Modems provided by operators are not always able to provide Wi-Fi coverage with signal quality and satisfactory speed throughout the entire house. Equipments with mesh technology are good options to solve this problem, and we tested a kit with three units of the TP-Link Deco M4.
With ease of installation and promises of coverage throughout the house, the TP-Link equipment also functions as an access point and has functions such as parental control, device prioritization and command via the Alexa assistant. Is it worth buying the Deco M4? Is the speed really good? I used the product in the last few weeks and I will tell you everything in the next paragraphs.
Video review of TP-Link Deco M4
Design and doors
The unit I received consists of the kit with three devices, with the promise of Wi-Fi for up to 100 devices in 3 to 5 bedroom houses. Nominally, the promised coverage is for 510 m², but this number is designed for American homes, with drywall or wood walls, and does not apply as much for Brazilian houses that are usually made of masonry.
The product is very presentable and does not have that “router face” with exposed antennas and exposed wires. With a sober design, the Deco M4 is a small white plastic tower with a matte finish, with a black base and top. At the top, a spiral species circulates the TP-Link logo, which is also a colored LED indicator (which can be turned off, even with time programming).
At the rear, a small slot runs from the top to the base, where two Gigabit Ethernet ports are located. The input for power supply is at the bottom. If I were to give a hunch to the TP-Link design team, I would suggest that the network ports be close to the power inlet: this would make it easier to hide the cables.
Setup is simple. It is necessary to download the app for Android or iOS and create a TP-Link ID. The first step is to place one of the units next to your operator’s modem and follow the application’s instructions. With the blue indicator light, the smartphone can detect the equipment and proceed with the choice of the network name (SSID) and access password.
The app itself allows the phone to automatically connect to the new network, without having to go to the settings and enter the password. In my case, the connection to my operator’s modem was made through Dynamic IP (DHCP), but it is also possible to configure with static IP, PPPoE and other types of authentication.
After activating the unit that will be connected to the operator’s modem, it is necessary to add additional equipment individually. The cool thing is that you can buy additional points to expand the coverage, and you can even use different models from the Deco family. Thus, it is possible to use the Deco M4 combined with the M5, for example, or even with models like E4, brother of the M4 that does not have a Gigabit Ethernet port and is cheaper.
Deco allows a series of configurations that the vast majority of common routers do not include, such as VLAN (including for dedicating Ethernet ports to IPTV receivers), QoS (device priority), beamforming and parental control.
The QoS part works well: after setting the download and upload speed for broadband, it is possible to define which devices should have high priority.
The parental control part allows you to easily block content for certain devices, with pre-programmed categories for adult content, games, social networks, communication, media streaming, downloads and websites that remunerate users with advertisements and research. You can add more websites manually and configure different filters for specific devices.
Something that pleases me a lot is the possibility of changing the operation mode from Router to Access Point. This turns Deco units into mere access points, already taking advantage of the existing network. In practice this is possible with almost any router, just disable the DHCP server and disable the WAN port, but having a dedicated function allows easier configuration for those who are not familiar with the subject.
Using the router as an access point can be interesting these days: many current modems from broadband operators do not allow operation in the mode bridge (Vivo and Oi Fibra, I’m looking for you!). By plugging a router into other equipment with a router function, the user connects in a double NAT, which can cause problems in online games and applications that require incoming ports.
It is worth remembering that in the Access Point function, Deco no longer operates as a gateway, and services such as parental control and QoS stop working.
One part that can bother more demanding users is that all of the Deco settings and configurations require the smartphone app. The router even has a web interface accessible by the gateway’s IP, but it only serves to view information about connected devices, firmware update and restart.
Alexa and IFTTT
One of the differentials of connected homes in 2020 is support for virtual assistants, and the Deco M4 has integration with Amazon Alexa. The problem is that the TP-Link skill does not support portuguese, only English, German and Japanese. This is a little boring, and the product box does not clarify this “detail” right away.
I contacted TP-Link do Brasil and was informed that the company has no date to make the skill available in Portuguese on Amazon Alexa due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a little boring, but I also don’t see much use in the resources available for the voice assistant.
Another cool feature is the integration with IFTTT, and TP-Link itself has provided some interesting shortcuts, such as turning off the lights when leaving home (the router will identify when the smartphone disconnects from the network) or sending notification when someone gets home. In practice, the integration with IFTTT ends up “solving” the lack of communication with Alexa, since it is possible to use the shortcuts by the Amazon assistant.
Performance and signal
The Deco M4 is a router in the 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) AC1200 standard, with 867 Mb / s at 5 GHz and another 300 Mb / s at 2.4 GHz. The product is aimed at broadband users with speeds above 100 Mb / s, since all network ports use Gigabit Ethernet standard.
With three units, it was possible to cover my entire house with clearance. The speed achieved varies with the positioning of the equipment, and the application displays which unit is the signal source and the respective power.
The great advantage of mesh networks is that you don’t have to rely so much on the signal strength of a single device: next to the additional units, you will have a connection with greater speed, stability and latency. Gradually, moving the Decos around the house, it was possible to find the best cost-benefit ratio to cover all environments with the best possible speed.
In my house, the best positioning was illustrated in the plan below. It was the option that brought me the most signal between the units, with maximum indicator and reaching the maximum speed of my broadband (200 Mb / s download and 100 Mb / s upload) in all Decos.
When I moved the Cup Deco to the room on the right side of the second floor, the signal indicator had medium power and the transfer speed was limited to 70 Mb / s. There’s no secret: the farther the devices are, the lower the transfer speed.
When transferring files, Deco has consistent speeds. Of course, this varies a lot from place to place and is far from the standard 867 Mb / s of the standard, but the results prove that the Deco M4 should easily meet the expectations of most people.
|Test and location||Average speed at 2.4 GHz||Average speed at 5 GHz|
|Both laptops next to the main Deco||114.9 Mb / s||372.3 Mb / s|
|Laptop 1 next to the main Deco
Laptop 2 next to the secondary Deco
|109.1 Mb / s||351.4 Mb / s|
|Laptop 1 next to the main Deco
Laptop 2 in the Living Room
|107.3 Mb / s||325.2 Mb / s|
|Laptop 1 on the Balcony
Laptop 2 in the Living Room
|64.2 Mb / s||106.7 Mb / s|
|Laptop 1 in the Living Room
Laptop 2 in Room 1
|109.8 Mb / s||330.4 Mb / s|
In addition to sharing internet for devices, the Deco M4 is an excellent option for those who use the home network to transfer files and other applications that require a little more performance. With support for MU-MIMO (multiple users with multiple input and output), it is perfectly possible to use the product as backhaul Ethernet for desktops without a Wi-Fi card and other devices (older smart TVs, for example).
I connected a computer to the LAN port of the main Deco and an external NAS hard drive in the secondary Deco, and it was possible to transfer files with an average speed of 362.8 Mb / s. It is a better performance than with a CAT5 network cable, limited to the theoretical maximum of 100 Mb / s.
Speaking specifically of performance, yes. The kit with three pieces of equipment was enough to cover my entire house with good speed and would elegantly replace my three access points connected via Ethernet cable. With a simple and easy installation solution, the Deco M4 is highly suitable for large apartments with four or more rooms, as well as houses with two floors.
The ease of installation allows even technology misunderstandings to expand the home Wi-Fi network and manage the network, without major difficulties. The performance of a mesh router is far superior to conventional repeaters, which typically take advantage of the weak signal of an existing wireless network and expand coverage with low speed, high latency and poor performance.
The problem is that the facility has a price, which is not low: at the time of publication of this review, it is possible to find the three-piece kit for around R $ 1,700, while the two-unit kit can be found at the R $ 1,200.
It is possible to have similar performance for less, but there is a lot of work to pass network cable in the pipe, crimp the ends and configure another router as an access point. For those who do not need Gigabit Ethernet ports, it is worth taking a look at the Deco E4, which costs about R $ 800 in the double kit and R $ 1,200 in the triple kit.
- Processor: Qualcomm Dual Core
- RAM memory: 128 MB
- Doors: Gigabit Ethernet (x2) hybrid WAN and LAN
- Radio: 802.11ac, frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, MU-MIMO, 2 internal antennas
- Rated speed: 300 Mb / s at 2.4 GHz and 867 Mb / s at 5 GHz
- Connectivity: IPv4, IPv6
- Operating modes: Router (DHCP server), Access Point (DHCP client)
- Extra services: Amazon Alexa (unavailable in Portuguese), IFTTT and TP-Link Cloud
- Resources: guest network, device reports, parental control, bandwidth control (QoS), Beamforming,
- Dimensions: 90.7mm in diameter and 190mm in height