Mesh wifi goes mainstream as Amazon acquires Eero

Amazon’s push into the connected home took another step with the acquisition of mesh wifi specialist Eero.

Mesh wifi has been put forward as the next generation of wifi router technology, which uses multiple nodes to not only resolve coverage issues but also create an electronic map of the home such that your interaction with the network can have a positional element. Qualcomm has been bigging up mesh for a while and Samsung has gone big on it in the US, where it seems to have the greatest consumer adoption.

Eero seems to be one of the more established players over there, so its acquisition by Amazon has raised some eyebrows. It’s perceived as a clever move by Amazon to augment its connected home drive that is focused around its Alexa smart speaker devices. On the flip side there is some disquiet at the prospect of a popular independent tech brand being hoovered up by one of the giants.

“We are incredibly impressed with the Eero team and how quickly they invented a wifi solution that makes connected devices just work,” said Dave Limp, SVP of Amazon Devices and Services. “We have a shared vision that the smart home experience can get even easier, and we’re committed to continue innovating on behalf of customers.”

“From the beginning, Eero’s mission has been to make the technology in homes just work,” echoed Nick Weaver, CEO of Eero. “We started with wifi because it’s the foundation of the modern home. Every customer deserves reliable and secure wifi in every room. By joining the Amazon family, we’re excited to learn from and work closely with a team that is defining the future of the home, accelerate our mission, and bring eero systems to more customers around the globe.”

Coincidentally another major mesh specialist – Plume – has just announced a partnership with UK ISP TalkTalk, to launch some kind of invitation-only early access to its technology. “Since launching Plume in the US, we’ve received a tremendous amount of interest from the UK,” said Sri Nathan, Head of Business Development at Plume. “We are thrilled to deliver a new level of personalisation, connectivity, and security in the home to TalkTalk subscribers.”

The migration of mesh technology into the mainstream is likely to prompt a fresh round of hand-wringing about data privacy. Amazon is already installing listening devices into people’s homes, now it will be offering a wifi system that knows where you are all the time. People are going to get freaked out by the prospect of a tech giant having access to so much personal information, so Amazon has created a fresh PR challenge with this move.

Wifi performance is the service provider’s problem whether they like it or not

At the Cable Next-Gen Europe event in London a panel discussed the lessons learned from offering 1 Gbps domestic broadband.

It seems like the only way the ISP industry thinks it can persuade consumers to hand over more of their hard-earned cash is to promise ever-better performance. But consumers can be an awkward bunch and have a nasty habit of expecting that promised boost to be delivered. To make things worse they’re not shy about voicing their displeasure to expensive customer service departments.

They just won’t listen to reason. You can try explaining the problem is at their end thanks to rubbish routers, decrepit devices and unhelpful walls but it falls on deaf ears. As far as they’re concerned they’ve been promised 1 Gbps, they’re not getting it and they want to know what the company that took their money is going to do about it.

The consensus among the panel, which featured ISPs, specialist wifi vendors and a big kit vendor, was that wifi is the ISP’s problem whether they like it or not. A big reason for this is that regular punters aren’t even interested in the various technical challenges involved in delivering the promised bandwidth; they only care about the end result.

Having said that there are a lot of technological solutions to this problem, such as mesh wifi as offered by companies like Plume, which was represented on the panel. Mesh looks like a good answer to coverage problems resulting from the limited range of wifi routers, physical obstructions, etc. It’s quite a trending buzzword in the industry right now but even the mesh vendors were careful not to position it as a panacea.

Similarly successive generations of wifi technology, now belatedly using a more consumer-friendly naming scheme, only address part of the problem. Even if you have a 1 Gbps service and the latest Wi-Fi 6 router, of all your devices still have 802.11g wifi chips, which is apparently still commonplace, then you’re still going to get rubbish performance.

According to a straw poll among the panel it’s not uncommon for there to be 20+ wifi connected devices in a given home, through which CSP customers will assess the quality of their service. For this reason there was a consensus that there will be an explosion in managed wifi services offered by CSPs in the near future.

Samsung launches mesh-based wifi system in the US

The US arm of Samsung has gone all-in on wifi mesh technology with the launch of the SmartThings System.

The main feature of wifi mesh technology is to fill wifi coverage not-spots around the house. Rather than use multiple routers or powerline networking, which don’t dynamically switch to the strongest source depending on your location, mesh promises strong coverage throughout the home through a number of wifi boosting nodes.

“As more people embrace a connected lifestyle, we’re focused on creating the best experiences so they can get more out of their smart home,” said SK Kim, Senior Director, IoT Product Marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “SmartThings Wifi is an intelligent solution that adapts to the many devices in the home, with mesh capability to eliminate coverage gaps plus a built-in SmartThings Hub to easily monitor and control hundreds of compatible smart products.”

Unsurprisingly the system uses Qualcomm chips integrated by Plume. Samsung goes on at considerable length about how great Plume’s wifi AI is, which actively tinkers with things to make sure everything’s cool. As Qualcomm recently explained to us, this tech also does other cool stuff like being able to detect where you are in the house, which could open the door to all sorts of other smart home applications.

The SmartThings 3-pack retails for $279.99 and the single device retails for $119.99. It’s not yet known when Samsung plans to launch these products globally, but if it manages to flog a few in the US, the rest of the world will presumably follow before long.

Wifi mesh technology could kick-start the smart home

An emerging technology designed to create a seamless domestic connectivity experience could create a bunch of other opportunities, according to Qualcomm Atheros.

We spoke to Irvind Ghai, VP of Product Management at Qualcomm Atheros, at a briefing in London. After covering the recent announcements of some new 5G NR small cells and a collaboration with Facebook over its Terragraph FWA project, we moved onto wifi, which is one of the areas Ghai’s bit of Qualcomm focuses on.

One of the most interesting concepts we covered was wifi mesh, which involves installing multiple (typically three) wifi nodes in the house to extend the range of a router. Unlike current fixes such as wireline wifi extenders, a mesh has additional cleverness that enables your connected devices to dynamically hand over between nodes depending on which provides the best signal.

The really clever bit, however, lies on some of the ancillary stuff this technology enables. Of greatest interest to CSPs could be a radar-like ability to map the interior of the home, which enables localised responses to voice commands. For example you could say “lights on” when you’re in the kitchen and the smart home system would only turn the lights on in the kitchen.

In fact these sorts of systems can apparently support their own voice UI systems and, such is the precision of this domestic radar that it can also support things like gesture UI. On top of that it can detect when doors and windows are open, so it seems to offer lots of tools for CSPs to fashion into a compelling smart home proposition if they can just get their acts together.

Ghai told us that mesh products already account for 40% of the US domestic wifi market and pointed to vendors such as Plume (mesh nodes pictured above), which make small, unobtrusive nodes that can be discretely placed around the house. You can see some of Ghai’s slides below and if wifi mesh delivers as advertised it could be a significant technology for the development of the smart home.

Qualcomm wifi 1

Qualcomm wifi 2

Qualcomm wifi 3

Qualcomm wifi 4