Home networks are increasingly growing more complex. Structured cabling is not really something easy to retrofit without pulling existing walls apart.
More and more devices are going wireless but getting a quality signal around the house is no easy task, with interference from other networks and devices, building footprint, multi-level houses - all conspiring to reduce network coverage.
Long gone is the believe you can have a single access point covering a relatively medium to large size area.
Mesh network technologies exist that allow you to extend networks by having individual nodes talking to each other and acting as wireless access points for your devices. The D-Link COVR-C1203 kit works on the same principle, so you can extend network - giving both wired and wireless devices access to the Internet throughout your property up to 465 square metres.
Basically the D-Link COVR-C1203 comes with three access points that communicate to each other to keep the network running. There's one that acts as the router (marked as "A") - a box that connects to the Internet and manages your network, passing data packets from one side to another as needed, assigning IP addresses and acting as a firewall where appropriate.
Then there are two other devices, with similar looks to the router that are paired to the router and communicate with each other to move packets around your network and to the router if access to the Internet is needed.
Here comes the interesting bits: all these devices come with two ethernet ports. The D-Link COVR-C1203 "A" connects to the Internet via one of the ports (selected when you setup the network) and all three devices talk to each other either wirelessly or via one of the ethernet ports.
This is great because you can get communications between devices where ethernet wiring is already in place (in my case between our home office and the lounge) and then extend to some other area in the house wirelessly (in the hall where there's no cabling). Or you can have they talking to each other completely wirelessly - the choice is yours.
Configuration is easy, and you can do it either using a mobile app or a web browser - I opted for the web browser. The setup wizard will show options for both DSL and fibre connections relevant to New Zealand. If you are using fibre you might have to finish the wizard and then go to the Internet settings page to turn VLAN ID on, as required by some ISPs, before the connection is complete.
In my case I also switched IPv6 by simply selecting the option to use the same PPPOE credentials and it automatically assigned the addresses from my provider.
After the connection was established I changed the LAN configuration (router IP address, DHCP range, DNS) to match my previous network so I wouldn't have problems with existing devices using static IP addresses. Lastly I changed the WLAN SSID name and password so that existing devices would connect to it automatically.
From start to finish I'd say it took me about fifteen minutes to have it configured, connected to the Internet and running my network. You can probably have it running in around ten minutes if you don't change LAN settings and use the default for everything.
In terms of performance the D-Link COVR-C1203 kit is pretty good - ethernet speed tests gave me results around 700 Mbps (on a 900 Mbps connection) - I blame Windows drivers for not reaching 100% of the nominal speed. Wireless speeds weren't that high though but still within expected results.
D-Link says the D-Link COVR-C1203 can reach up to 1200 Mbps (802.11ac) and employs MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input and multiple-output) to deliver a more uniform experience to multiple devices connecting to the access points. It also uses band steering to instruct compatible devices to connect to the 5GHz band, leaving 2.4GHz available to devices not capable of utilising the other, avoiding crowded bands when possible.
The D-Link COVR-C1203 are small, triangular-like with rounded edge devices with replaceable faceplates - you receive a couple of extra covers in different colours so you can switch those to match your decor, and obviously D-Link want those to be seen (also because hiding wireless access points is not good for the signal anyway). These devices are powered by USB-C plugs - in any case make sure to use the original adapters, as I found out using a third party USB-C would cause the connections to drop under load.
The network itself is resilient and the devices will let you know if they're out of range by changing the LED colours under the COVR brand on the access point.
I did run into a strange problem: after using the D-Link COVR-C1203 for a week I went back to my original router. I then decided to plug the kit again (to test a desktop in a remote location) and although the network itself worked fine I couldn't manage connected devices. I suspect the configuration settings got into a bad state, so I decided to reset the router and start over. I could probably have solved this by loading a previous configuration exported as backup but thought a fresh start would be good. That was my only problem with the kit.
The web-based user interface is very similar in design to all other D-Link products. It sometimes can be irritating because every time you click the [SAVE] button it will show a countdown time of 30 seconds until the operation is complete. Not a big deal if you do one change now and then, but when you are configuring a new network and want to change lots of settings on different pages it can be a bit annoying.
The kit offers the management features you'd expect from a decent router: DMZ, firewall, port forward, log to a server, automatic time settings, static routes and a basic QoS engine - this one works like other D-Link products and basically you set the maximum upload and download speeds, then drag and drop "cards" representing a device to the Highest Priority space, two device cards to High Priority and eight device cards into Medium Priority.
It offers limited parental controls in the form of a website filter and a scheduler - you can create a "Schedule" settings and assign these to network objects e.g. a schedule for when WiFi is on/off or a schedule for when a device is blocked from accessing the network. It does not offer search filtering, so for parents I'd say combined this with a software-based parental control - and talk to your kids about the dangers on the Internet.
Overall, despite the factory reset due to the inconsistent state, performance has been satisfactory. Streaming (through an Amazon Fire TV) has not been affected, even while other devices are actively using the network. VPN works well (make sure to have the ALG enabled for the appropriate protocol) and the system delivers on the promise of extending the network footprint.