TP-Link Deco M4 - Wall-to-wall Wi-Fi
So, today I had the chance for some hands-on experience with the setting up of a TP-Link Deco M4 router/wireless access point. After all those years of honky-tonk gear and cryptic set-up screens the expections on the new MESH Home networking gear was high. The advertisements quoted that setup was largely automated and self-explanatory with a free downloadable smartphone App.
Some of our field engineers had installed the units before with some success. The looks of the unit are just right for the modern household. No longer a black box with six antennas in the top. Today a nice sleek white bottle style pillar that would easily fit into any modern furniture style. The unit comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports, so when plugged into a wall data socket you still have the loop-through socket to connect something else. Finally, we have something that would deliver wall-to-wall WiFi and make our customers very happy.
So, the time came to read the friendly manual. And we did. Not that it made us much wiser but nevertheless there were enough clous to get started. We had to setup a home route/wifi for a customer some 700 km way so the plan was to pre-configure the thing, ready for plugin by the customer on receipt of the box.
Powering up the unit and connecting to the WiFi was easy. Connecting to the WiFi was easy with the SSID printed on the label and apparently no password needed. So far so good. Figuring out where the setup screens would be was another story. The base IP address for the LAN side appeared to be 192.168.68.1. A bit off the beaten track, but hey, that was an easy one. Connected to the webserver on the router address and a nice smooth page came up with “TP-Link” on the top left corner. We must have done something right to get that far. But then, looking for the setup screens and menus, there weren’t any. It said “Download the Deco App on your smartphone or touchpad and install it”. And then “Connect to the Deco with Bluetooth”. All good. Connection was made and before you could get to the detailed setup menu a screen came up to configure your email and your password as login credentials for the DECO management screen. That went nowhere as apparently, the DECO needs a working Internet connection to talk with its Masters in the Cloud to register and validate the email/password combination. Now, that future Internet connection was still 700km away and it required a PPPoE setup for which I wanted to preconfigure the credentials. So that the customer would just have to plug in the thing, not doing any setups. Looked like a dear wish as the box simply refused to register the Administrator email/password credentials without an Internet uplink. No way around it. Well, fool the box and plug the WAN port the local home network. That did the trick. The DECO found the Internet and configured itself through the default WAN setting with automatic DHCP. And once it found the Internet, we could register the manager email/password combination without fuzz. And pronto, the detailed setup screen became available. Setting it for PPPoE killed the Internet. And putting the mode back to automatic DHCP wiped the PPPoE credentials. Nice show. What now?
Ahh, looking through the menu there was an entry to check the firmware level. And when the Internet was connected through automatic DHCP it did check for a firmware update and found one. Maybe an update would fix a few things. A single button made it download the new firmware and update the DECO without fuzz. But hey, still no way to bypass the logic to preconfigure the PPPoE without loosing the Internet connection. So, adding another manager (with the email and a made-up password) for the new owner did not work out because the “Cloud” said that email ws not registered in the Cloud, hence the record for the new Manager wouldn’t stick. Bummer. Then put in the email/password as a new user into the TP-Link Cloud server and that wouldn’t stick either until such time that the new DECO owner had clicked on the confirmation email, which if course went to his address. So, we left that problem for another day. Setup the PPPoE credentials, packed up the box an dropped it into our post office. Just hope it works on arrival. We’ll know soon.
Out of that some immediate questions come up:
a) Why can’t I configure a PPPoE WAN connection without tricking the box by first connecting to the Internet with automatic DHCP?
b) The setup manual suggests that by connecting to the Master in the Cloud (to check up and validate the admin login), you would also get a remote admin access, i.e. when logging into the cloudserver you would be able to see the remote router status and perform some remote management functions. The basic idea of TR-069. However, nothing of that shows in the TP-Link Cloudserver. What is the status of this feature?
c) There doesn’t seem to be a way to switch ping on or off on the WAN port.
We’ll soon know if the thing will work OK at the customer place. It takes a day or two for Australia Post to deliver and we will have to get on top of the remote configuration process. We’ll see......