Advertisement
Advertisement

Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: A speedy, subscription-based spin on the home mesh

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
96
inc VAT (two-node pack) per year

The HomePass mesh performs well, but some design decisions are questionable, and the subscription model won't be for everyone

Pros 
Fast, wide coverage
Terrifically easy setup
Decent security features
Cons 
Standard SuperPods use outdated Wi-Fi 5
Subscription pricing model won't suit everyone
Advertisement

In today’s economic climate another subscription is probably the last thing you want – but that’s the deal with Plume’s home mesh wireless system. Rather than simply buying the physical units, you sign up for an annual service, which includes protection against malware and network attacks, plus regularly updated content-filtering for kids.

This isn’t exactly a new idea – we’ve seen other router manufacturers offer security features and parental controls as optional extras. What's unique about the HomePass is that your payments cover the hardware as well as the software. There is an option to pay a higher price up front to own the mesh stations, but you still have to subscribe to the online services. It's an intriguing option, but we're not sure it's impressive enough to justify yet another direct debit.

Buy now from Plume


Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: What you need to know

Let’s start by getting the name straight. Although “HomePass” sounds like a type of subscription, it covers Plume’s whole mesh system, including the hardware units. The standard models are called SuperPods, and use tri-band Wi-Fi 5; if you're buying the hardware you can alternatively opt for the pricier SuperPod AX units which add Wi-Fi 6 support. There’s a “WorkPass” system for businesses too.

I tested the Wi-Fi 5 pods, which have a pretty standard specification for a wireless mesh. The backhaul connection claims speeds of up to 1.7Gbits/sec with 4x4 MIMO, while the client radio offers up to 867Mbits/sec on the 5GHz band with 2x2 MIMO and 400Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band. Each wall-plug unit also has a pair of Gigabit Ethernet sockets, supporting either a client device or an upstream internet connection.

With the Wi-Fi 6 units, the bandwidth goes up to 1.2Gbits/sec on the main 5GHz radio and 4.8Gbits/sec for the backhaul. The AX units also add support for the ultra-wide 160MHz channel width, and one of their two Ethernet ports supports 2.5GbE – although disappointingly this is advertised as only supporting WAN connections and not local devices.

Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: Price and competition

The Plume pricing system is confusing. If you go to the main Plume website you'll be invited to buy as many SuperPod units as you like for a flat rate of £99 each – or £159 for the SuperPod AX models. On top of that, you’ll pay £99 for the first year’s subscription, so a basic two-node Wi-Fi 5 system will cost you nigh on £300 for 12 months of service. It's hardly a tempting deal.

You can save a lot however by signing up through Virgin Media. You don't have to be a Virgin customer for this – the HomePass mesh will work with any ISP – and you'll pay a more palatable £96 per year for two SuperPods and all back-end services. Additional pods can be added for a one-off charge of £90 each. The only catch in doing it this way is that Plume doesn't currently offer the Wi-Fi 6 pods through Virgin, so you're stuck with the older standard – and as usual with subscription services, you don't own the hardware, so if you cancel the service you'll have to send the pods back.

As a short-term mesh solution, a two-node HomePass system works out cheaper than a regular Wi-Fi 6 system. For comparison, a triple-pack of D-Link M15 mesh units will cost you £163, while a TP-Link Deco X20 system costs £185 and Huawei’s Mesh 3 will set you back £200.

After two or three years the cost of the HomePass subscription starts to mount, but it's still competitive with higher-end mesh systems. For example, Huawei’s twin-station Wi-Fi Mesh 7 costs £270, while the Linksys Atlas Pro 6 comes to £380 for three nodes, and the TP-Link Deco X90 delivers superlative performance for £440. The HomePass doesn't overtake that price until the start of year five.

What's more, those figures don’t take into account the subscription components that are included with Plume as standard. In most cases that’s because other manufacturers simply don’t offer equivalent services, but TP-Link’s HomeShield subscription matches up quite closely, providing network security and parental controls for an extra £54 per year. Netgear’s Orbi meshes also offer advanced parental controls for £50 a year, while the Netgear Armor security service costs an additional £60.

All told, if you want premium features then leasing a HomePass system at £96 per year could work out a lot cheaper than buying a new mesh outright – unless you keep that mesh in service for many years.

READ NEXT: Best broadband

Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: Physical design

The Plume pods have a distinctive all-in-one hexagonal design, in your choice of silver or “warm champagne”. The casing flares out at the front, with a slightly indented face that leads the eye towards a tiny coloured status LED that’s jauntily offset from the centre. The Ethernet sockets are sensibly situated along the bottom edge.

In isolation it looks very clean and stylish, but when you try to set up the Plume system in your home you may notice a few snags. For one thing, the app warns you not to situate the SuperPods near obstacles or large metal appliances, but since they plug directly into the wall this may be impossible to avoid.

A second problem is that the chunky design – the units measure 96 x 86 x 39mm, not including the plug prongs – is too big to fit next to anything else in a multi-way outlet. I ended up having to deploy wired extension cables in order to put the SuperPods where I wanted them.

Buy now from Plume


Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: Setup and software features

The Plume SuperPods couldn’t be easier to set up: you just plug them into sockets around your home and connect one of them to the internet. It doesn’t matter which node you use for the internet connection, it doesn’t matter which Ethernet socket you use, and the primary node will even work out for itself whether it ought to operate in router or bridge mode, depending on whether you’ve plugged it into a modem or an existing router.

Again, though, Plume’s high-concept presentation does the user few favours. The ultra-minimal packaging doesn’t give you any guidance and I wasted several minutes searching in the box and online for setup instructions before discovering that they weren’t needed.

Once the HomePass system is in place, it’s primarily managed from the HomePass smartphone app. A web console is offered at homepass.plume.com, but this is basically a cut-down version of the mobile interface, with a subset of features.

Unsurprisingly, the app puts HomePass' signature subscription services front and centre, starting with the Guard security module. This blocks suspicious connections, quarantines misbehaving devices and also filters out online ads – all the stuff you’d expect. A graph shows at a glance how these various technologies have been working for you, and you can drill down to inspect individual event types and devices.

Guard also incorporates user profiles, which can be linked to individual devices to apply web filtering and internet access limits, and used by the Sense feature to detect people’s locations by tracking their devices. This isn’t a feature I’ve seen on any other mesh, and frankly I’m not sure how useful it is. The company suggests it could be handy for triggering smart devices based on people’s locations, or for warning you if an elderly relative appears to have stopped moving for a long period.

Another novel feature is custom passwords. Rather than operating a separate guest network, the Plume HomePass app lets you generate unique passphrases for visitors that expire after a specified time, and can optionally grant either limited network access or an internet-only connection.

As you’d hope, the app covers basic networking features too, so you can set up port forwarding, reserve IP addresses, tweak your DNS settings and turn UPnP on and off. As a basic security measure, the app also helpfully pops up a notification on your phone whenever a new device connects to your network. If you’ve bought your pods from the Plume website then these core features will keep working even if you let your subscription lapse, as does Plume’s promise of 24/7 customer support.

I have some reservations about the design of the app. While there’s a good amount of information and settings on hand, I found the interface quite confusing, with too many panels, pages, overlays and menus. Matters aren’t helped by the airy way things are divided into “Guard”, “Sense” and “Adapt”, the latter being a particularly misleading heading for information such as internet speed and network topology.

I also noticed a few missing features. You can’t split the network into 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, although that’s true of most mesh systems. And while the HomePass software promises to automatically manage traffic to provide the best overall network performance, there’s no way to set your own QoS settings to ensure Plume’s priorities match your own.

READ NEXT: Best mobile broadband

Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: Performance

Plume claims the HomePass mesh “uses AI and machine learning to map Wi-Fi channels and usage around your home, learning from your connection patterns to distribute Wi-Fi perfectly, any time”. There’s no explanation of what that means in practical terms, so I tested the Plume’s performance in my usual way. The first SuperPod was installed in the study, with one of its Ethernet ports connected directly to my internet connection and the other to an Asustor Drivestor Pro AS3304T NAS appliance.

I then plugged in the second pod at the opposite end of the adjoining bedroom. Although the standard subscription package includes two SuperPods, Plume's website recommends three for an “average-sized home”, so I experimentally added a third in the living room below.

With this done, I carried my test laptop to various locations in my home and tested the average read and write speeds to the NAS. For the record, the laptop was equipped with an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E card, but since the standard SuperPods only support Wi-Fi 5 this was overkill.

Here are the speeds I saw when testing with both two and three SuperPods, along with a selection of other mid-range and high-end mesh systems for comparison:

One thing we can say immediately is that my home doesn’t need the third SuperPod. With it in place, I saw a very modest increase in download speed in the kitchen but overall it made no significant difference to performance. That’s not too shocking: my three-bedroom maisonette might be typical for Finsbury Park, but the national average is probably larger.

It also reflects very well on the system’s overall coverage. With other meshes, two nodes haven’t always been enough to serve up a strong connection throughout my home, but the HomePass managed it.

Indeed, the Plume’s overall performance wasn’t bad at all. It comfortably outperformed TP-Link’s low-cost Deco X20 system and matched up pretty well with the Huawei Mesh 7, even though both of those systems had the advantage of Wi-Fi 6.

The HomePass couldn’t keep pace with the best Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems we’ve seen, however. It lagged consistently behind the Linksys Atlas Pro 6, and didn't come close to the outstanding TP-Link Deco X90. It’s reasonable to assume that the Wi-Fi 6 version would fare better but it’s an open question whether it would be able to keep up with the top performers in their class.

Based on these results you might assume that the Wi-Fi 5 HomePass is perfectly fast enough for your home – and to be sure, very few people need download speeds of more than 30MB/sec. However, Wi-Fi 5 is significantly affected by network congestion: once all your computers, phones and smart appliances are connected to the HomePass system, you’re likely to see performance fall well below the figures shown above. Wi-Fi 6 allows simultaneous communications between multiple clients, so it can provide a smoother experience for a whole household full of devices.

Buy now from Plume


Plume HomePass Wi-Fi mesh review: Should you buy it?

From a technical perspective, the HomePass mesh is an impressive product. Just two compact SuperPods were enough to provide strong and consistent coverage all through my home.

I didn’t enjoy using the HomePass system, however. From the inscrutable setup process to the overcomplicated app – and even the impractical shape of the units themselves – I got the impression that Plume’s designers were more focused on their cool image than on users’ needs.

The pricing model complicates things too. The cost of entry is very low for a decent mesh with a full range of online services, but over time it will become less and less competitive – and the Wi-Fi 5 technology will become increasingly outdated.

If you’re not bothered about the subscription side of things, therefore, you might prefer something like the Linksys Atlas Pro 6, which will give you very fast Wi-Fi 6 today with nothing further to pay. Or, if you’re more interested in network services than headline speeds, you could opt for the TP-Link Deco X20 with the full HomeShield bundle: you'll get three Wi-Fi 6 nodes from day one, and after the third year you'll be saving money compared to an ongoing HomePass subscription.

Yet Plume's offering does deserve a look. It brings something truly distinctive to the crowded mesh marketplace, and if you’re looking to spread the cost of fast Wi-Fi hardware and a full set of online services, the HomePass hits the spot like nothing else.

Read more

Reviews