There are so many companies out there selling mesh WiFi systems it feels a little bit like Oprah doing a Christmas special at the moment. “You can have a mesh system, and you can have a mesh system, and you can have a mesh system!” But not all of them are made equal and even fewer are as simple and straight forward to setup as their marketing departments would like you to believe. So when a new player like “Tenda” come along you can be forgiven for being skeptic but thankfully, for those of you looking for an affordable, reliable and no-frills system then boy do I have the mesh system for you.
Tenda is a brand I’d never heard of before. They’re new to the Australian market but have been making networking hardware since 1999 and are now a global brand pushing aggressively into western markets. What does that mean? Well it means their products are generally more affordable for a start, which is great for consumers, mesh WiFi has hardly been the cheapest option for SOHO setups up until this point.
To begin with Australia will be receiving two of their mesh systems. The entry level MW3 is a dual-band AC1200 system designed for general consumers with fewer devices and has a footprint of up to 300m2. The second, and their flagship, is the MW6, which again uses a dual-band AC1200 system but with a much stronger signal and beamforming technology, designed to cover up to as much as 500m2.
The MW3 nodes are also significantly lighter given their less sophisticated internals. They’re also slightly smaller and have an interesting pattern on their top that may or may not fit in with your decor.
The MW6 is still quite small (10cm x 10cm x 10cm) but as they include better transmitters with the added beamforming tech they do weigh slightly more. Their appearance has a slightly more boxy look to them, which again won’t suit everyone, but they’re hardly offensive and aren’t sitting on your kitchen bench with giant antenna protruding from it like your standard ISP provided eyesore.
Setting up the Tenda mesh system was undoubtedly the easiest WiFi setup I’ve done to date. Taking any of the three included nodes out of the box it’s blatantly obvious where a power lead is connected and where to connect my internet connection’s modem or router.
From here a quick scan of a QR code (yes iOS devices do them natively now too) and the Tenda app was downloaded onto my phone. This app will then guide you through the process of setting up your primary node beginning with asking you to connect to the “NOVA_xxxx” network it’s automatically created. There’s a unique password printed on the bottom of the node that allows that to happen once connected will allow the setup to complete.
Adding additional nodes is simple too. After completing your primary node and network setup you simply turn on a secondary node within 10m of the primary. It’s LED will spring to life and blink a few times before turning solid and then appearing, connected, in the app. It’s super simple. I had my entire three node network up and running in under five minutes, which is truly impressive.
A lot of the reasons why I like the Nova system has to do with the Tenda app behind it’s management. The theme of the Nova’s ease of initial setup is more than followed through to all aspects of the system’s configuration and management.
At your finger tips are controls to setup a guest network, parental controls for disabling groups of devices you allocate to individuals, QoS and more.
Advanced features like port forwarding are elegantly implemented and walk you through the process superbly, step by step, picking a device to have traffic sent to, entering a port and selecting the protocol, it’s like magic. Sure their English isn’t the greatest and their translation pack could do with a bit of an update but I’m yet to see another system (mesh or not) that can be configured with such ease.
Where the Nova systems potentially fall down for some is in its use of a dual-band system instead of a tri-band one found in more expensive options. Not having a third channel, means that the communication between the nodes and their self-run management is handled on the same two (one 2.4GHz, the other 5GHz) that all your connected devices are using too. This isn’t going to be an issue for most but for high-end users with large capacities of traffic or lag-sensitive applications such as gaming may want to factor it into their decision, despite myself not having an issue.
The system is also fairly sparse on features, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s more that they may be features you want, which could rule them out for you. The lack of any USB ports is the main one meaning that the system can’t easily plug into a drive or printer to be shared on your network. That said, the nodes have dual ethernet ports so you can potentially connect a NAS or network printer that way.
Performance wise the system was more than adequate for your day to day needs. Whilst its throughput is hardly going to set any new records it was consistent and good enough for any movie/tv streaming and web browsing. If you’re transferring large files between devices, that’s going to be a little painful but no more so than most WiFi networks.
The MW6’s coverage was solid too. Not having 500m2 to test Tenda’s claims myself I can say it more than adequately covered two floors of an apartment building with nodes on each floor and a good 200m2. The MW6 nodes also have beamforming technology and can isolate or push a stronger signal to a device instead of just blasting a signal out.
The system did feel like it slowed a little when it was loaded with active devices however. Pushing it with 50 things transferring one way or another at the same time had the network bog down but this isn’t office grade hardware and even with your teenage kids having more than 30 in the average household is unlikely, let alone them all transferring data at once.
When it all comes down to it there are three things people want from a WiFi system. It needs to be easy to set up, affordable and most of all reliable and that’s exactly what both the MW3 & MW6 systems delivered for me. Neither are going to break any transfer-speed records but both were up and running in minutes, provide a reliable connection and very affordable. The MW3 especially so which at A$199 is Australia’s cheapest Mesh WiFi system to date.