Speedy, affordable entry-level mesh router

With most of us stuck at home in these unusual times, it is a litmus test for your Wi-Fi router.

For those experiencing spotty Internet connections, a mesh router system – which relies on multiple units to eliminate blind spots and extend wireless coverage – could be the answer.

Mesh routers are generally more expensive than traditional routers, but there are some affordable, albeit entry-level, models on the market – such as the Netgear Nighthawk Mesh WiFi 6 system (MK63), which is priced at $459 for a main router and two range-extending satellites.

As its name suggests, the MK63 supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard, which is more efficient than its predecessor when handling many Wi-Fi devices at the same time.

One does not require a Wi-Fi 6-compatible client device to enjoy the benefits of this technology – though having a Wi-Fi 6 client, such as the latest Apple and Samsung smartphones, will help.

Another new piece of technology in the MK63 is WPA3 security. This security protocol succeeds the widely used WPA2 protocol and fixes some of its predecessor’s weaknesses.

For instance, WPA3 protects Wi-Fi passwords from brute-force attacks that repeatedly try to guess the password with different combinations of letters and numbers.

All three units of the MK63 look identical. But the satellites have a single Gigabit Ethernet port, compared with two for the main router. Like many mesh routers, none of the MK63 units have a USB port for connecting a storage device or printer.

To set up the MK63, Netgear recommends using the Nighthawk mobile app (available for iOS and Android), which scans a QR code that is pasted on the router to start the installation process.

But for some reason, this set-up process failed to complete in my case and my smartphone was unable to connect to the Wi-Fi network I had just created. In the end, I had to resort to using the computer to finish the process.

The app offers very basic features, such as configuring a guest Wi-Fi network and an Internet speed test.

FOR

• Good download speeds for Wi-Fi 6 clients

• Relatively inexpensive for a Wi-Fi 6 mesh router

• WPA3 security

AGAINST 

• Limited options in mobile app 

• Occasional loss of connection for certain clients

SPECS 

PRICE: $459 (three-pack)

ETHERNET INTERFACE (ROUTER): 1x Gigabit WAN port, 1x Gigabit LAN port

ETHERNET INTERFACE (SATELLITE): 1x Gigabit LAN port

STANDARDS: 802.11b/g/n/ac/ax

SECURITY: WPA3-Personal

ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI

RATING

FEATURES: 3.5/5

DESIGN: 4/5

PERFORMANCE: 3.5/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

OVERALL: 3.5/5

There are no options for changing the domain name server or port forwarding. Instead, these options are found only if you access the router settings through its Web-based interface.

The MK63 is a dual-band mesh router system, which means it has a 5GHz band with a maximum speed of up to 1.2Gbps and a 2.4GHz band that tops out at 600Mbps.

Having two wireless bands – higher-end mesh routers have three – also means the MK63 lacks a reserved channel for data transmission between each unit, which will affect the performance of the Wi-Fi network.

This showed in my testing results. When my test Wi-Fi 6 laptop was within a couple of metres of the main router, it had an average download speed of 717Mbps. This dropped to 218Mbps when the test laptop was moved to a farther bedroom.

Overall, the results were largely in line with those achieved by another entry-level dual-band mesh router, the TP-Link Deco X20 ($339), which had managed download speeds of 873Mbps and 247Mbps respectively in the same two scenarios above.

In my two weeks using the MK63, I also observed numerous instances when the same few client devices – typically the older laptops and smartphones I have at home – would momentarily lose their Internet connection for some reason.

While I have experienced similarly short connection outages with other routers, they seemed to occur more frequently with the MK63.

As these disconnections typically occur when the client devices are in the farthest parts of my home, my theory is that the handover process between the router and satellite units for the affected devices is not as seamless as it should be.

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