TP-Link's Mesh Routers Promise to Blanket 4,800 Feet

Whole home Wi-Fi became the buzz of the networking world last year when a host of startups began offering router/satellite packages that promised to extend Wi-Fi to every corner of your home. These mesh networking routers proved popular enough for more established router makers such as Netgear and tech giants like Google to jump into the mix with Google Wi-Fi — a trend that's continued at the start of 2017.

Count TP-Link among the networking companies to embrace whole home Wi-Fi, as it joined the likes of Linksys and D-Link in announcing a mesh router at this year's CES. In TP-Link's case, that's the Deco M5 Router, which uses mesh technology to create a seamless network of devices around your home.

The Deco M5 occupies a sort-of middle ground between the highly stylized looks of Netgear's Orbi and Linksys' Velop and the more conventional design D-Link used with its new Covr mesh router. TP-Link went with a white, rounded design that makes the Deco M5 look like a smoke detector more than anything. The idea is that the router and its satellites will blend into your home.

Pricing and Availability: TP-Link hasn't said how much the Deco M5 will cost, though it does plan to sell a standalone version as well as a three-pack of Deco devices. The mesh router is expected to ship in March.

Key Specs: The Deco is a dual-band AC1300 router. Range seems to be the focus here, as a single Deco M5 should be able to cover 1,400 to 1,800 square feet depending on your home's layout and the building materials. Hook up three Deco M5s, and you can expect up to 4,800 square feet of coverage, a TP-Link rep told me.

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The app that guides setup for the Deco M5 takes a slightly different approach than apps for other mesh routers. It will tell you if your satellite routers are too close to the main router so that you can better optimize your network's range. Parental controls are handled differently from most routers, too: You assign devices to specific people or rooms, making it easier in theory to enforce screen time.

There are two ports on the back of each Deco M5. The router auto-senses which port you use as a WAN or LAN, depending on what you plug into those ports. TP-Link also plans to offer a Powerline version of the Deco M5.

What's New: This is TP-Link's first stab at a whole home Wi-Fi product, though the company has made routers and extenders for a while now.

Outlook: Timing is everything, and the Deco M5 arrives after a lot of other products have already been on the market for a while. Even the Velop, which was announced the same week as TP-Link's next router, is already on sale. Only the D-Link Covr, slated for a second quarter release, is set to arrive later than TP-Link's Deco M5.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.