Mesh Router Review: Tenda MW5
The Tenda MW5 cost about half the price of the big names in mesh WiFi networks ($99 at Amazon).
Tenda’s MW5 isn’t as feature rich as $400 to $500 mesh-networking kits. But it packs plenty of value for its price, and a delivers consistent bandwidth for 4K streaming, live TV over the Internet and online gaming.
During three weeks of testing, the Tenda MW5 underwent and passed my “all-on test” with roughly 16 Internet-connected devices. That means it was able to handle streaming in 4K, gaming and surfing on the web simultaneously without causing any hang ups or lag.
Mesh routers and networks expand the range of WiFi around your home by using two or three access points.
The idea is to eradicate any and all dead zones, so you can having a bunch of people streaming live TV, playing video games online and cruising around on the Internet all at once without any kind of log jam.
The downside of mesh Wifi systems is that they generally cost a lot more than a typical router.
Big-name mesh routers from Netgear, Eero and Google WiFi cost between $300 and $500. During the last few years of cord cutting, I’ve reviewed a couple other Tenda products, including the Tenda AC18 router and the Tenda MW6 Whole Home Mesh Wifi.
My takeaway has been that some routers and mesh networks are either grossly overpriced, or Tenda is offering a very decent value for its price point. I haven’t decided yet what’s more true. Maybe it’s a little of both.
Tenda Mesh Router Specs
The MW5 has a small, but powerful AC1200 router at its core that measures only three inches tall. The three-pack comes with two nodes that plug into electrical outlets. The two nodes that plug into a wall similar to what you would see with a WiFi extender.
These nodes are much more powerful than a range extender, and each wall unit has a gigabit port. You can use the port to run Ethernet cord directly to a streaming device, or a network switch for a number of devices.
The MW5 allows different connection types, including static IP address, PPPoE, DHCP and bridge networking. There’s an option for a guest network, parental controls and QoS (Quality of Service) to prioritize which devices get bandwidth first.
The Tenda MW5 comes with a three year warranty. After speaking with someone at Tenda, I was also impressed to learn that their home networking products are fully compatible with prior generations of their product line.
Tenda MW5 Mesh Router: By the Numbers
|Wireless Standards||IEEE 802.11ac/a/n 5GHz|
|IEEE 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz|
|Data Rate||5GHz: Up to 867Mbps|
|2.4GHz: Up to 300Mbps|
|Frequency||Simultaneous dual band 2.4GHz & 5GHz|
|Basic Features||SSID Broadcast|
|Firmware upgrade online|
|Reset to factory settings|
|Setup Requirements||Mobile device: Android 4.0+ or iOS 8+|
|Connection Type||PPPoE, Dynamic IP, Static IP, Bridge Mode|
How I tested the Tenda MW5
I tested this mesh router system in a 2,600 square foot condo that has three floors and a yard that’s just under an acre. Tenda sent me the MW5 three-pack for this review.
Instead of bench marking speeds and signal strength with online software or a tool, I perform a number of what I call “all-on” tests to imitate the kind of use a home network, or mesh router, would get with a family that includes a couple of kids.
I have three TVs between two floors. There are multiple streaming devices connected to them, including a couple of Roku and Fire TV devices. I own a couple gaming consoles, a few computers, an iPad, a few Amazon Echo devices and various other web-connected devices.
With the all-on test, I stream HD or 4K content on my TVs. While that’s happening, the iPad is streaming YouTube videos. Then, I turn on as many other devices like computers to see how my WiFi system performs. Ideally, I have either my wife or some friends around because I can’t be in multiple rooms at once. The all-on test answers a lot of questions that the typical consumer wants to know.
Is there any lag with streaming? Does anything come to a full stop? Can I play games online in one room while watching a movie in 4K in another?
Do I always have all 16 devices going at once? No, not always.
I also perform the all-on test during the day, and again at night when Internet use is at its peak. Claims about speed that you see on the box are fine to know about. But let’s face it: if your WiFi is working without interruption, you’re going to forget about the numbers pretty fast unless you have a specific need like 4K gaming requires a lot of bandwidth.
Setting up the Tenda mesh router
The Tenda MW5 has one of the fastest home networking set ups that I’ve ever seen.
Here’s a really important part of it: Make sure you shut down your modem (unplug it if you have to) before connecting the Tenda MW5. If you skip this part, set up won’t go as smooth.
Download the Tenda app to your smartphone and plug in just the mesh router. The green LED will light up solid green, but wait about 40 seconds for the light to blink. From the Tenda app, select the SSID that says Mesh5, and enter the password that came with the device. You can find it on the bottom of the mesh router.
From the app, you’ll get step-by-step instructions. When you plug in a node to a wall socket, you should also wait until the LED blinks green. Pay attention to the color of the LED on each node and the mesh router. Solid green is a good connection. A yellow one is a fair connection. Solid red means you’re disconnected from the network. You might have to relocate a node if you’re getting a yellow light.
You’ll be done in about five minutes.
Performance of Tenda MW5
To get the best performance out of the MW5 for streaming live TV over the Internet, I recommend using an Ethernet port on one at least one the nodes. I had two TVs streaming wirelessly on the top floor without any issues. One TV had a Roku Streaming Stick Plus, the other with a Fire TV. These two televisions were drawing from the mesh router on the top floor.
I had set up the two nodes on the first floor. One was in the kitchen; the other was in the adjoining living room. When I fired up the Roku TV in the living room to watch YouTube TV, I had trouble getting enough bandwidth to stream live TV. (My laptop worked fine, and felt much faster than the Netgear router and bridge network that I had been using before I started using the mesh router.)
So I ran an Ethernet cord from node’s port to a network switch. That allowed me to use Ethernet for my Roku TV, NVIDIA Shield TV, a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. After that I had zero problems.
I resumed everything I usually do with my Roku TV — streaming in 4K on apps like CuriosityStream, and watching live TV with Philo and YouTube TV. I also used my NVIDIA Shield to stream games from my PC to my TV while other TVs, computers and smart phones were being used in house.
The best compliment that I can give any piece of home networking hardware is that it’s unnoticeable. I’m doing everything that I want without experiencing any problems.
One minor glitch: I tried out the “fast roaming” option on the app, and it didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped. The feature is supposed to enhance the nodes ability to pass off your device to another nearby node when you leave one room and enter another. My Android smart phone switched from the router to a node, or vice versa, better with the fast roaming switched off.
Using the Tenda app for Mesh Router
The Android app is not only needed for setting up the mesh router. You’ll also want it for managing your router settings, or enabling features such as QoS settings. When you turn on QoS settings, the app will automatically prioritize web browsing and gaming.
A guest network is also a one-click feature. You can set up a different SSID on a guest network so it’s not the same as the one assigned to your router. A guest network can be automatically shut off with a timer. There are options for 4 hours, 8 hours and always on. Under wireless settings, the WiFi name and password can easily be changed and saved.
The “My WiFi” page on the app displays current upload and download speeds. A button below shows how many devices are connected to the network. Click on it for a breakdown of each device. You’ll see whether a device is connected to 2.4GHz or 5GHz (or via Ethernet) and how much Mbps each device is using.
Competing devices for Tenda MW5
There are a few companies that are starting to make Mesh WiFi routers within Tenda’s low price point. Here are two mesh networking kits that are comparable to the Tenda MW5.
TP-Link released Deco Whole Home Mesh WiFi system (AC1300) for about $172. It has a router and two access points, and all three resemble a smoke detector.
Netgear has a compact version of its popular Orbi Mesh router systems for $178. The OrbiCompact Wall-Plug Whole Home Mesh Wifi System comes with a router and one wall-plug extender. Netgear says the compact Orbi system covers up to 3,500 square feet at speeds of up to 2.2 Gbps.
I haven’t tested either of these mesh networking kits, but I wanted to mention these two companies for a couple of reasons.
Netgear and TP-Link make excellent products. And both companies have those pricier mesh router systems that I mentioned earlier, but are apparently aware that not everyone wants to spend hundreds of dollars just so they can stream some Netflix in a master bedroom or finished basement.
Tenda MW5: Final Thoughts and Where to Buy
The Tenda MW5 is a reliable mesh network for someone who hasn’t had much luck with WiFi extenders, and needs wireless coverage for multiple floors in a home. If you’re looking to do a lot of tweaking with how your WiFi setup operates, then you might be happy to buy something slightly more expensive.
I still have the Tenda MW5 connected, and I’m streaming Netflix in 4K HDR, or watching Hulu in HD almost every night while using a number of Internet-connected devices. I’ll be interested to see if Tenda can start building some recognition among more budget-minded cord cutters.
Have you tried out a Tenda product before? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble