While there are a variety of mesh networking systems out there from different manufacturers, they all work in a similar using a wireless “backhaul” connections to weave multiple access points together. TP-Link’s Deco P9 does things differently, which caught our attention and we thought it’s worth digging deeper into. While its three nodes can communicate wirelessly, they also make use of powerline networking to deliver additional backhaul bandwidth to potentially extend coverage to areas where a standard mesh platform cannot reach. Let’s find out how effective this fresh design and solution actually is.
TP-Link’s Deco P9 comprises of three identical white cylinders that have a pattern embossed onto the top surfaces. With a height of 190mm tall, they leave a curved, rectangular footprint of 91x91mm. They don’t sport a display, but there is a single-colour LED fitted into the top. This means one cannot really be notified of errors or different situations by the change in light colour. The presence of just two Gigabit Ethernet ports on each node doesn’t make things any better since when one of these will be connected to the modem, it would leave just one wired socket. Now, if one wishes to make use of the Deco P9’s Ethernet backhaul option, the central unit would be left with zero spare ports.
The TP-Link Deco P9 is an 802.11ac wireless mesh network system that can double up as your router or operate in access point mode to extend your existing router’s wireless network. Although its Wi-Fi delivery is reasonably modest, the downside is that there is no support for next-generation 802.11ax connections aka Wi-Fi 6. Moreover, with rated speeds of 300Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band and 867Mbits/sec over 5GHz, the device’s 802.11ac capabilities remain unimpressive by modern standards. Each unit contains two antennae, enough for 2×2 MU-MIMO, with no separate radio dedicated to backhaul traffic. The device does not offer VPN support and traffic management options aren’t exactly extensive either since users cannot set specific usage limits for individual devices, nor can they check which ones are eating into the bandwidth.
Coming to the positives, the device is super easy to set up since everything has to be done using a single TP-Link Deco smartphone app. Administrative options include enabling and disabling the guest network, blacklisting specific clients, reserving IP addresses for specific devices and setting up port forwarding. Up to 16 devices can be connected to TP-Link’s Deco P9 mesh network system that offers a practical per-device parental control function to its users. This feature lets users block various sites including file-sharing sites, games and social networking, in addition to the usual pornography blocks – a useful tool for households with young children. Administrators can also define total online time limits for weekdays and weekends, blocking out bedtimes completely. Moreover, the P9 is also quite impressive with its intelligence in some areas like how each station has a built-in powerline networking adapter that enables extra bandwidth for relaying traffic between nodes.
TP-Link has been talking about how well the Deco P9’s built-in powerline provision helps extend wireless coverage even through basements and thick walls. For most cases, this has proved to be valid for the duration of our usage before this use. While it is true that powerline networking isn’t affected by obstructions that usually affect Wi-Fi signals and speeds, it tends to be a lot slower than Wi-Fi. While the Deco P9 certainly gets some advantage from its powerline connection, it is significantly undermined by lightweight wireless hardware. It basically provides stable connections around the house or property, but download speeds drop visibly in areas other than where the router unit is located – much like other mesh systems in this segment. We cannot disagree that when it comes to a typical household setting, a good quality Wi-Fi-only mesh system is more likely to give users a desirable performance compared to the Deco P9’s hybrid approach.
We are all praises for TP-Link’s new design and approach, but unfortunately, it has also made us see why such a combination of powerline and mesh networking isn’t prevalent because its benefits are limited to typical users. However, if you work in an attic, or a basement or have a garden office where Wi-Fi signals are sketchy at best, you can make use of the Deco P9 to boost coverage in a specific place while the third node can boost wireless networks in other areas of your property.