Nokia may not be the first name that you think is a matter of home networking, but the company is making a silent arc in the network. The Nokia Beacon 1 is its entry-level product, a sub-$ 250 system for three that promises to expand your Internet connection into expander homes or through each story of multi-level homes.
Nokia sells the Beacon 1 as a single unit for $ 99.99, or a pack of three for $ 249.99. The company says a single beacon is good for 1 1,500 square feet of space; Three can reach coverage of 4,500 square feet, or handle multi-level homes. You can, of course, continue adding units to create coverage when needed.
Each beacon 1 unit is quite compact: 5.9 inches high, 4.5 inches wide and just 1.6 inches thick. Unfortunately, there is no wall-mounting option for white and black plastic boxes, which seems a missed opportunity given the dimensions. At the back is a gigabit Ethernet port to which you plug your modem, and a second gigabit port for a wired device. Unlike some routers, there is no USB port to connect a shared router or printer.
Setup is straightforward and is done through Nokia’s app or router’s own web interface for iOS and Android. For the former, you snap a picture of QR codes based on each unit to connect them on the same mesh network. Nokia pre-configures an SSID, WiFi password, an administrator password, but you can change all three yourself. Oddly, the default wifi and admin password are the same.
There are some neat touches. Since a wireless mesh only requires the primary unit to be connected to a modem, each satellite unit allows you to use both Ethernet ports for devices. Alternatively, you can use a wired backhaul to connect each mesh point together, although I suspect most people don’t like it.
This is a shame, as each trap point will get better speed in that case. Each unit has a dual-band 2 × 2 AC1200 radio: now known as WiFi 5. Theoretically, Beacon 1 supports 867 Mbps on the 5GHz band or up to 300 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band.
The problem is that in order to dedicate a back hall without a third band, the mesh communication between each of the three Beacon 1 units would have to share bandwidth with the WiFi devices actually using. Nokia’s app gives you feedback on the strength of the connection between each point in the mesh as soon as you add it to the system.
Your experience with WiFi devices, then, depends on which beacon 1 they are connected to. If it is the primary unit – that is, directly connected to your modem – the speed can be impressive. Beacon 1 was faster at that primary node position than Google Wifi.
However, go online via a trap satellite, and it is much less impressive. The results were then flipped, with Google Wifi satellite showing little in the way of signal loss. There was still enough bandwidth for static video streaming, but it is not the best way to share around the house if you are paying for a fast internet connection.
Nokia includes many features to manage a network, but they are neither as comprehensive nor as simple as we have seen on Nest Wifi, Eero and other platforms. Beacon 1’s parental controls, for example, originally amount to turning WiFi devices on and off in the app; Log in to the MAC interface and you can schedule it when the MAC address is from. However, there is no smart filtering, and while other routers allow you to set the level of content that you can use based on your children’s age, with Beacon 1 it is all or nothing.
There is no malware filtering, virus block, phishing warning or other advanced protection. While other routers make it easier to prioritize a certain device – such as a game console, for example – for bandwidth, you can’t do something like this in Beacon 1’s app. Nokia’s web interface provides Quality of Service (QoS) settings, but it is old school and requires you to understand what you are doing instead of putting your hands through the process with other recent routers.
Considering you can get the Google Wifi 3-Pack for the same price as the Beacon 1 3-Pack, I’m struggling to think of several reasons why you’re going for Nokia’s system. One possibility might be Google’s general fear: While Beacon 1’s app demands you to set up a Nokia account if you use it to set up the system, the web interface does not. Conversely, Google Wifi cannot be used without a Google account.
Still, given the superior mesh performance and easy to use features from Google Wifi, Beacon 1 is a tough sell. Nokia offers a more advanced version, Beacon 3, which has more radios and promises better performance. However, it is $ 400 for a pack of three.