Mesh Wi-Fi has been a game changer for people who had to deal with spotty connections. For those who need a bit more oomph, though, TP-Link has just introduced the Deco PX50 mesh system that uses the belt and braces approach, with each unit having a built-in powerline adapter to get your in-wall power cabling to help spread the internet more evenly.
But, is it overkill or just enough kill? And who actually needs it?
I’ve reviewed a lot of Wi-Fi devices in my time, and I have to admit that I expected something chunkier from a mesh unit with a powerline adapter. But, aside from the units being a bit taller, they look like attractive, standard TP-Link Deco units; which is to say boring and unobtrusive. The power brick is inside the unit, so it’s quite clean. It looks nice on a shelf.
Set up is really easy through the Deco app. Very much a “plug in the devices and then follow the onscreen instructions” situation, which is always nice. Also nice is the ability to make a guest network so you don’t have to give visitors your full Wi-Fi password (additionally, this is a good way to section off smart home devices from your main network).
Having Wi-Fi 6 built in means you’ll be able to get theoretically higher speeds if you’re lucky enough to live in a place with 1Gbps+ speeds (and can I please move in with you?). But mostly Wi-Fi 6 means that you can put more devices on the one network without as many hiccups as there were on Wi-Fi 5 (aka 802.11ac). I usually have 50+ devices connected to my network at any one time (I have a smart home, and it’s an occupational hazard), and noticed that the connection was a bit more consistent compared to my three-year-old Deco system.
Most of the features in the Deco PX50 are ones that you’d expect from any mesh system: more consistent coverage because of the mesh network (as opposed to the outdated system of technically making a bunch of mini-networks with network extenders and shifting between them), an app with parental controls, and general Wi-Fi stuff. The powerline adapter aspect is what makes the PX50 special.
Powerline adapters aren’t a new thing, but they used to be a separate thing. You used to plug in one powerline adapter plugged into your modem or primary mesh node, and then plug in the other end down the part of the house with the dodgy connection and connect that ethernet cable to another node or directly to the device you want to have internet. The powerline adapter will then send internet signals around the power wires of your home as though they were ethernet cables and effectively give you a wired connection, admittedly somewhat degraded by the length and complexity of the wiring in your house.
Having powerline adapter capabilities built into the Deco PX50 makes them well-suited for big houses, houses with very thick walls, or apartments. Apartment buildings have a lot of competing wireless signals, particularly in the inner city where I live. My apartment complex has more residents than the small town I grew up in, so there are, understandably, a lot of Wi-Fi networks and even more wireless devices competing for bandwidth. This meant that while my apartment is pretty small, the Wi-Fi speed would drop 90% between my home office (where the modem is) and the living room (where the game consoles are).
Now, in my home office, I can get almost my full 530/530Mbps speeds on Wi-Fi, and in the living room on Wi-Fi, it only goes down to 268/189. Having the three ethernet ports on the back of the unit means that I can then run ethernet cables to the Xbox Series X, PS5 and the TV itself to get roughly 300/250 with a ping of 4ms. This is still a massive drop-off, but much better than the 10-40Mbps I’d get without the powerline adapter functionality.
Your mileage may vary depending on how much cabling you have in your walls, how efficient it is, and whether there’s anything weird going on. But, generally speaking, if you have a room that seems to act like a Faraday cage, then a unit like the PX50 (or just connecting your existing nodes to separate powerline adapters) should mitigate a lot of your issues.
While it’s difficult to do comparative tests on powerline adapters, the PX50 unit seemed to get similar results to my other TP-Link separate powerline adapter, just without taking up so much extra room. So that’s nice.
One of my favourite things about my previous Deco units was that they would automatically block malicious websites, give access to a bunch of robust parental controls, and traffic statistics. That used to be included for free. It costs money now, and I hate that. Everything is a bloody subscription service now, and it does seem a bit greedy to charge an extra $9.99 a month for something that used to be free on top of the $700 you’re paying for the system up front.
I used to enjoy having that extra layer of protection and those monthly reports. I’m probably going to subscribe for a few months until I find a better option. But unless you really want Wi-Fi level parental controls and can’t find a router still willing to give you them for free, I’m not sure Homeshield Pro is worth the extra chunk of change after shelling out so much for a premium product.
I also don’t like how pushy, judgey and guilt-trippy the language around getting users to subscribe to Homeshield Pro is.
Outside Homeshield Pro, I do like that you get a notification whenever a new device joins the network, because it gives you a bit more control and means you’ll know if a neighbour cracks your password.
Would I buy it?
Yes. 100%. In fact, as well as the one that I’m going to keep using at my place, I’m planning on buying one for my dad’s place (a semi-underground apocalypse bunker where Wi-Fi signals go to die). If you live in a normal house without any Wi-Fi impediments, I’d recommend just getting a regular Deco unit to save some money. But if you have been battling with poor Wi-Fi reception, or suffering huge speed drop-offs around your place, then the Deco PX50 is an absolute game changer, and I can’t recommend it enough.
TP-Link Deco PX50
The mesh Wi-Fi system you get when you need to throw the kitchen sink at connection problems.
Value for money
Ease of use
Powerline technology makes it more adaptable to difficult Wi-Fi environments
Three ethernet ports on the back of each node
HomeShield Pro is an expensive subscription service now (used to be free)
Because of the powerline features, it can’t be plugged into a power board
Can’t make separate 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks in addition to the guest network