a much better job of maintaining speeds, as a user, you don't have direct control over which devices connect on which band. To ensure our iPad Pro connected at 5GHz, for instance, I first had to disconnect another iPad from the network. It's not exactly a deal breaker, but very confusing nevertheless. Ideally, you should be able to tell the system which units should be connecting to the 5G network and, better yet, to which device(s) you want to give priority. I wish the app allowed me to do that.
The design of the nodes is subjectively attractive (I wish they came in all-white, though) and the setup process is painless. The performance on the 5GHz band is excellent, allowing seamless movement while maintaining Internet speeds close to or on a par with a wired connection. A web-based interface adds more advanced controls beyond those provided by the user-friendly smartphone app, but it can be hit and miss, requiring reboots of individual nodes. Performance on the 2.4GHz band is somewhat disappointing, though that is to be expected with any 2.4 GHz nowadays due to frequency overcrowding.
Ensuring devices connect at 5GHz is not entirely straightforward. The design of the universal socket plate on the power adapters is also quirky to say the least. The Setup, when it works (on the third try), is simple and quick and the result is a reliable and fast home network. One thing I do really wish is that there was the ability to prioritize performance-sensitive devices for 5GHz connectivity. But for $250, one should not complain.
- Wireless Connectivity: IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual band AC1200 mesh with MU-MIMO and WPS single-touch protected setup
- Coverage: Up to 465 sq. m. / 5000 sq. ft. with Smart Steering and Smart roaming
- Ports: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet LAN per node
- Dimensions: 109 x 117 x 51 mm (4.29 x 4.61 x 2.01 in) per node
- Weight: 250g (0.55 lbs) per node