TP-Link Deco M5 Review: a compact and powerful Wi-Fi system

TP-Link chooses to invest in the market of Wi-Fi systems with a TP-Link Deco M5 offered at a lower price than that of most of its competitors. If this lower price does not go without some concessions, it is clear that some ideas are quite interesting on this product, which is also intended to be the home security companion.

Presentation

In principle, TP-Link Deco M5 is faithful to what all competing Wi-Fi systems offer. We thus find a system replacing the existing Wi-Fi network (and not supplementing it), and composed of boxes – quite compact by the way – that are available in greater or lesser number through their home. These boxes broadcast on two frequency bands (2.4 and 5 GHz) in a completely transparent way for the devices, which only see a single network to connect to no need to manually choose which network to connect to. The different boxes then communicate with each other to route data between devices. The idea is to obtain a robust wireless network, covering all the rooms. TP-Link, therefore, offers its Deco M5 individually,

Here, no master module: all the M5s in a pack will be identical. They all offer Wi-Fi AC connectivity at 867 Mb / s and N at 400 Mb / s – like most competing models – via 4 internal antennas as well as 2 Gigabit Ethernet sockets. At least one box must be connected to the wired network, either directly to an Internet box (or existing router), or to any wall outlet (or any switch ) connected to it. On the other hand, the system chosen to make dialogue between the different boxes is quite interesting and differs from what we had seen so far.

TP-Link Deco M5

Image Source: amazon.com

As a reminder, most of the competing offers propose to reserve a broadcasting channel to make the boxes communicate with each other. A device at the end of the housing will thus connect to the network of the nearest Wi-Fi box, then the box in question will relay with the next box via a dedicated channel until it reaches the router ( either a master module or the Internet box). Using a dedicated channel eliminates the constraint that can be seen on Wi-Fi repeaters, where half of the bandwidth is reserved for the router-repeater dialogue.

No doubt for the sake of cost, TP-Link has therefore chosen to limit itself to two broadcasting channels. We, therefore, find ourselves in an identical pattern to the use of conventional Wi-Fi repeaters, as mentioned above. The manufacturer nevertheless had a rather interesting idea to limit the saber effect on the bandwidth.

Responding to the sweet name of ART (Advanced Routing Technology), the solution implemented allows boxes to choose by which means it is most interesting to pass data between two boxes. Thus, if a device is connected to the Wi-Fi AC network of a fairly distant “x” box, it will be the N network that will be used for dialogue with the “y” box which would be connected to the box, for example.

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Conversely, if a device communicates via Wi-Fi N, it will probably be the Wi-Fi AC network that will be used. ART technology thus inspects in real-time which broadcast channel offers the best bandwidth. It is moreover not excluded that a device connected in AC sees the inter box communication also be done in AC if the system judges that it will go faster than in N.

The idea is therefore quite interesting on paper, especially since ART also deals with Ethernet. If the user has the technical means, he can connect all the TP-Link Deco M5 in Ethernet via wall outlets and other switches. Interbox communication can then also be done by this means, thus leaving the Wi-Fi bandwidth at its maximum – and eliminating the problem of the absence of a dedicated channel.

Ergonomics

The installation of the TP-Link Deco M5 is simplified to the extreme, but necessarily involves the use of a dedicated application, available on Android or iOS smartphones. The application guides the user through each step and these are quite simple: connect the first Deco M5 via Ethernet to its network (box or switch ), connect it to the current and wait for Bluetooth synchronization to take place between the smartphone and the Deco.

After these first steps, we give some indications on the Wi-Fi network to create (name and password) and it’s done. The addition of a module is generally done in the same way: we just plug it into the power and the Bluetooth synchronization with the smartphone (automatic) allows the

The management of the different boxes is then done only through the TP-Link application. The firm did not see fit to add a web configuration/management interface, unlike what we usually find – a detail that makes it lose a star in ergonomics. We nevertheless appreciate the clarity of the application, easy to use even for neophytes. We also appreciate that the latest firmware update for the boxes is installed as soon as they are installed. The application then takes care of informing the user of the availability of updates via a notification.

For the rest, we find most of the usual tabs on routers and other Wi-Fi systems: connected devices, reservation of addresses, management of port redirections, and management of the diode present on each device (possibility of turning it off).

Router or access point: it’s your choice

By default and like all Wi-Fi systems, the TP-Link Deco M5 works like a router. A mode of operation not necessarily adapted to the French market, where the overwhelming majority of users use the box provided by their ISP – box which acts as a router. The problem is that using two routers is to be avoided, since this gives rise to conflicts that may lead to the impossibility of making two devices talk to each other, for example.

No inevitability, however; two solutions are to be considered. The first is to persist in using the TP-Link Deco M5 as a router, therefore to switch your box to bridge mode if such an option exists (this is allowed on Freeboxes, for example, but not on Liveboxes). The second consists of doing the opposite reasoning: the box continues to carry out the data routing and the TP-Link Deco M5 system switches to bridge-access point mode. This is the simplest solution to implement, but it is not without consequences on the security-related functionalities, as we will see below.

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HomeCare: a system that focuses on home security

User security is one of the key arguments used by TP-Link on this Wi-Fi system. This goes through a solution called HomeCare by the manufacturer, carried out in partnership with Trend Micro (specialized in antivirus and security solutions). This solution offers antivirus, parental control, and quality of service (QoS) management.

The idea is to do away with a traditional security system station by station and to carry out the operation upstream, at the level of the router – of the TP-Link Deco M5 therefore. Be careful, however, HomeCare is only available when the Deco M5 system is set to router mode; it is therefore completely inoperative in access point mode.

For the antiviral part, everything happens transparently. Three options (malicious content, intrusion prevention, and quarantine) are offered through the application which offers to activate or deactivate each of them, without further adjustment latitude. At this point, we find the service interesting, but the lack of in-depth tweaking is regrettable.

The management of quality of service (QoS) is just as scarce in options since they are limited to choosing which type of use should take precedence in terms of bandwidth (streaming, games, browsing, etc.). This, without any distinction between the different connected devices.

The parental control part is a little more provided. It is a question of control by the device (the smallest tablet, the large smartphone, the family notebook, etc.) in order to choose between different levels of pre-established filtering according to the age of the user. Parents are free to personalize the type of content filtered (social networks, online payment, adult content, gambling, etc.), or to prevent the use of manually entered applications or websites to best stick to desired restrictions.

In addition to the access restrictions to certain sites and services, parental control also makes it possible to limit access to the Internet (always on a case-by-case basis, for each device). The system is well implemented here since if it makes it possible to set up time slots when the Internet will be inaccessible, it also authorizes the setting up of time limits. It is thus possible to define a quota of hours on weekdays and a quota of hours on weekends – a limitation which will be reminiscent of the frustration of the non-unlimited Internet, pre-2000.

Note, however, these services are not unlimited in time. It is thus a question of access of three years from the first use of the TP-Link Deco M5. After these three years, it will be necessary to go back to the cash register to continue using them. Asked about this, the manufacturer was not able to give us the renewal rates. Note, however, that this is only HomeCare services. In the event of non-renewal, only the antivirus, parental control, and QoS services will be deactivated; the rest (the router and Wi-Fi part) will be fully operational.

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Debits

Debits: 802.11ac – 5 GHz

The speeds are generally very good on the TP-Link Deco M5, both on the 2.4 GHz band and on the 5 GHz band. The averages show peaks at 545 Mb / s in AC for averages running between 230 and 335 Mb / s depending on the case. Overall results slightly down from competitors such as the Netgear Orbi 50 and Linksys Velop.

Debits: 802.11n – 2,4 GHz

In N, the results are really very high and TP-Link distances itself quite significantly from its competitors. The peaks are thus close to 290 Mb / s and the averages between 200 and 240 Mb / s, which is practically 100 Mb / s more than on Orbi 50.

Be careful though, these results can vary enormously depending on the situation, especially in AC. Our tests are quite simple since they use two devices: one that sends and another that receives the data. We carried out these tests by putting into operation two Deco M5s. The absence of a dedicated channel for the dialogue between the two M5s, therefore, has a negative impact on Wi-Fi AC when a device connects to a module which then communicates with the second module via its Wi-Fi N channel, the flow is then literally cut in half, which removes a star from the flow rate.

Because it is precisely to avoid this bottleneck that other Wi-Fi systems offer tri-band devices with a dedicated channel. In the present case, it is nevertheless possible to override this limitation by connecting each box via Ethernet. If this is clearly possible in a recent construction where each room has a network outlet, it is much less so in older homes and, what is more, takes away a lot of flexibility in positioning.

Signal strength

Signal strength: 2,4 GHz

The signal strength is slightly below the average of the devices we have already tested. This is valid for both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz transmission.

Signal strength: 5 GHz

Consumption

The power supply for the boxes goes through a small AC adapter that leads to a USB-C connector. We noted 4.1 W at rest and 5.3 W during data exchanges. It is rather correct for this type of device, but we regret that no physical switch is present, nor time management of the switching on/off of the modules via the configuration application.

Strong Points of TP-Link Deco M5

  • Ultra simple and quick to set up.
  • Easy-to-use configuration app.
  • Interesting management of parental control.
  • High flow rates.
  • Possibility of connecting each module to the Ethernet network for better speeds.
  • Compact enclosures.

Weak Points of TP-Link Deco M5

  • Lack of a dedicated channel for inter-unit dialogue: beware of drops in flow rates in certain cases.
  • Administration interfaces only via a smartphone application.

Conclusion

The TP-Link Deco M5 is a fairly interesting Wi-Fi system that is very easy to set up. If we can blame it for a drop in flow rates in certain cases, it is still among the fastest in its category.

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