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What DIY Does Right

In some areas, DIY gear has advantages over ours.

I was at a client’s home the other day and he asked me evaluate his new mesh wi-fi system. He’s a great client and is very tech savvy. He had gotten an Amplifi Alien mesh system for free. It is Ubiquiti’s new WiFi6 mesh system. First of all, it looks pretty cool and has some great specs. What really got my attention is that I was blown away by the performance. I was able to get consistent download speeds of 973 mbps. I know, I know, download speed isn’t the right metric, but I was just doing a quick evaluation, and — let’s be honest – that is the metric clients know and care about.

DIY Does Right

It got me to thinking — why are consumer-grade products doing such a great job at coming out with features and benefits so quickly, while we are almost always lagging in performance? The gear we sell, which costs 3–5 times as much, often does not have the performance or the newest features that I regularly see in consumer gear. I realize our gear is built better, offers more management and flexibility, and, most important, has top notch tech support. I just cannot argue with the results some of these systems produce. Perception is everything, and our clients are seeing the performance from the DIY product.

The access points we sell are $400-1000 each and most do not offer a mesh option. In fact, mesh networking seems to be the exclusive domain of DIY product —there really aren’t any complete mesh solutions from the professional-grade systems I am aware of. And sometimes mesh is the only viable solution in retrofit situations, especially when floors and ceilings are solid concrete slab and there is no attic or basement to work with.  We used to struggle when clients would bring up the mesh solution. Now we offer eero to at least be able to meet the need when it arises. I will never sell Ubiquiti product as they do not offer free dealer tech support. eero’s support has been great the one or two times I have had to call. (Luxul’s Epic Mesh maybe the CI solution we are looking for, but I have not yet been able to test it.)

Another example is Sonos, HEOS and the other wireless speaker brands. They are all in the DIY realm. Why isn’t Autonomics, Control4, or Savant offering a complete whole home audio solution with wireless speakers? Control4 is probably the closest with the TriadOne ampflier that can live on the Wi-Fi and get music to hard-to-reach areas, but it is too cumbersome to put one in with bookshelf speakers in some of the smaller spaces we deal with, particularly small bathrooms and office nooks in NYC. And Sonos just works. As long as you follow the commandment of wiring only one Sonos device (or turning off the wireless in other wired devices), the system is very stable and rarely, if ever, requires a service call.

And do not get me started with thermostats! Nest and Ecobee are just gorgeous devices on the wall.  The thermostats from the big integration brands like Crestron, Lutron, and Control4 confuse and intimidate clients. Then they start questioning why their friend’s Nest or Ecobee looks so great and is so easy to use. It calls into question everything else we do. Sometimes all it takes is one weak link to start avalanche of questions and concerns.

The one that is really starting to come up a lot now is the voice remote. Voice remotes are everywhere from Spectrum, FiOS, xFinity, AppleTV, Roku, and TiVo. We do have voice remotes, and I realize that integrating everything we do into a remote makes voice control much more complex, but we need to have something that emulates or integrates with the voice remote devices that are out there. If we could just integrate with a Roku for voice, it would be a game changer — at least we would have something. I can explain to a client that Spectrum is incredibly difficult to work with and will not let anyone integrate with their voice control. They all know how bad the cable company is and can empathize. But we need something to that allows the client to dynamically search for content with voice, not just using pre-programmed voice commands for Alexa and Google Assistant integration.

OK, rant over! I’d love to hear from you all about how you are combatting these issues. I fight the good fight every day and make the argument that our systems are fully integrated and they are not just a folder of apps on your phone or a coffee table full of remotes, and clients do understand that. But they want the bells and whistles too (and so do I!)