Pretty boxes and a fancy app

Homes need better Wi-Fi. Is Eero the answer?

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Bad Wi-Fi isn’t just a problem that forces people to move from a comfortable chair in search of a better connection so they can stream their favorite TV show. Increasingly as we connect Wi-Fi-connected appliances or door locks, having bad coverage in an area of the home means that a thermostat or other permanent fixture is stuck wasting battery power trying to keep a connection or simply can’t connect.

As we blanket our homes in connected devices, our Wi-Fi needs to keep up, which means our Wi-Fi networks will likely need to look a lot more like enterprise networks and less like the current home systems with a router in the middle and maybe a repeater or bridge somewhere else. Instead, we’ll need a router and multiple access points so every inch of the home is covered.

But because most homeowners aren’t networking engineers, we’re also going to need hardware and software that makes setting up these more complicated networks a breeze. Apple has its AirPort products, but a new product launching Tuesday wants to bring enterprise Wi-Fi to the masses with a series of beautiful white boxes and cloud-based software controlled from your phone that should give you most of what you need.

Eero is a system of white boxes that will cost about $125 per box or about $300 for a system of three on a pre-order basis. The idea is that each box will cover about 1,000 square feet, although that really depends on the type of home you have. Certain materials are much harder for radio signals to pass through. Each Wi-Fi access point is also an 802.11ac router with 2×2 MIMO and has Bluetooth radios in it so you can also set it up via your cell phone. The boxes support WPA2 encryption.

To install the network, you plug a box into your router and then for subsequent boxes you can install it on your Wi-Fi network and credential it via the Eero app and the Bluetooth radio on your phone.

In layman’s terms, it means the router can handle gigabit speeds and is up to date with the current gear most devices are running. The Bluetooth radio is also interesting because it means these boxes may one day be able to act as a Wi-Fi bridge for Bluetooth devices such as locks. For example, Kevo, August and Lockitron all have introduced Bluetooth-only locks that require a Wi-Fi bridge to offer remote access capabilities. Eero may one day provide that for them, said co-founder and CEO Nick Weaver.

The Eeros should ship in early summer, and Weaver declined to comment on the planned retail strategy and what stores one might find the Eero in. He estimated that the device will have a $150 to $200 price range in actual stores. That’s about the same price as a high-end router today, although the idea is that most average homes would need multiple Eeros. For example, my house, which is tall and skinny, has three access points to cover all of the rooms adequately.

But coverage is only the beginning. Most people today need a lot more than just Wi-Fi. They want far more control over their networks and devices running on the network. Weavers says that the Eero app will let people see what devices are on the network and will also shoot users a push notification when a new device joins the network.

You can also invite people onto the network by letting them install the Eero app or just by texting the, a password and a link. When I told him that signing into a Wi-Fi network didn’t seem terribly broken, he told me that I wasn’t thinking about the hundreds of devices that would one day be wondering on and off home networks. For things like that, we need to be thinking about authentication and ways to offer them permissions. A system that can grant varied levels of access and permissions to people and their devices via different passwords makes sense.

So far Eero doesn’t have something I consider pretty basic, which is the ability to see what my kids are doing online and control device access such as turning off my daughter’s tablet or phone after a certain time, but Weaver said that is coming. I admit, I’m excited to see how simple these guys can make Wi-Fi networks for the end user, while making sure some of the more complex tasks that are happening on today’s home networks still get managed in ways that the homeowner can control if they want and ignore if they don’t.

10 Responses to “Homes need better Wi-Fi. Is Eero the answer?”

  1. thomastriplet

    Power-line communication anyone? I dont get this need for better WIFI for connected homes. Sure, some devices (mainly smartphones and other *mobile* devices) need WIFI, but all other connected stuff (bulbs, appliances, etc…) are **already** connected to a reliable network: electricity. Why not use it ? technology is already there and working well.

    • Power-line in a point-to-point configuration is great especially if you can get them on the same phase or even better the same circuit, but in a mesh with lots of devices spread across your entire electrical infrastructure it gets really messy.

      Microwaves, refrigerators, washing machines, cheap AC/DC chargers, crappy or old house wiring, or just good old noise from the power company and it becomes even less reliable than Wi-Fi.

  2. I have said for the last few years, that the modern home resembles a small data center from just 10 years ago with the same networking needs. Things like VLANs, and traffic management, combined with newer concepts like tuned connections to minimize energy needs and much stronger security.

    My own home has almost 50 connected devices which can easily overload most modern SOHO solutions. I started noticing lost connections and throughput degradation that had nothing to do with proximity and coverage, but everything to do with a solution working beyond it’s operating parameters.

    You can move upmarket to a solution by SMB provider like Ubiquisys, but these systems are next to unusable by the average consumer. Just figuring out what pieces you need to replicate a SOHO solution can be quite an adventure and the software is designed for someone with significant networking education and experience. You can outsource to an installer, but this can be quite expensive and you are at the mercy of that company to insure your system is properly configured and secured.

    The good news is the SOHO space has seen some new players like ASUS move in and instead of cranking the same basic feature set and just increasing wireless specs around speed and range, they are bring features you could only get by moving to third party firmware. But, even then they are still underpowering these solutions for the coming onslaught on the connected home.

    • Monal Valia

      Ubiquiti is not geared toward SOHO users and the price point is almost double than what ERO is doing with wireless mesh tech. I think if ERO does in fact live up to what its pitching this would be the product Cisco, Belkin, etc try to replicate in their WIFI product roadmaps

      • josephhngo

        um.. you can get a 3pk of the Ubiquiti APs along with a EdgeLite router for less than 300.00. Each AP can cover big distances and you can load it up with 100 or more devices. I use it at work and it kill anything i have had before.