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Zyxel Multy U review: An effective and affordable 802.11ac extender system

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
133
Inc VAT

This compact extender system performs well at medium range but it’s not the perfect low-cost mesh kit you might have hoped for

Pros 
Good performance
Decent coverage with two nodes
Cheaper than mesh rivals
Cons 
Much less versatile than a real mesh system
A few odd bugs and design choices
No 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) support
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Originally released back in 2017, the Zyxel Multy X wireless mesh system impressed us with its speed and coverage. It remains a strong contender today but at £250 for a two-node kit it’s a pricey proposition.

Enter the Multy U, a cut-down version that promises whole-home Wi-Fi coverage in a much more compact package, while costing barely more than half as much. Is this the bargain wireless solution we’ve been waiting for?

READ NEXT: Best wireless router

Zyxel Multy U review: What you need to know

The Multy U is a tri-band 802.11ac wireless extender system. Depending on which kit you buy, you get either two or three identical nodes in the box. One of these replaces your router, while the others are distributed around your house to work as extenders.

On paper it’s not the fastest extender system in the world: both 5GHz radios are rated at an unremarkable 866Mbits/sec, with the 2.4GHz transceiver claiming a maximum data rate of 300Mbits/sec. However, there’s 2x2 MU-MIMO support, and one of the 5GHz radios serves as a dedicated backhaul channel, which should help keep traffic moving more smoothly than with dual-band systems such as the D-Link Covr or the Linksys Velop Dual-Band.

Zyxel Multy U review: Price and competition

A twin-pack of Multy U units will cost you £132 on Amazon, while a triple-pack can be had for £199. It’s also possible to buy units singly at £73 each and the system will support up to six nodes.

At that price, the obvious alternative is the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi kit, which can now be had at £159 for three nodes, or £124 for two. It’s worth noting the BT kit supplements your existing router, rather than replacing it but that’s no bad thing and the system as a whole is fast, reliable and easy to set up.

Another option is the Tenda Nova MW6: at a mere £140 for three nodes this mesh system is excellent value and, while it lacks a dedicated backhaul link, it gave a good performance in our real-world tests.

For those willing to pay more, the original Zyxel Multy X has held up impressively well. It’ll cost you £250 for a two-node kit but that’s enough to deliver excellent all-round coverage to a medium-sized home.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for the cheapest possible solution, it’s worth asking yourself whether you really need a mesh system. Check out our selection of the best wireless extenders and you may find you can get the coverage you need at a much lower price.

Zyxel Multy U review: Features and design

The Multy U nodes are a lot smaller than the Multy X ones, with boxy but tasteful white enclosures measuring 123mm square and standing 30mm tall. There’s a brightly illuminated “X” on the front, which glows and pulses in various colours to show the status of each unit. A “U” might have made more sense but never mind.

The units look like they’re designed to lie flat, but not only is this not recommended, it’s actually impossible, as the power connector sticks directly out of (what you would assume was) the underside. Instead, you must slot a plastic support into the base and stand the thing upright. Once propped up, the units look a bit like BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi discs, but the stands are smaller and flimsier, so if you accidentally yank on a power cable the whole thing is liable to topple over.

If you can’t stand stands, there is one other option. Each Multy U unit comes with a thin leather cord, which you can loop through a bar at the corner of the device to hang it from a hook, or whatever happens to be sticking out of your wall. It’s a fresh idea but the trailing power cable rather spoils the effect, and also prevents it from hanging flush.

Like the Multy X, the Multy U doesn’t support WPS. The only buttons on each unit are a recessed reset button and an LED control. What’s more, in shrinking down the design, Zyxel has slashed the Ethernet provision, so each Multy U node has only one port for wired devices, plus another for connecting the primary unit to your modem. For me, this is nowhere near enough: I know we’re living in the wireless age but it’s also the age of smart hubs and NAS appliances. If you’re tempted by the Multy U, consider budgeting an extra £20 for an Ethernet switch.

Zyxel Multy U review: Smartphone app

The Multy U system doesn’t present any sort of web portal, so you have to use Zyxel’s app for Android or iOS for initial setup. Unfortunately, this point-blank refused to work on my Samsung Galaxy S8, repeatedly failing with the unhelpful message “BLE device not found”; I ended up having to borrow my wife’s iPhone to get everything set up. Thankfully, after I'd got the three Multy U units online and talking to each other, each one downloaded a firmware update that made it detectable to my own phone.

Once you’re in, the Multy app offers a few neat features: my favourites are the built-in speed tester – which you can use to measure the strength of your Wi-Fi signal as you walk around your home – and the Diagnose tool, which checks the connection speeds between units. Both are handy for troubleshooting slow connections.

If you want to tweak advanced network settings there isn’t much to play with. You can enable or disable the guest Wi-Fi network and choose whether to split the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands, or advertise both as one network. It’s also possible to bind IP addresses to individual clients, set up port forwarding and put a nominated device in the DMZ. If you want to use the Multy U with your existing router, you can switch the system into bridge mode, and use it solely as an extender.

There are a few parental control settings, too, although these are basic. You can’t block specific apps or services, only disable Wi-Fi access completely for selected devices. You can set up weekly schedules, or manually block a specified client, either indefinitely or for up to 24 hours.

The management experience is slightly let down by a few lazy translation errors. While setting up my second Multy U unit, it suggested that I “Move the another Multy closer”. And later, when I wanted to check my internet status, the app refused to open, complaining: “The Internet cannot reach to https://www.google.com.” That raises a more serious criticism: since the app is the sole management interface for the Multy U, it’s absolutely crazy that it’s only accessible when the internet is working.

Technically, there is one other way of controlling the Multy, and that’s via the Zyxel Alexa skill. At present though, only a handful of commands is supported. You can turn the guest network off, test your internet speed, turn the LED on and off, pause internet access and check your security settings.

Zyxel Multy U review: Coverage

In Wi-Fi, as in real estate, location is key. When it comes to setting up the Multy U Zyxel recommends all satellites should be located within 15m of the router, to deliver a claimed maximum coverage area of 560m2.

Ideally, to get the best performance, you'll want each node to connect directly to the primary hub, but the Multy U system also supports daisy-chain configurations, so if your living arrangements are like mine, with the the modem at the front of the house and the study at the back, you can string three (or more) units in a row along the length of the house.

That said, for a medium-sized house, a three-point setup may well be overkill. With the primary node set up in the living room and a secondary node located in the centre of my three-bedroom maisonette, I found I got a strong signal throughout the property – while adding a third Multy unit at the far end of the house actually hindered performance, as nearby devices would lock onto its stronger signal, not realising that it had a less direct connection back to the router.

READ NEXT: Best mesh Wi-Fi router

The Multy U also supports wired backhaul, so if you don’t mind trailing Ethernet cables around your home, you can ensure that each Multy U node has a top-speed connection to the base. Since each one has only two ports, however, anything more complex than a strict straight-line topology will oblige you to invest in a switch.

Zyxel Multy U review: Performance

I mentioned above that the Multy U didn’t get on with my phone. As I began putting the system through its paces, it quickly became apparent that it didn’t like my laptop either – a Microsoft Surface Laptop, with a built-in Marvell Avastar 802.11ac network adapter.

Download speeds were fine, but uploads were much slower than I’m used to, clocking in at just 3.9MB/sec at close range. Naturally, I raised the issue with Zyxel, only to be told that this was the best I could expect from my internal network adapter, a pretty disappointing conclusion since other routers have given me far faster speeds from the same laptop. Plugging in a Linksys WUSB6100M adapter immediately brought speeds up to the expected levels, but this isn’t exactly a slick solution.

Still, with the Linksys adapter in place, my tests went smoothly. As usual, I roamed about my home copying files to and from a NAS appliance connected to the Multy U’s Ethernet port and recorded the upload and download speeds. Here are the results I saw, along with figures for the original Multy X and the two other affordable mesh systems mentioned earlier:


Zyxel Multy UZyxel Multy X
Speeds (MB/sec)Upload (two nodes)Download (two nodes)Upload (two nodes)Download (two nodes)
Living Room8.420.81116
Rear terrace8.7209.114
Bedroom11.720.39.317.1
Bathroom4.510.39.917

Tenda Nova MW6BT Whole Home
Speeds (MB/sec)Upload (three nodes)Download (three nodes)Upload (three nodes)Download (three nodes)
Living Room14.6219.317.4
Rear terrace4.911.44.211.8
Bedroom5.511.411.612.8
Bathroom6.714.88.812.5

As you can see, in the right setting the Multy U holds up really rather well. In most areas, download speeds were actually faster than the Multy X, as well as the BT and Tenda systems. Performance dropped off quite sharply in the bathroom however – a problem that didn’t trouble the other systems, whose mesh topologies allowed them to convey the signal further.

Zyxel Multy U review: Verdict

I had hoped that the Multy U would be a worthy sibling to the Multy X, but with minimal Ethernet provision and a concerningly finicky attitude to client hardware, it’s a less persuasive offering.

That doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Once partnered with a sympathetic network card, it was impressively speedy by the standards of 802.11ac extenders and, while performance starts to struggle at range, a two-unit pack will fill a medium-sized home with Wi-Fi for a price that undercuts almost every rival.

There’s one last thing to bear in mind, though. It may not be long before you’re moving to 802.11ax, which offers improved reach and performance even for 802.11ac clients and, until then, a cheap repeater will give you similar coverage to the Multy U. At this point in time, therefore, I’d be hesitant to invest £133 in this capable but limited wireless extender system.