FOX11, Los Angeles - Mesh network routers are the hot, new buzzword around the internet and router technology right now. For people with large homes, or home construction which leaves them with dead spots, mesh network routers are a solid solution. Amped Wireless entered the consumer market with the Ally, which is essentially a router and extender that operates on the mesh principal instead of the traditional extender protocols.
Amped Wireless' Ally Plus is a two unit affair, which is somewhere in the middle of the competition in terms of size. It's units are a tad larger than those from Eero and TP-Link but smaller than Netgear and Linksys' offerings. Much like their competitors, they're white boxes with LED indicators on their "face" and minimal ports at the rear. On the router (the main unit) you'll get one ethernet port to connect to your modem and three gigabit ethernet ports to connect to devices. Then you have your power port, a USB 3.0 port, LED on/off button and WiFi protected setup button. The extender has only one gigabit ethernet port, the power port and a button for sync.
Amped Wireless Ally Plus is labelled as an AC1900 MU MIMO dual band router, operating on both the 2.5Ghz and 5Ghz bands at a max theoretical simultaneous throughput of 800mbps and 1300mbps respectively. The setup is very easy and very straight forward. Download the mobile app, plug up the router and follow the directions. The Ally app does all the heavy lifting for you. It will ask you some configuration questions so that you can set up your network name and passwords, some other odds and ends and you're off to the races. Then you're guided to set up the extender. You may find that you don't need the extender if your property isn't large enough but if you're over 2,000 square feet, or have dead spots, that extender will definitely solidify your coverage.
The power of the Ally Plus is found in Ally's software which comes with AVG anti-virus and phishing protection, along with some pretty solid parental controls.
Once you create a profile for your child or children, you can associate multiple devices with that user's account. Below the Devices tab, you can look at the Activity Report. Here is where you can see the websites the user browses, as well as monitor which blocked websites the user browses to. From there, you can look at the next tab which allows you to set the website filters which block content for the user you've created. You get the option of seventeen categories to block, which includes gambling, adult, dating, gambling, school cheating websites and more. Next tab down is an app filtering tab which allows you to block over a dozen apps. ANd the last tab in the list is the Curfew option. This simply allows you to blacklist the times of day that you are able access the internet. It's pretty limited as you can only set the start and end time that the internet connection is blocked. Be aware that the software uses the router's time so be sure Ally is showing the correct time.
For those special times when you're little ones need an impromptu break from their internet access, there's also a Pause feature which allows you to do just that, pause the internet for a bit. Now, keep in mind that all of this may be moot on a smartphone because all your children have to do is disconnect from the internet and just use their cellular connection to access any of these services.
Overall, I'm a fan of anything which makes parents more conscious about what their children are viewing online. I always tell parents that giving their children a cellphone or laptop is giving them access to both the best and worst that humanity has to offer.
One caveat of the app, early on was that it's connection was quite buggy. They worked that out and it's been working consistently for a couple months now. But it should be noted that the router uses an app which requires a connection to Ally's servers to operate properly. You can connect to the router via the web and ethernet from a laptop if this is ever a problem, but you'll have to have configured this option ahead of time via a special code you find in the app. For me, when the app was giving me issues early , the app showed it was not connected to the router, though I was connected to the extender. Again, this problem has seemingly been solved at this point, but its something you should be aware of in case there are any issues in the future.
The biggest issue I have with the extender is that when I'm at the farthest reaches of my apartment, my devices randomly lose connection to the extender while it moves them from the 5Ghz band to the 2.4Ghz band. It usually happens only once or twice, and once it's locked in with a strong signal I'm good to go. This is something I've experienced with only one or two other routers.
Speed tests on the range extender show that I'm getting 1/4 of the max at 30+ feet from it (28mbps) with two walls between us. 5 feet away, signal strength improved by a very small amount, pulling down 35mbps. 5 feet away from the main unit I was pulling down the max 109mbps.
Therein lies one of the issues of mesh network routers. It uses the wireless network to connect the main unit to the extender. Some mesh routers allow you to hard wire each unit to the other so that you can save that wireless bandwidth for connecting to devices around the house and keeps the speeds up. When routers have to use that wireless channel to connect to each other, the end result is a hit to your speed. In this case, that 35Mbps speed I was getting was the result of how the extender connects to the main unit. Fortunately, that kind of speed is still more than enough for most things you're going to stream.
At the end of the day, this router will provide bandwidth that is more than fast enough for most families, even with the extender's slower throughput. The unit is unobtrusive and should fit into most decor, so having the main unit in the living room if that's where you cable modem or internet connection comes into, shouldn't be a problem. If you have dead spots in your home, the Ally Plus is definitely a strong option if you're looking for a mesh type network to extend your coverage.
Full disclosure: Amped Wireless provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.