About two months ago, our esteemed Editor Emeritus Martin had a play with the D-Link COVR-2202 mesh Wi-Fi system and came away very impressed. D-Link was kind enough to send me a sample with McAfee protection. This one has been on my desk for a few weeks, so how do I feel about it?
Wi-Fi, SchmWi-Fi, Extenders, Mesh - A (very very) brief history of WiFi
Back in my day .... yours truly was part of the very first educational large scale WiFi roll out in Victoria, a 802.11a with lots of very expensive access points dotted around a number of school buildings providing network access to some 200 laptops. It was early days and having WiFi at home was still a few years away. When it did get cheap enough to have wide spread traction at home, we were forced to position the device somewhere in the house to try get the best coverage, and live with the inevitable dead spots.
Some of us may remember trying long range antennas, shoving it into the roof cavity to avoid building material interference. The market came out with range extenders which were a mix of snake oil and prayers, with some that did occasionally help with the actual task at hand. And now we are in the golden age of mesh Wi-Fi systems.
How is mesh different from extenders? The short and non-technical answer is, an extender picks up an existing signal on the same channel and rebroadcasts it, with the option of having a separate SSID for the boosted signal. A mesh system has a dedicated backhaul for each node to communicate with each other, and functions as one seamless SSID. This allows a device to transition to the node broadcasting the strongest signal without needing to renegotiate and reconnect in the background. In the case of the COVR-2202, this dedicated backhaul is a 5 GHz channel.
Martin was not wrong when he said they are the best looking Wi-Fi units he has ever seen, gloss white triangular tower with a discreet rose gold trim. It is on par with another unit I reviewed a while back that would have doubled as a decorative sculpture. There are no unsightly external antennas, every COVR node has three antennas hidden under the facade. The status of each node is easily discernible from a distance - the COVR logo lights up red, orange or white depending on what is going on.
There is a primary node, which is clearly marked with a red sticker "COVR Point A" when unboxing. This is the unit you start with, with LAN port 1 being the WAN port.
There are two ways of settings up the COVR-2202, the first is using the D-Link WiFi app available either on Google Play or Appstore. This is by far the easiest way to get things up and running, or is it? You do need a D-Link account to proceed, and basic configuration of the COVR-2202 is done via the D-Link WiFi app. You scan in the provided QR Code on the little card, which also provides you the default SSID and WPA for the initial join to the network.
I am with Aussie Broadband (great ISP by the way, my Refer-A-Friend code is 2871994), and I did found out the hard way a little known piece of information when changing out my router. It can take up to 30 minutes for the connection to reset and for the new hardware to gain internet access - after the new device receives an IP address from the Arris.
With that in mind, I swapped out my existing router and plugged in the COVR Point A, I duly reset my Arris device as well and gave it a good 40 minutes at which point the COVR logo stayed a steadfast orange. The app gave me no love except that my internet connection is down and I need to fix it. Of course it was just my luck with COVID-19 and people were starting to work from home, so phone support with my ISP was not going to happen.
I reset the COVR to factory defaults and started again to no avail. The Web UI did not offer me any more clues to the issue. Due to a complex set of personal circumstances, I was unable to invest the usual amount of time I normally could to troubleshoot. Additionally as my own work from home requirements was ramping up, I could not afford extended down time to keep try wrangle the COVR into submission.
There were a few ideas bouncing in my head as to how to resolve the problem. Martin did tell me he had absolutely no problems at all, which just frustrated me even more. Eventually I think I just swore at the unit until it caved in. One thing I did do different was jumping on the Web UI as soon as the COVR booted up. By doing that, I could catch a glimpse of it actually getting an IP address from my Arris device before dropping out. With the knowledge that there is actually an end-to-end connectivity, it was just a matter of power cycling the Arris and COVR in sequence and it all finally came together.
Adding the second node to the mesh network was simple. Unlike my internet connectivity, all I needed to do was power it on with a LAN cable between the two nodes and add the device in the app. The COVR logo on the second node cycled from orange to white indicating that it was functioning normally.
- Primary WiFi, which also allows for scheduling
- Internet connection, including the all important VLAN configuration required for some ISPs
- Guest WiFi, which can be set to be block from accessing the core network
- Operation, setting the COVR into either Bridge or Router mode
- Basic management such as scheduling firmware updates
- Link to Cloud Services such as D-Link Defend, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
For more advanced features, you will need to go to the WebUI. This includes:
- set the IP address of the COVR primary node, DNS and the like
- Port Forwarding
- Static Routes
- Dynamic DNS
- System Log
Once the system is set up and running, it is a dream. I do not have a particularly large house, but noticeably with an older router which I was using whilst this place was being renovated, I had coverage issues particularly once I reach the front patio. This was causing issues with my Arlo connectivity. With the COVR-2202 in place with one node towards the back of the house and one in the lounge room, I am getting complete coverage over all the areas that I need - pretty much all over the actual property not just the building. In my defence, each of the COVR nodes are strategically placed so that it is next to an external wall in order to get the WiFi propagation that I was aiming for.
Various WiFi heatmaps tests fluctuates between a 526 Mbps to 650 Mbps connection on my phone, and a signal level of -50 dBm to -46 dBm. Numbers aside, there is a remarkable improvements in transfer speed across devices on my network. Moving large RAW photo files off my Synology NAS is blistering fast, transferring large video files for the tweenager's homework is no longer accompanied with an impatient whine.
McAfee Secure Home Platform Protection
The D-Link COVR-2202 comes bundled with McAfee Secure Home Platform Protection. This requires the aforementioned D-Link account, and a separate app to be downloaded. Once this is set up, the main D-Link WiFi app will have an icon for D-Link Defend. Tapping on it launches the D-Link Defend app, which you can also access directly from your launcher.
While D-Link WiFi deals with the core operations of the COVR-2202, D-Link Defend is where additional security controls comes into play. This is where you can exert control over every device connected to your COVR network, such as:
- scheduling WiFi connectivity
- block web content using 15 pre-configured web content categories
- whitelist or blacklist domains
All of these can be done via a per device policy, or via a profile where multiple devices can be assigned to the same user. For example Master J has a BYOD laptop and a mobile phone, I create a policy based on our parenting decisions on his needs and apply it on both devices under his profile. It makes life a little simpler for me when managing changing needs, particularly when I need to whitelist particular sites when necessary.
There are multiple ways to skin a cat and with McAfee LiveSafe, it has different outcomes. For web content filtering, you can apply it at an explicit device level or via parental controls. The former one is a hard block that has the message "This website's blocked. Your network owner doesn't want you to go there for security or other reasons." The latter is a soft block that provides a link to ask the parent to grant or deny access.
Additionally you could invite individual devices to install McAfee Antivirus protection. The naming here is a bit of a misnomer, the app that is actually installed is McAfee Security (app name), which opens up to be McAfee LiveSafe. Aside from all the various names it is referred to, it is also a bit clunky to install. From the D-Link Defend app, you need to go to the relevant device and tap on the McAfee Antivirus protection install button. This will then need you to send an invitation to the user of the device with a pre-canned message:
"Your network owner wants you to use this link to install McAfee® antivirus protection. You can check with them first to make sure this invite’s not spam. https://mcafee.ly/2V2A1ua"
From there you have to tap on the URL, open it up in a browser, then tap on the download button which will send you to the relevant app store where you actually get to install it. When that is done, you finally get to configure all the settings within the app. Each device has to be configured individually, there is no way of creating a base profile and applying it to all devices you want to manage.
What McAfee LiveSafe offers is a bit of everything. At a base level, it offers:
- storage cleaner - handy
- memory booster - debatable given how Android manages it's memory
- App Lock - ability to protect applications with a PIN or fingerprint (great if you regularly loan your phone to your kids)
- Anti-Theft - requires device admin rights to perform device locating and tracking, remote lock your device, theft protection with Thief Cam that takes a photo when the wrong passcode is inputted three or more times in a row (requires logon to McAfee mobile security website). This also turns the ring volume on your phone to max and blast out an alert
- Wipe all data on phone
There are additional options such as auto-lock when SIM is removed or network connection is lost, or if set to Airplane mode. The lock message is customisable.
McAfee LiveSafe offers a guest mode, where you can select what apps is available when the guest profile is activated when you lend your phone out. It also offers a data manager to warn you if you are reaching your monthly threshold.
Finally, it has a data backup, restore and wipe functionality. Backup runs once a day when the device is on charge. Contacts and SMS can be restored directly back to the phone, media has to be downloaded from the web portal to a computer first.
The COVR-2202 has limited smart home compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The commands are limited to toggling the guest WiFi status, get the guest SSID and password, reboot the router and upgrade the firmware.
EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that with the smart home integration, you can issue verbal commands to Alexa or Google such as "Alexa, turn off Internet for Master J", or "Ok Google, turn off the Internet for all the kids." Oh I already know what pains I will cast on my kids if they stop listening to me.
One feature I do like (in concept) is the D-Link Defend away from home. You can quickly isolate devices on your network from the internet when you set your status to away in the app. It can come in handy if I want to prevent unauthorised local access when I am not around to supervise.
On the COVR side:
I am going to write off the initial connectivity issues with my ISP to sheer bad luck. There was very little different in what I did in the end to get it working.
One of my frustrations was the limitations of D-Link WiFI app. It is perfectly fine when everything is going smoothly and for a basic user. As soon as I run into an issue, I want to be able to see logs, I want to see what is going on. The app does not offer me an option to view the logs making it impossible to troubleshoot.
The app also does not allow me to configure basic things like IP address of the primary node - it may work for others but I have way too much invested in my network setup to accept a default 192.168.0.1 router address. This task was left to the WebUI, along with setting up port forwards, firewall rules and Quality of Service. It would have been nice to have all those available in an advanced section of the app, or in D-Link Defend.
I can't manage the COVR when I am not physically connected to the SSID. I suppose with the app designed the way it is, there is no configuration required on the COVR, anything transient is all managed via D-Link Defend.
There are only two LAN ports per COVR node. On the primary node, LAN1 is used for WAN connectivity. Granted there is bugger all room to fit more ports in but it would be realllly nice to have just one more.
I am not a fan of the D-Link Defend app being separate from the D-Link WiFi app. I can understand the why it was done this way. What it also means is that after I have set up all my devices with friendly names on the D-Link WiFi app, it does not get translated across to the D-Link Defend app, and I have to do that a second time. It gets pretty painful after a while.
The parental control generally works pretty well, WiFi scheduling triggers at the right time. Website blocks mostly work with the categories. They aren't foolproof and cannot be expected to be. When websites are blocked, instead of it displaying a block page immediately, on quite a few occasions I get a certificate error first which can be confusing for the average punter.
The away mode gives a false sense of security. A network intrusion can happen at any time, whether you are at home or away. Unlike a burglary, hackers are not waiting for you to leave the house before they try.
On the McAfee LiveSafe side:
To put it bluntly, I am going to say this is largely bloatware. The anti-theft feature is nice, I get that it adds to the basic Android function, and I can even accept the App Lock feature. But why would you duplicate features that exist on the base OS already? Storage manager - I can do that within Android. Data manager, come on this has been a feature in Android for generations, and I am pretty sure Apple has it since iOS9.
McAfee backup and restore. I dig the feature, but where is the data going to? All I can find is that it is a secure server, until the server is not secure. If I am in certain fields of work, data jurisdiction kicks in in a big way and there is no information telling me where this backup data is going. At least with the Android OS backup, it does end up in my Google account ... somewhere in the cloud. Android OS backup already handles SMS, app data and more.
Better integration between D-Link WiFi and D-Link Defend. If you are forcing me to have an account just to use D-Link WiFi to setup COVR, at least make it so that my device list and naming convention can be transferred over.
More SSID / network support. Given the push towards security, the limitation on a main and a guest SSID is an archaic mentality. There are a few billion reasons why a home network requires more than a primary and a guest SSID, and that is Internet of Things. IoT is notoriously insecure and having them on the primary network is just asking for trouble. Sure I could put them on the guest network, but if I toggle Internet Only on that SSID, then I have to route through the Internet to get to my devices which brings up all kinds of other issues. It would be nice to have an dedicated IoT subnet where traffic and be initiated from the primary SSID to talk across the network.
While I am doing my moonshot proposal, I might as well throw this in. Aside from the various schools of thought around screen time, I would love to be able to set an weekly quota per child. For example 10 hours across 7 days, and if they choose to chew it up because they binged in a day, then they have used up their quota for the week and their internet is suspended until the cycle resets.
For what it is, the D-Link COVR-2202 is a an excellent mesh WiFi system. It looks fantastic, it performs well, and once configured (at least in my case), it works perfectly. Yes I had a long list of gripes to talk about, but none of them really affected the functionality of the system. The McAfee LiveSafe app I can live without, it is a bolt-on anyway. Some of the features are gimmicky - Alexa and Google Assistant integration, but it can be handy after this COVID-19 lockdown is over and you have guests turning up all the time.
At the end of the day, I am a power user of anything I use and I do have higher expectations than the average consumer. For the past two years my router serviced a very specific need to control internet content for my young family, and putting the COVR-2202 in it's place has not impacted on that mission in any significant way. I think with the COVR-2202 the makings of a very capable system is there, and I would love for D-Link to step up and add some prosumer features.
The D-Link COVR-2202 has a RRP of AUD$499.95, it seems Officeworks right now has it for $339 which is significantly cheaper than everywhere else. So if you are working from home and struggling with bad WiFi and contention issues with other people in the house, do yourself a favour and invest in one.
Mesh System : Yes
Ethernet Speed : Gigabit Ethernet
Warranty : 3-Year Limited Warranty
NBN/UFB Support : FTTP / FTTC/ HFC / Satellite / Fixed Wireless
LAN Port(s) : 2
CD-less Install : Yes
Guest Network : Yes
Parental Controls : Yes
mydlink enabled : No
Wireless Technology : AC2200 (400+866Mbps)
Wireless Bands : Tri Band
WAN Interface : Gigabit Ethernet
VoIP : No
Wave 2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi : Yes
Advanced Parental Control : Yes
Smart Home Protection : Yes
Mesh : COVR Series
PowerZone : No