Are Consumer-Grade Mesh Wi-Fi Systems a Threat or Opportunity?

Had you asked me a year ago to predict the biggest home technology stories of 2016, a number of ideas would have jumped to mind. The emergence of Wi-Fi as a sexy tech product, particularly in the consumer smart home market, would not have been one of them. But, as we enter the dusk of 2016, it’s hard to imagine a category that’s seen more development.
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Had you asked me a year ago to predict the biggest home technology stories of 2016, a number of ideas would have jumped to mind. The emergence of Wi-Fi as a sexy tech product, particularly in the consumer smart home market, would not have been one of them. But, as we enter the dusk of 2016, it’s hard to imagine a category that’s seen more development. I can think of no less than six recent entrants into this new category being dubbed Wi-Fi Systems. In no particular order, we have Eero, Luma, Ubiquiti AmpliFi, Securifi’s Almond 3, Netgear’s Orbi, and last but least Google Wi-Fi. If you’re a manufacturer that I forgot, please forgive me. But as you can see, it’s getting difficult to keep track.

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Eero WiFi system

Naturally these offerings overlap significantly in terms of core functionality. Most prominently, these Wi-Fi Systems all aim to drastically simplify the process of setting up a mesh Wi-Fi network. In the past, consumers trying to remedy Wi-Fi dead spots, without hardwired infrastructure, effectively had two choices. They could call a home tech pro, who could either retrofit cabling or help them through the complicated process of setting up a mesh solution. If they didn’t want to spend the money, then they could always turn to consumer-grade wireless repeaters… and then most likely call a home tech pro later to come figure out why their Wi-Fi was still so terrible.

Like so many other parts of the smart home, the consumer’s options for solid Wi-Fi at home have fundamentally changed. This new breed of Wi-Fi systems purportedly enables consumers to set up a fully functional mesh Wi-Fi network in minutes by using an app on their smartphone. It’s also worth noting that all of these systems promise this solution for less than $500. That’s a powerful proposition, especially when compared with the cost and complication previously associated with mesh networking.

By nature, these Wi-Fi Systems will have their limitations. Most are intended to cover areas of less than 5,000 square feet. And surely some of this article’s more network-savvy readers will be able to point out a bevy of advanced features that these products lack. At the high-end of the market—a segment I might point out is doing very well—these limitations will rightfully keep consumer-focused mesh solutions out of the conversation. But at the mid to low end of the market, home tech pros should be prepared to embrace, or sell against, these solutions, as your beliefs in their respective merits dictate.

Networking companies focused on the home technology space have already begun to take sides. Luxul, a networking manufacturer focused solely on the home tech pro, recently unveiled its roam assist-enabled routers, touting them as the custom installer’s answer to consumer-focused Wi-Fi systems. Access Networks, a premier networking solutions provider in the CEDIA channel, recently announced a partnership with Eero. When asked about this partnership, and the evolving Wi-Fi landscape in general, Access Networks CEO and founder Hagai Feiner described what he calls the “ABS Effect,” stating, “Anti-locking brakes were only available on commercial jets in the 50s and now they are in every Toyota Corolla. Same goes for Mesh Wi-Fi. This trend is not going away.”

It’s hard to disagree. As categories like streaming audio and video, and connected home devices continue to gain traction in more and more homes, the demand for fast, reliable Wi-Fi has never been higher. A new breed of products has clearly emerged to meet this demand. And whether home tech pros see a threat or an opportunity in these products one thing is certain: the Wi-Fi renaissance is not to be ignored.

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