D-Link has recently released a new mesh system in their COVR series of whole-home Wi-Fi mesh systems. The new D-Link COVR-X1870 Series has a good number of updated features that will be of interest to users who want a no non-sense wireless network system for home (or small office).
To start with, the D-Link COVR lineup has been going strong for some time now with the COVR-1203 and COVD-2202 Series released a couple of years ago. The new COVR-X1870 Series has a design the vaguely reminds me of the COVR-2202 - this time a vertical cuboid shape instead of a triangle. There's a grill on top and I have to say that as a heat dissipation mechanism it seems to work well, as even in warm days of summer the units don't feel hot at all. And another thing to notice is the weight - at only 380g each unit they are really light.
COVR-X1870 Series is available as a single router or in packages with two or three units, which can be spread around your home to improve WiFi coverage. Out-of-the-box you will notice there are no specific "A" and "B" devices like in previous models. So much so that I took the three units out and mixed then while looking around and had no problem connecting one of the units at random to my ONT (fibre). You will find out the system works with New Zealand fibre connections including VLAN and PPPOE support with the original firmware.
Another interesting thing is that all units have a WAN port and four Ethernet LAN ports. This is great as you can have more hardwired devices if needed.
I plugged the first unit to my ONT and instead of using the mobile app for configuration I had my laptop connected to the default wireless LAN (WLAN) network and proceeded to configure it using the browser by pointing it to the network gateway IP. Fibre configuration was very easy and most New Zealand ISPs are available in a dropdown list so you just have to select one there to have the correct VLAN and PPPOE settings created - if needed you will have to enter the PPPOE credentials for the connection.
And with that, in just a couple of minutes, I had the first unit connected to the Internet and a working WLAN. The connection also included IPv6 (supported by my ISP) working without any manual setting needed. I proceeded to change some of the settings I use (a different time server here, admin password there) to start making it like my previous network. One great advantage of mesh systems over someone putting together different routers and access points is the single central management for the network.
My initial testing was very satisfactory as I had only one computer connected to the WLAN at that point and even though that machine was running Windows 10 (which has some weird network defaults that can impact speeds) I was still getting above 600 Mbps while connected to WiFi out of a gigabit connection.
My next step was to set up the satellite units, which I did next to the main router (the one I had connected to the ONT). This basically just consisted of pushing the WPS button on each unit and wait for them to pair. By default, the units will self-configure as satellites without any intervention - a piece of cake. I then moved these units to the hall and the small home-office (don't ask why the main unit is not in the home office, where the ONT is - long story but involves wanting hardwired ethernet connections in the lounge, which is now not a problem since all units have plenty of ethernet ports).
I then changed the password and SSID of the default wireless network to match my old one, so that I did not have to go around changing all the IoT devices. This means all devices around the house - smartphones, laptops, Fire TV and other IoT devices (cameras, smart speakers) automatically reconnected to the network. Basically, I had replaced the main network units in a matter of minutes, without much effort, while extending coverage around the house even further.
The communication between the main router and the satellite units uses its own 5 GHz link but you can also use the ethernet ports if you want more reliable connections over a longer distance (or with floors and walls in between). You can also buy individual units and add to the network as you wish - with options of one, two or three units per box you can configure a very flexible network here.
The new COVR-X1870 Series supports a lot of new technologies and that's where a lot of the benefits come from. First, you can step-up network security by changing the WLAN encryption from the WPA2 standard to the newer WPA3. Because this requires devices to support the new WPA3 encryption you might have to take a smaller step and enable the mixed WPA2/WPA3 environment instead. This means older devices can still connect to the network while newer devices can take advantage of the updated security.
Important to note the devices using WPA3 are most likely the devices using the new WiFi 6 (802.11AX standard), a new standard that uses a lot of smarts to make things smoother. At home, I had my desktop (with the D-Link AX3000 WiFi 6 PCIe adapter) and a couple of laptops including a Lenovo E14 and a Dell XPS. As soon as these devices connected to the new network a Windows notification bubble showed up letting me know that they were using the new standard and security encryption.
Using WiFi 6 for these devices means they can coexist better and share the network more efficiently. The D-Link COVR-X1870 Series has quite a few features that guarantee this, including OFDMA, BSS Coloring and event Target Wake Time (TWT) that allows more efficient power management by the wireless adapters on client devices.
An important feature I was happy to see in this router is support for an L2TP/IPSec PSK VPN server (which I need because some functions on Geekzone are locked to a set of static IP addresses) but is highly recommended for remote access to your network (remember to never port forward incoming connections to your cameras, folks!). Configuring the VPN was just a matter of turning the switch on and enter your chosen username/password and shared key for remote access. From there you just have to configure the VPN clients on your devices (smartphones, computers) as needed to have remote access to resources in your LAN or have encrypted access to the Internet through your home connection, secure from eyes on local (hotels, conference centres, cafes) networks
Other more standard features include a stateful firewall, port forward and QoS management - which allows you to determine which devices have priority on traffic going out of your network.
You can also create a WLAN guest network, which is useful when you expect guests but don't want them to have direct access to other devices on your WLAN.
One thing to notice is the default isolation mode - if you have devices connected via ethernet these will not be able to see devices connected to the WLAN. This is not limited to the guest network only and can't be turned off. I've found this when I tried to get the Amazon Fire TV (ethernet) to sync sound output to the Amazon Echo Studio (WLAN), which is done over WiFi. It only worked when I unplugged the Amazon Fire TV.
In terms of performance under load, I am very impressed with the COVR-X1870 Series. To test this I started downloading multiple simultaneous torrents with my old router (Windows 10 client, WiFi 6 adapter to WiFi 5 router) and compared to the COVR-X1870 Series setup (Windows 10 client, WiFi 6 adapter to WiFi 6 router). The difference was amazing. On the old setup something as low as three torrents would immediately cause the whole network to slow - so much so my daughter would ask if the Internet disconnected. With the new setup, I could load many times more - at one point I had 40 simultaneous torrent downloads) without a noticeable impact on network access from other devices.
The mobile app is very easy to use and cover almost everything you can access from the browser-based interface. If you want to integrate the router with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant you will need to do it through the mobile app as the browser-based UI will only tell you if the D-Link Cloud Service is registered or not. Using those assistant platforms you can ask to start or stop guest Wi-Fi, ask for the password, to restart or update the firmware on your router.
You also have access to a simplified Parental Control where you can define a set schedule for online and bedtime. You don't have an option to limit total time used during the day though. You can also add filter rules to block some domains - this is limited to 24 entries so you might consider perhaps using a third-party DNS service with more flexible conditions and categories for this but overall it's an easy to use control - with an option to instantly pause Internet access to all devices assigned to that policy.
In terms of security you are required to assign an administrator password when configuring it for the first time but that's pretty much it. There's no option to install a certificate, which is something I like doing with my routers. It may not be something every user would do but it's something that I think should be an option.
The browser-based UI is multi-language and allows you to switch between English and a selection of other languages - including French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
Compared to previous COVR devices I think the COVR-X1870 Series is a great upgrade in terms of performance, features and ease of use.