TP-Link has regularly topped the list of our favourite wireless routers at Expert Reviews in the past few years, but with mesh networking gaining ground over traditional methods of strengthening your home Wi-Fi coverage, it’s having to change tack.
The result is a mesh Wi-Fi system whose excellent performance and strong feature set belie its incredibly low price. It has quickly become one of our favourite cheap mesh Wi-Fi units, rivalling even the mighty Google Wifi.
TP-Link Deco M5 review: What you need to know
The TP-Link Deco M5 is the firm’s first mesh networking system and, just like Google Wifi and BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi, it aims to improve wireless coverage around your home by using multiple boxes to bounce the wireless signal from one to the other, spreading it into former black spots and reducing the load on your router.
The Deco M5 kit consists of three of these “nodes”, one more than Google Wifi and the same number as included with BT’s kit, and it works in largely the same way – by hanging off one of the Ethernet ports on your existing router and extending an existing wireless network instead of replacing it.
What’s different about the TP-Link Deco M5 is that it adds to its mesh networking capabilities with comprehensive parental controls and bundled, network-level antivirus.
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TP-Link Deco M5 review: Price and competition
The TP-Link Deco is top value for money: it costs £230 for the kit that includes three nodes. That’s better value than the starter Google Wifi kit, which costs the same amount of money but only includes two nodes (the three pack is £329). The BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system includes three nodes, though, and that’s only £190. The fastest mesh networking system we’ve used is the Linksys Velop, but that’s much more expensive, at £380 for three nodes.
TP-Link Deco M5 review: Design, features and ease of use
The Deco M5 is more attractive than your average wireless router. Each node is disc-shaped and attractively sculpted on top with a status LED residing at its peak. Just like Google Wifi, each one is equipped with a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports and takes power from a USB-C mains adapter.
Setup and general maintenance is carried out via the TP-link Deco smartphone app and ran smoothly when I set it up. As usual with mesh systems, it takes a few minutes per box, but I was ready to go in less than 20 minutes. That’s partly thanks to the fact that each of the nodes has embedded Bluetooth, so you don’t have to fuss around connecting to Wi-Fi or entering passwords every time you want to add a node to the network.
On the negative side, the system requires you to connect to the system via TP-Link’s cloud system before you can set it up, which has implications for security and privacy.
As for Wi-Fi features, the Deco M5 occupies the middle ground. Like Google Wifi, it’s a dual-band 802.11ac system and doesn’t have a dedicated backhaul link, which means that throughput degrades as you get further down a chain of nodes.
Each device has four internal antennas and offers 2×2 MIMO connection for a maximum speed of 400Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz spectrum and 867Mbits/sec on the 5GHz spectrum. The BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system is much quicker, offering tri-band connection with a dedicated backhaul link at speeds up to 1,300Mbits/sec.
As for usability and software features, the Deco M5 is pretty basic compared with traditional wireless routers, but great compared with most mesh systems. As mentioned above, you get three years of antivirus coverage from Trend Micro and, since this is at the network level, it covers all your devices while they’re connected to your home network.
It also has effective profile- and category-based parental controls that allow you to block the websites your kids can access by category, time accumulated and time of day, while allowing you to view the content you want to at the time you want to. It’s as good as Google Wifi in this respect and is a great choice for parents who want to keep tabs on and control of their children’s internet access.
The app also gives you customisable content-based quality of service controls, allowing you to prioritise certain types of traffic, such as “streaming” or “gaming”.
TP-Link Deco M5 review: Performance
I installed the TP-Link Deco M5 at home and ran my usual close-range and long-range tests using the iperf3 command-line application. As should be clear from the performance figures in the charts below, the Deco M5 provides a strong Wi-Fi signal house-wide.
As expected, its close-range performance figures aren’t all that impressive. The BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system has superior specifications and delivers the best speeds in the same room. I tested the Deco M5’s single-node performance at long range as well – to get a feel for how far you can get from the node at the edge of your network – and found that the Deco M5 performed well, matching BT Whole Home Wi-Fi. Google Wifi does better here, though.
The TP-Link Deco M5 performed best in mesh configuration, delivering speeds that all but matched BT Whole Home Wi-Fi in my kitchen – a notorious Wi-Fi black spot in my house – but edged fractionally in front of Google Wifi. I tested with two nodes at first, a configuration that usually delivers the best throughput in this location, and it lagged behind the BT system a little. Then I added a third node and tested again to see how much throughput would fall when adding extra nodes to spread the network and the TP-Link edged in front. The differences are small, though – small enough that if I ran the tests again the results could be reversed.
TP-Link Deco M5 review: Verdict
In short, the TP-Link Deco M5 is a worthy entry to the low end of the mesh networking market. It’s well priced at £230 for three nodes, and it includes network-based antivirus and excellent parental controls.
I prefer Google Wifi’s app and the way it can proactively change channels to improve wireless performance and avoid interference, and the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system is faster at close range and cheaper overall. But TP-Link’s offering is competitive and especially good for parents. It comes warmly recommended.