I live in an old Victorian building with walls that are feet thick in places and this makes wi-fi coverage tricky. Even just connecting things one room away from the router was troublesome and I’d either have to put up with intermittent reception or use Powerline-style plugs to push the network through the electricity circuit.
So I wondered how one of these mesh-like setups would fare. The first thing my internet research told me was that they’re fairly expensive.
I just needed two units to start with: one base unit hanging off the router in the living room and another on the other side of a thick wall in the bedroom to connect my Sonos 1, phone and iPad when I’m in the bedroom. You can pay £200+ for TP-Link stuff and £300+ for Netgear or Google equipment, and I didn’t really want to spend that sort of cash because I wasn’t entirely convinced it would get through my thick walls anyway.
Then this Tenda Nova stuff caught my eye. A two-unit MW3 system with 2,500 sq ft of coverage was £70 and a two-unit MW6 system with 4,000 sq ft of coverage was £120. The reviews on Amazon were reasonable too.
I went for the MW6, not because I actually needed the sq ft coverage but because I thought the more powerful system would stand a better chance of penetrating my thick walls.
The upshot is it works. I get a consistent three bars of wi-fi in the bedroom now whereas I was getting an intermittent one or, on a really good day, two bars before. My Sonos 1 speaker now works all the time and I can rely on the wi-fi connection for my phone and iPad.
There are a couple of things worth noting. The Tenda Nova Mesh System doesn’t extend your current wi-fi network as such, rather it creates a new wi-fi network.
To set it up you have to download the Tenda WiFi app, plug in the base unit and connect it via an ethernet cable to your router and then follow the setup procedures in the Tenda WiFi app. You plug in the secondary units where you think you’ll need coverage. So I have a base unit in my living room hard-wired to the router and a secondary unit in my bedroom.
Each Tenda Nova box has a network ID and password printed on the bottom of the box. You connect to that network for setup and use it to create a new wi-fi network for your house. You then log onto that new network and manage things from there. The Nova’s little self-contained wi-fi network is merely used for the initial setup.
As it happens I’ve now bought a third Tenda Nova box. The old Victorian building I live in has ten apartments and I’m one of the directors of its management company. We have a, er, ‘rogue element’ at work here just now and we installed CCTV in the building. The idea was to put the CCTV box in my flat because I’m right next door to the public foyer. Unfortunately the CCTV’s own wi-fi just couldn’t get from the cameras, through the thick walls to the receiver box in my flat. So we put the box in a locked cupboard in the foyer and I took my Tenda Nova box from the bedroom and hard-wired it to the back of the CCTV box.
It works too, which really impressed me. It has to get through a cupboard door and a couple of thick walls and we may only get one or two bars but the important thing is that it’s consistent. A solid and reliable two bars is preferable to something that might give you four bars one day and none the next. Or at least that’s my opinion.
I then bought another Tenda Nova MW6 box to replace the one that was in my bedroom. You use the Tenda App to connect a new box. I couldn’t seem to get the new box connected for a while and I kept unplugging it, rebooting it and faffing around with things in general. But all it needs is patience. It seems to take an inordinate amount of time to connect a new box but it eventually finds it and adds it to your network.
The Tenda Wi-Fi app is where you do your network configuration too. It supports things like port forwarding, QoS, UPnP, DNS and a lot of the other things you’d find on a typical router.
I haven’t performed any specific tests on the throughput of the network — no formal metrics or anything — but I can say it seems just as fast as any of my router’s native wireless networks and of course it has better coverage.
There are some minor annoyances. The app only works in portrait mode on an iPhone or iPad, for example and, as I previously mentioned, it takes ages to add a new box to the network. But, over all , I’ve been pretty impressed with this Tenda Nova MW6 Wi-Fi Mesh system. I’ll drop half a star for the minor niggles but otherwise I have no complaints, particularly as this is way cheaper than a lot of the big brand equivalents.
The units themselves put me in mind of a Borg Cube for some reason.