“The Luma "surround" Wi-Fi system is a quick and easy way of adding Wireless AC connectivity to every part of your house.”
- Easy to set up
- Great Wireless AC coverage
- Looks great anywhere
- Provides gigabit Ethernet for wired devices
- Settings accessible only through Android, iOS
- Limited network customization
- Can’t change channels or channel widths
For 15 years, Dr. Paul Judge and Mike Van Bruinisse created secure networking solutions for big corporations across the globe. Now they are addressing the general market with Luma, a “personalized” system to add wireless connectivity to a home network. It’s different than the standard router in that there’s no single unit trying to provide wireless coverage throughout the house. The system is also controlled by a mobile device, and easily fits within any environment thanks to each unit’s small, elegant design.
The big selling point with Luma is that, once the initial Luma device is connected via Ethernet to the ISP’s modem, customers can expand their wireless coverage by setting up additional units throughout the home. No additional wires are needed, and each additional “node” unit wirelessly connects to the main “hub” unit coupled to the modem, creating what the company calls “surround” Wi-Fi coverage. This is a better setup than adding additional routers or wireless extenders/repeaters to an established modem/router setup.
Luma is one of a handful of mesh-based networking systems now available to purchase. They established a relatively new market in 2016 that is set to expand a great deal throughout 2017. Luma is actually one of the cheaper mesh-based solution currently available, costing $299 for a three-pack and $149 for a single unit. Sure, a router can be less expensive, but it just doesn’t provide the blanket of coverage that mesh-based networks promise to create.
The mesh difference
For this review, we were provided with the Luma three-pack kit. This setup is good for large homes of four bedrooms or more while a single device would be ideal for a studio apartment. Even if customers merely purchase a single unit or the two-pack kit, what’s great about mesh-based setups is that customers can tack on additional units to the overall “surround Wi-Fi” coverage without any effort.
The idea behind Luma is to offer hassle-free installation and network management. Each unit comes packed with one gigabit Ethernet port that connects to the ISP’s modem, one gigabit Ethernet port to connect a wired device, and a USB 2.0 port. Right now, that port is only provided for charging devices like smartphones and tablets, but customer support hints that additional uses will come later.
A simple solution with a simple setup
The setup process requires the use of a smartphone or tablet, and the company’s Luma app for Android or iOS. Once the app is downloaded and installed, users then create an account and start the setup process. That begins with telling the app how many Luma devices the user intends to install, describing the user’s home environment, and then selecting where the modem is generally located on a simple map.
Luma is great for customers wanting to add Wireless AC connectivity to their network. It’s easily expandable, creating a huge blanket in the home.
For instance, the initial screen lists three home types to select: single family, apartment or combo, and townhouse or other. This screen also requires the user to input the number of floors in the home ranging from one to more than five. After that, the next screen provides a general diagram of the first floor divided into five sections so the Luma setup can determine where the first unit will be installed.
After all that info is established, the first Luma unit is connected to an Ethernet port on the ISP’s modem and then powered up. A circular blue ring on the front will then illuminate and slowly “spin,” indicating that it’s ready to be configured. Users can then choose to connect directly to the Luma device via Bluetooth or Wi-FI so the Luma app can continue establishing the wireless network. Once that starts, the Luma’s blue ring becomes solid and users merely sit back and let the hardware and software do their thing.
When the first Luma device installation is completed, the Luma ring turns a solid green, indicating that the setup process is done, and then goes dark. Users then repeat the installation process with additional Luma devices, telling the app where they will be placed, connecting to them via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and then letting the hardware and software configure the network.
That’s it. There’s nothing else to do but connect devices to the new wireless network. Users will see one single network name that was created during the setup process, thus there’s no need to select an individual Luma unit or a specific band. There’s no visual indication that the Luma devices are even on, but rather they sit like coaster-sized hexagonal objects on any surface. The only signs of life are within the app and through the list of available networks when connecting a wireless device.
One app to control them all
The Luma app is broken down into four panels: Wi-Fi, Security, Connections, and Filtering. The main screen defaults to the Wi-Fi panel, showing that all Luma devices are online along with their combined download and upload speeds. Tap on a specific Luma unit and a second screen opens to reveal a brief list of details, and options to reboot or identify the device.
Users can’t log in with a browser to configure the network’s fine details.
The main window also provides a small orange button on the bottom right corner that pulls up a small control panel enabling users to prioritize a connected device, pause the internet, invite users to the network, and to add another Luma device. Prioritizing a device means the Luma network will put that device before all others, so this is handy when using a PC gaming laptop, a console, or a multimedia center used to stream video. Users simply tap on the Prioritize Device icon and select the device in a list of gadgets that have access to the Luma network.
In addition to the miniature control panel, the main window provides a three-bar icon in the top left corner that opens a menu. Here users can configure the Wi-Fi settings, their Luma account, get help and support through online documentation, and start an online chat with technical support within the app. There’s a link to the store too for buying additional Luma devices.
Luma isn’t designed for network tweakers
The drawback to the Luma network is that there is very little customization involved as seen with the typical store-bought router. Users can’t log in using a web browser to configure the finer details like specific channels, channel widths, and so on. Instead, the Wi-Fi Settings aspect in the app’s menu brings up a single page listing the network’s name, password, and options to set up a guest network. There’s an “Advanced” option too that pulls up another page with a few more options.
On the Advanced page, users will see an option to set a static IP address to a specific device, and toggles for turning on/off Universal Plug and Play, and IGMP Snooping. Tapping on the static IP address setting pulls up a window for manually choosing a device that has connected to the Luma network, assigning an IP address, and then adding the necessary port forwards if needed.
We actually had to use the port forwarding feature to get Star Wars: Battlefront to work correctly. In a test, we loaded up the PC version on an brand new Alienware 17 R4 laptop and ran the game as usual. However, when trying to join or leave an online multiplayer game, the session would remain in a continuous loading loop, forcing us to manually exit the game. The only way to resolve this was to manually assign the laptop with a static IP address in the Luma app and forward the necessary ports. There are no options to make specific ports generally open.
Don’t worry: Luma has your back
As for the other three panels listed in the main window, the Security section provides a brief report showing the number of scanned events and alerts. Tapping on the report panel pulls up a second page where users can toggle the security mode between three options: Off, Detect, and Block. The Detect aspect will alert users of suspicious activity so they can manually take action whereas the Block option automatically blocks suspicious activity.
When we created an account and set up the Luma network, customer service called to see if we needed help getting set up.
The third panel, Connections, is broken down into three sections: People, Devices, and Assign. Adding people means the network administrator can assign a name to their devices and set policies. There are only three policies to configure: Content Filter, Time Limit, and Bedtime. Content Filter can be adjusted by moving a horizontal slider between MPAA ratings spanning “U” (unrestricted) to “G” (general audience). The Time Limit option has a slider too, limiting family members and guests to one, two, four, eight, and unlimited hours. Bedtime allows users to select specific days and hours registered device owners can’t access the network.
Next, the Devices section lists all connected and previously connected wireless gadgets that have permission to access the network. Tapping on a device listing pulls up a second page listing basic info, connection details, and actions users can take. The basic info can be edited to match the device such as its name and type, and assigned to a registered user. Connection details include its signal strength, its IP address, and MAC address. Actions consist of blocking the device from the network, forgetting the device, and prioritizing it before all others. Finally, the Assign section is rather straight-forward: assign a connected device to a registered user.
The last panel in the main window is Filtering. This is an overall filter that comes before individual filtering. Like the content filter option in the People section, users are presented with a horizontal slider consisting of Unrestricted, Rated R, Rated PG-13, Rated PG, and Rated G settings.
Finally, the only other detail regarding the Luma app is the little bell icon in the top right of the main window. If it shines with a little orange dot, that means it currently offers network notifications. Tap on the icon and a second page loads showing devices that have accessed the network. Tap on a device and users are prompted with a thumbs up (approve) or thumbs down (block) icon. These devices can also be found in the Connections/Devices panel too.
That’s essentially it for what Luma provides feature-wise. The big selling points of the Luma system consist of easy smartphone-based manageability, parental controls, automatic malware scanning and blocking, device prioritization, the ability to pause the internet with one tap, and means for setting general content rules for all connected devices. The Luma system is also fine-tuned for Amazon Alexa, allowing users to verbally command Alexa to handle Luma-based tasks like pausing a specific user’s network access, to prioritize a specific device, and more.
Based on our experience, customers will get top-notch support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When we created an account and set up the Luma network, customer service actually called shortly thereafter to see if we needed any help getting set up. The in-app chat option is great in our book too, plus users can jump online and chat with technical support on the Luma page or call them directly.
Does it deliver?
On a technical level, Luma is an AC1300 class router providing speeds of up to 867 megabits per second on the 5GHz band and up to 450 megabits per second on the 2.4GHz band. Each unit is powered by a quad-core processor although the company isn’t quite eager to cough up the actual details. How the Luma units work together to create “surround” Wi-Fi is somewhat of a mystery too. However, the units include a Bluetooth 4.0 and Bluetooth Low Energy component, WPA and WPA2 encryption, and compatibility with NAT, DHCP, and VPN Pass-through.
We tested the system using three devices: a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus smartphone, an Alienware 17 R4 laptop, and a Lenovo Ideapad Windows 10 laptop with a built-in single-band Wireless N component and an additional dual-band Wireless N USB dongle. For Android, we used an app called Wi-Fi SweetSpots that provided a live feed of the router’s speed between it and the connected device.
|Device:||Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus||Alienware 17 R4
|Lenovo Ideapad Laptop
Internal Wireless N
|Lenovo Ideapad Laptop
External Wireless N
|5GHz Default Max:||867Mbps||867Mbps||450Mbps||450Mbps|
|2.4GHz Default Max:||450Mbps||450Mbps||300Mbps||300Mbps|
|2.4 GHz Speeds:||Up to 650Mbps||N/A||Up to 72Mbps||N/A|
|5GHz Speeds:||Up to 650Mbps||Up to 866.7Mbps||N/A||Up to 433Mbps|
Take note that the Luma network automatically chooses the best connection for the device, meaning if a device supports the 5GHz band, Luma automatically uses it. That said, users won’t see two separate Luma names representing two separate bands in the list when scanning for a Luma-based connection. This makes connectivity simple for the end-user but difficult to test using dual-band devices.
For the Lenovo laptop, we first tested its internal Qualcomm Atheros AR956x single-band Wireless N component, and then shoved in a dual-band Wireless N USB dongle provided by Trendnet. Like the Wireless AC devices, the Luma network defaulted to the 5GHz band when using the USB dongle, so testing the 2.4GHz speed required us to remove Trendnet’s adapter.
Because users can’t change the band’s channel or channel width, devices may be bottlenecked. We saw something similar with the Starry Station, as the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels were locked down 20MHz, and apparently, that’s what is going on here. The Lenovo laptop is capable of up to 300 megabits per second on the Wireless N 2.4GHz band, but right now it’s capped at 72 megabits per second.
As for the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, the smartphone managed up to around 650 megabits per second, which isn’t bad at all. Looking back, the phone saw up to 581 megabits per second with the Starry Station, so the Luma network provided slightly faster speeds in our testing. Still, due to Luma not providing means to manually change the channel and channel width, Wireless N devices may be limited. In this test, the Luma devices selected Channel 1 for the 2.4Ghz band and Channel 161 for the 5Ghz band.
Of course, the max throughput depends on the surrounding conditions. The modem provided by the ISP has built-in Wi-Fi and could be causing interference. Neighboring networks may be interfering with the Luma’s performance too, hence why customers should have access to channels and channel widths. But the company set out for simplicity with the Luma mesh networking design so that general customers can quickly install and easily manage a Wi-Fi network.
This is a solid solution for customers wanting to add Wireless AC connectivity to their current network. It’s easily expandable by wirelessly connecting additional units, creating a single blanket across the house. However, Luma is also one of the cheaper mesh-based networking solutions on the market, so don’t expect tons of features and customization.
Is there a better alternative?
Luma has a lot of competition. Of the alternatives, we most enjoyed the Securifi Almond 3, which performed well and offers an interesting touchscreen interface. We also like the Portal. It’s not a mesh network, but it does use a unique, rarely accessed Wi-Fi band to achieve the same goal of providing faster, more consistent networking.
How long will it last?
Luma and its competitors are essentially creating a new market that kicks out the traditional wireless networking routers. Instead of one unit struggling to reach every corner of the house with wireless connectivity, smaller satellite-style units using mesh networking technology create better coverage. This is the future of home networking.
Should you buy it?
Customers looking to add wireless coverage to their current network should consider the Luma system. It’s easy to install, easy to maintain, and easily expandable. It’s meant for the general customer looking to quickly set up a secure networking environment and jump online immediately. But competition in this segment has suddenly become tight, and the Luma doesn’t stand out. We think most users will want to turn first to the Almond 3 and Portal, then consider the Luma if those options don’t meet their needs.
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