On Monday (Mar 16), local telco StarHub started bundling a home mesh Wi-Fi system – dubbed StarHub Smart WiFi – for free with its fibre broadband plans that offer speeds of 1Gbps and above.
Smart WiFi – actually the Nokia Beacon 1 – is a mesh system that relies on a network of identical, interconnected routers to eliminate blind spots and improve wireless coverage.
StarHub includes one router for free – it says a single unit is good enough for three-room apartments or homes up to 140 sq m in size.
The routers are priced at $120 each. They are available only to new and existing StarHub fibre broadband customers and can be purchased with monthly instalments.
I spent several days last week testing a two-router set-up.
Launched last year, the Beacon 1 is the entry-level model of its range, with the Beacon 3 (sold by some stores here) being the higher-end version.
In technical terms, the Beacon 1 is an AC1200 mesh router that supports the older Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) standard. It is a dual-band router with a maximum theoretical speed of 867Mbps.
Like many mesh routers, it looks like a home appliance. It is white, stands upright – it cannot be wall-mounted – and lacks external antennae.
There are only two Gigabit ports and no USB ports, which means there is essentially only one free port after connecting the Beacon 1 to the ONT (optical network terminal).
This free Gigabit LAN port can be used to connect to other Beacon 1 nodes to form a wired backhaul to improve network performance.
If this wired option is not feasible for your home, the Beacon does not have a dedicated wireless backhaul, unlike more expensive mesh routers.
This means wireless performance will take a hit, especially in the farthest part of the home.
You will need the Nokia WiFi mobile app (available for iOS and Android) to set up and manage the Beacon 1. You are also required to sign up for a free Nokia account.
Nokia deserves top marks for the ease of setting up both the first Beacon 1 and additional nodes. It has a useful network map that shows the strength of the wireless signal for each connected client device.
At a glance, I could see which devices were suffering from poor Wi-Fi speeds. I could change the location of the router or add another router to the mesh network to improve wireless coverage.
The app also comes with a built-in chat function that lets you chat with Nokia support staff if you encounter any technical issues.
The Beacon 1, though, may not be for more demanding users.
It has only basic features, such as a guest network, port forwarding and DNS (domain name system) settings.
But it lacks integrated software to protect against malware or quality of service (QoS) features, unlike other routers.
Even the Beacon’s parental controls are rudimentary. While you can cut off Internet access entirely or block specific websites – the addresses of which you have to key in manually – there is no database of potentially harmful websites based on type of content, such as gambling or drugs.
I was unimpressed by its wireless performance. In my speed test, the Beacon 1 produced a middling average download speed of 320Mbps when using a client laptop in the same living room as the primary Beacon 1 router.
In a distant bedroom with the door closed, the average download speed dipped to 156Mbps, which is standard for an entry-level mesh router without a dedicated wireless backhaul.
• Fast, easy set-up
• App caters to mainstream users
• Live chat for support
• Middling Wi-Fi speeds
• No built-in malware protection or QoS
• Does not support the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard
PRICE: $120 (available only for StarHub broadband customers)
ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x Gigabit LAN port, 1 x Gigabit WAN port
SECURITY: WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK
ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT and SPI
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5
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