Page 2: Software: QoS and BufferBloat Protection, Band Steering and Access Point Steering, and Cloud vs. Local Management
Quality of Service (QoS) is an umbrella term that is used to describe many different aspects of a network (and beyond). For our purposes, we’re focusing on internet connection (or WAN port) QoS, specifically a router’s ability to manage your bandwidth such that one device on your network can’t slow down everyone else’s access to the internet. Think about a scenario when your Mac decides to back up all its photos to the cloud and suddenly your other devices are slow to browse the web or check email. This is commonly called “BufferBloat”, and a router with proper internet connection QoS can eliminate or reduce that slowdown.
- eero: Yes. In May, 2018, eero added their eero Labs Smart Queue Management feature, which directly addresses this very problem. [Updated 1-June-2018]
- Google Wifi: No.
- Linksys Velop: No.
- Netgear Orbi: Yes. Was recently added with a software update, and a hidden QoS web page implies more may be coming, though nothing has been announced.
- Plume SuperPods: No.
- TP-Link Deco: No. Their QoS just supports device prioritization.
- Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: The AmpliFi Gamer’s Edition now does include WAN-based QoS (aka BufferBloat protection), but only in the Gamer’s Edition.
Advice: You want this. Second only to having solid coverage everywhere is having a well-managed internet connection. The reality, though, is that there are only a few mesh options that have it. Good news: if you’re running a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem, it has a much-improved queueing algorithm in it (called DOCSIS PIE) that all but eliminates this problem for most folks, alleviating the need for it in your router.
Software: Band Steering and Access Point Steering
Every mesh product supports both 5GHz and 2.4GHz radios, and most of your client devices (iOS and Macs) will support both of these, as well. Generally-speaking, your devices will choose the radio that appears to be strongest and fastest at your current location, but your iPhone and Mac don’t always know how congested a given radio frequency is. Your router has this information, of course, and Band Steering means that your router participates in that decision process, helping your devices choose the best radio band for your current conditions. Access Point Steering means that the mesh will actively direct clients to the best access point at any given time.
- eero: Clients choose their access point and radio band, and then eero’s proprietary TrueMesh algorithm reroutes traffic dynamically based upon congestion patterns to maximize the efficiency of your network. In June, 2018, eero added Band Steering as an official capability in eero Labs.
- Google Wifi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
- Linksys Velop: Access Point steering and roaming is supported, Band Steering is not.
- Netgear Orbi: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
- Plume SuperPods: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
- TP-Link Deco: Supports both Band Steering and Access Point Steering.
- Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Supports both Band Steering, as described above, and Router Steering, which directs appropriate clients to talk directly to the router and avoid the additional hop of going through an access point. This is a form of Access Point Steering, but slightly different because it only directs clients back to the main router.
Advice: There are certainly scenarios where having Band Steering helps, like if you have a lot of 2.4GHz devices that are routinely transmitting large chunks of data. In those, it’s helpful to have the router help steer your other clients to the 5GHz network. From an engineering/efficiency standpoint, Band Steering makes a lot of sense, but in our testing the throughput of a mesh network being used for general Internet access in a standard home isn’t usually affected by it one way or another (with single, standalone routers we find it much more important). Access Point steering, however, is quite helpful but also very difficult to implement properly. eero has tried and failed in the past, but we’re told they’re still working on it. Plume is currently doing it better than anyone else, and all the others claim to do it, but our tests don’t necessarily show it being done often.
Software: Cloud vs. Local Management
For years, the majority of routers were locally-managed, meaning you would connect directly to your router from inside your network, tweak its settings, and be done with it. That changed with mesh networks, where many of them are managed via the cloud. You connect to the manufacturer’s cloud service, make your changes there, and those changes are pushed back down to your mesh network.
Cloud management generally means easier tech support as well as the ability to remotely manage your network. It also comes with the risk that if your router manufacturer’s cloud goes down for any reason (technical or business-related), you may not be able to change your router’s settings.
- eero: Cloud managed only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
- Google Wifi: Cloud managed only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
- Linksys Velop: Both local and cloud management supported with web interface and iOS/Android apps.
- Netgear Orbi: Local and remote management supported, all direct to router. No NETGEAR cloud used. Web interface is the main UI, NETGEAR Orbi and Genie apps are also supported, with the latter allowing remote management.
- Plume SuperPods: Cloud only.
- TP-Link Deco: Cloud only. No web interface, iOS/Android app only.
- Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Local and remote management supported. Mostly with iOS/Android app. Web interface is very limited and basic.
Advice: It’s easy to get caught up in the aforementioned risks of cloud management, but for most folks it’s best not to use this particular feature as a make-or-break factor in choosing your mesh solution. Anything is possible, but generally-speaking you’re probably going to change routers again before any of these companies or product lines are discontinued.