This year has seen a wave of new whole-home Wi-Fi systems (or mesh routers) from the major consumer networking brands. These systems - usually sold as a set of two or three units - work together to improve Wi-Fi coverage.
But, before this recent surge of popularity, Singtel has had a similar mesh networking solution for its home fibre broadband subscribers since early last year, called AirTies WiFi Mesh. Singtel subscribers pay $10 per month over a two-year period to buy a pack of two identical AirTies Air 4920 units. For those with larger homes, additional units are available for an extra $5 per month each over two years.
The AirTies WiFi Mesh are wireless access points, not routers. In other words, they cannot work without a router. But this is usually not an issue, as a wireless router is usually bundled with a home broadband subscription. Each unit is a small rectangular box that fits in the palm. It has two Gigabit Ethernet ports and a Reset button.
Setting up is a simple plug- and-play affair. Because the standard two-pack units are pre-paired out of the box, you simply power up one unit and connect it to your router's LAN port using an Ethernet cable. Power up the second unit and it will automatically search for the other.
If the two LEDs (one for its 2.4GHz band and the other for its 5GHz band) at the front are green, it means the two AirTies WiFi Mesh units are well-placed. If they are out of range, the LEDs will be red. Bring them closer to each other until their LEDs turn green.
Singtel says an AirTies app (available for iOS and Android devices) will be released next month to guide users in setting up the WiFi Mesh using a smartphone or tablet. The app can also be used to manage the AirTies devices, though the options are meagre, vis-a-vis using the browser interface. Compared with a standard router, the WiFi Mesh has just a handful of features, such as guest Wi-Fi networks and filtering of client devices.
PRICE: $10 per month over 24 months ($240) for Singtel fibre broadband subscribers
ETHERNET INTERFACE: 2 x 10/100/1,000 Gigabit LAN
SECURITY: WPA/WPA2, WEP
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
The first thing I changed during the set-up was the WiFi Mesh's default password. I also renamed the default SSID (network name) to my router's SSID to make it easier for users to find the right network. Changes are applied to all connected units.
It supports Ethernet backhaul, so you can link up multiple WiFi Mesh units via the Ethernet cable. This backhaul is a dedicated channel used for communication between the units and usually results in better wireless performance.
Unlike more expensive mesh routers, such as the Linksys Velop, the AirTies WiFi Mesh lacks the extra wireless band required for wireless backhaul.
In my testing, the WiFi Mesh managed a download speed of around 402Mbps when my test laptop was in the same living room as the WiFi Mesh unit that is connected to my router. This is slightly faster than most mesh router systems I have tested.
Further away, in my bedroom, the download speed dropped to 150Mbps, which is typical for a mesh router system without a dedicated backhaul.
Overall, the AirTies WiFi Mesh network did not drop to below 30 per cent of the maximum signal strength, even at the farthest corner of my home.
• Verdict: Singtel's Wi-Fi mesh solution is easy to set up out of the box. But, while inexpensive, it lacks features you would expect from standard routers. And it is only for Singtel subscribers.