Back at WWDC 2019, Apple announced HomeKit would get a feature that promises to improve security on its smart home platform via Wi-Fi routers. This feature called HomeKit Secure Router works by applying firewall rules to HomeKit accessories connected via Wi-Fi or the routers ethernet ports.
During the announcement Apple said that several Router brands would roll out HomeKit Secure Router support, including Linksys and Eero. However, it was not until 2020 that we saw major adoption of this feature. As of September 2020, HomeKit Secure Router support is available for the Velop Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi.
HomeKit Secure Router is available on these Linksys Velop models
- A03 – Buy on Amazon
- WHW0301 – Buy on Amazon
- WHW0301B – Buy on Amazon
- WHW0302 – Buy on Amazon
- WHW0302B – Buy on Amazon
- WHW0303 – Buy on Amazon
- WHW0303B – Buy on Amazon
So when support arrived, Linksys sent me over the Velop Intelligent Mesh Wi-Fi System, 3-Pack, AC6600. I have been using the setup for a few months now in my HomeKit setup in my Home. In this review/walkthrough, I want to share the setup process and explain what HomeKit-enabled routers offer. Along with my thoughts on what this feature could offer in the future.
Despite this device offering so much functionality and features, this was one of the easiest devices I have set up. The entire setup relies on an iOS app to walk you through the process, providing clear, easy-to-follow instructions. I placed the main Velop node in my living room near modem and completed the initial setup. Once setup I then placed the remaining nodes in my studio and dining room with the help of the app to advise on location suitability.
Although the initial setup was easy and only took about 15 minutes, I then had to migrate my HomeKit setup to the new Wi-Fi network. But luckily for me, most of my devices connect using manufacturer bridges via Ethernet. But for the accessories connected via Wi-Fi I needed to remove them from my existing Wi-Fi and then add to the new Velop network, which included my HomeKit hubs such as HomePod and Apple TV’s.
Home app setup
Once I confirmed everything was working properly with the Velop setup and I connected all my devices. The next step was to add the Velop routers to HomeKit via the Home app.
Setup starts within the Linksys app by tapping the button in the upper left corner of the app. Scrolling to the bottom you find an option called ‘Apple Home Integration.’ This option starts the process for HomeKit integration with an alert confirming that you want to begin setup. You are then prompted to allow access to your HomeKit data, which is important for everything to work correctly.
The next part of the setup is like adding any other HomeKit accessory to your setup. This process will take you through adding each router, which involves naming the router and adding to the room you have placed it. When first setting up each device it uses the naming convention “Linksys” and a series of numbers, so it may be a little difficult to identity which one is which. So there’s a button in the setup UI to identify it, which flashes the light on the top of the router. Next, you re asked to turn on HomeKit Accessory Security.
Control with HomeKit Secure Routers
Once you have set up up HomeKit Secure Router support on the Velop Mesh system. It is all pretty much automatic and you don’t have to do anything else. You will not see anything different in the main sections of the Home App. You will not see the routers listed in the rooms you have assigned them, which is the same with HomeKit bridges.
But I am assuming you are here to find out more about this feature, so lets dig deeper into the inner workings and custom settings.
To access these settings, you need to jump into the Home app and tap the Home icon on the main menu in the top left corner. Then navigate to ‘Home Settings which find at the bottom after all the room options. This opens up the setting and options for your HomeKit home and towards the bottom, you will then find a menu for ‘Wi-Fi Network & Routers.’
Tapping on the menu lists several options. First, you can see all the routers you have added, and tapping on each router will list data like the room assignment and information about the router. You also get a toggle to enable and disable HomeKit Accessory Security. This is the master switch to switch the feature on and off. Then finally a list of HomeKit accessories that connect to your network via the Velop routers via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
As previously mentioned, when you first enabled HomeKit Secure Router support, it is set to automatic. But you can individually set the rule for each HomeKit accessory connected to your Velop router.
- Restrict to Home provides the tightest control over devices. This setting deny’s access to the web or other devices on your network. Devices set to ‘Restrict to Home’ can still connect to your HomeKit hub on your local network. But because they cannot communicate outside your network, they won’t be able to do things like update their firmware. If you run multiple smart home platforms like Google or Alexa, these devices cannot communicate with them.
- Automatic, which is the default setting for any accessory connected. This setting allows Internet connections and connections to other devices that have been identified by the device manufacturer. It describes those connections in the Home app providing additional transparency about services the device will connect. However, not all devices makers provide this information.
- No Restriction, which allows any connection to the Internet or a local device.
Find the right balance
While most users will just turn on HomeKit Secure Router and just leave it in automatic mode. Users may want to use “Restrict to Home” to restrict HomeKit device access to the Internet to ensure that the devices aren’t sharing information to destinations outside your network without your knowledge.
When I experimented with the “Restrict to Home” setting for this review as I found it can affect device performance outside of HomeKit services. For instance, it would affect devices that require server side processing of data like the Eufy security cameras. These cameras require an active internet connection for functions like motion detection in the Eufy Security app to work.
But to be clear, this setting works as designed and it does not affect the performance within HomeKit. Plus, If it is a HomeKit camera and you have HomeKit Secure Video enabled, this will still work as expected.
You also may want to use the “Restrict to Home” for older Homekit devices that do not receive support anymore. After all, they will not receive firmware updates, which could also mean they more vulnerable to exploits.
In my testing for this review, I kept most of my devices in Automatic mode and moved a few to “Restrict to Home” that I wanted to limit access the internet. During this time, I have not run into any issues with the performance for devices in HomeKit. All the functions will work like motion triggers, automations and HomeKit Secure Video. I have also not come across any issues with adding devices when HomeKit Secure Router support is enabled.
If you are using HomeKit accessories that connect via a HomeKit bridge such as Philips Hue. Then you do not need to go through each device to set individual settings. Which would be time-consuming with something like Hue if like me have about 35 lights.
However, this could be an issue with brands like Eufy that have a central hub for its cameras. So if you want to “Restrict to Home” one particular camera, then this would not be possible and it would restrict all cameras. So just bear this in mind when planning any deployment of HomeKit Router Support in your setup.
Bluetooth and Thread support
Having spent a few months testing the Velop Mesh Wi-Fi system and HomeKit router support for this review. It has impressed me with the Wi-Fi coverage and performance, especially for HomeKit devices. While it’s hard to say that the dreaded No response has been 100% eliminated from my setup, as it can be several reasons. However, based on my experience and troubleshooting in the past, poor Wi-Fi is one of the key reasons. But I feel by introducing the Velop Mesh router, HomeKit devices connected to it have been far more stable.
I also like that for the average user it is simple to set up and leaving it in automatic mode will provide a decent level of protection. But if you do have concerns over a HomeKit device phoning home or that needs cloud processing for features outside of HomeKit. Then only with only a few clicks, you can limit access outside of your network. This will bring added peace of mind for those concerned with using devices that come from manufacturers with no track record on privacy.
At the beginning of the review, I said Linksys sent the Velop Mesh router for me to test for this review. However, it will be packed up and shipped back to them. But because of the performance and peace of mind this device has brought me, I purchased my own via Amazon for my HomeKit setup.
So if you are looking for a solid mesh router that comes with HomeKit Secure Router support. Then the Linksys Velop Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi system is a brilliant choice. You can buy the Velop via Amazon.